Ingredients for Cooking a Book

On this page, we thought we’d share some of the “ingredients” to writing that we have come across from time to time. Rather than write posts here, we are passing along some of the lovely sentiments other writers have expressed about the art of writing or their hopes for how their writing will impact readers. This is a living, growing list, so please come back to see what’s new in our list of “ingredients”!

  • “Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.”  –Lawrence Clark Powell
  • “If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.”  –Ray Bradbury
  • “If a man empties his purse into his head no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”  –Benjamin Franklin
  • “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”  –Joyce Carol Oates
  • “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, and my courage is reborn.”  –Anne Frank
  • “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  –Albert Einstein
  • “Reading is to the mind, what exercise is to the body.”  –Joseph Addison
  • “Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen from one to another mind.”  –James Russell Lowell
  • “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot, and write a lot.”  –Stephen King
  • “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”  –William Faulkner
  • “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”  –William Wordsworth
  • “My books are written in three stages.

The first stage is a bit like cooking. You need to get your ingredients together. My books are (very roughly) half imagination and half a jumble of people and places, conversations and bits of music that I have collected up in my memory. This mixture is fixed together with a glue made up of jokes and characterisation. Imagine it in a cauldron. It would look like a bright, papery, fizzy, soup. It would steam: multicoloured, coffee-smelling steam, with sparks in it.

This cooking-the-beginning of a book is the hardest part. You must get your ingredients to stick together, but it is not easy. If you have not added enough imagination it will be lumpy and boring. If you have added too much, it will boil over and run away and be lost. Also the jokes have to be good jokes (bad ones go mouldy) and the characters have to be interesting. Otherwise the fire will go out, and the cooking will be ruined.

It sounds like it would never work, but surprisingly, it often does. One happy day you stir around in the cauldron and fish out a story.”  –Hilary McKay