Even if I have all the ingredients, I feel this uncontrollable urge to substitute things. It’s not always easy to follow a recipe, but— can we agree— it’s less risky? There’s a frontiersman in me that doesn’t want to take a well-worn path, even to chocolate cake. Where’s the fun (or artistry) in that? My family, who has to eat my adventures, is not exactly on board with this line of reasoning.
But for writers, this is the way. Recipe=Springboard. Your outline is your recipe. Don’t feel compelled to follow it exactly. Should you start with a recipe? Of course. One can’t just toss things in a pan. There are chemistry rules to follow. Have you ever made bread and forgot the yeast? Maybe it was a sweet brick, but a brick it was.
I am an artist. Words only. I don’t decorate, paint, or even hang pictures. But cooking is a form of art, is it not? Which may be why I thought of writing when I was in my kitchen yesterday having a fantod over the eggless state of my refrigerator. I mean, I’m all for risk, but a chocolate cake must have eggs. I know there are people who swear by XYZ cake that has no sugar, fat, dairy, flour, or eggs. Ack…ack…(that’s me vomiting).
To have nothing in the way of outline notes will likely end with you, pulling out tufts of hair, pacing in front of your laptop screaming expletives because you’ve written yourself into a Gordian plot knot at 65,000 words. Nevermind your dark litany may be the most creative thing you’ve uttered recently, which will also tick you off.
To follow your outline exactly will likely end in a bland, unremarkable story, something everyone’s heard before, only not as exciting because you’re not Mary Shelley. Readers like their tropes, but they want to be surprised, too. We’re not McWriters.
My haphazard kitchen thoughts follow. And after that, my grandmother’s Black Magic Cake recipe. Even with two options for dairy, I subbed yogurt because I didn’t have either sour cream or buttermilk. Could I have picked one of them up when I got the eggs? And ruin the fun? No way. Oh, and I also subbed coconut for vegetable oil.