A frosted cake is a lot like a completed manuscript. If it looks anything like what it’s supposed to look like, people are impressed you did it. Their untrained eye (and yours too if you’re new to the process) skims over the little details that show your immaturity (or maturity) in the craft. For a newbie, piping the last detail on a two tiered cake feels just as satisfying as when you type “The End” for the first time.
If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait for the ooohs and ahhhs to start flooding in to confirm your time wasn’t wasted. Your effort appreciated. And while that helps with ego, you look to an experienced person to validate your confidence since they understand the true art. You want someone who knows what they’re talking about to look at what you’ve done and start showering you with accolades. But wait a second…this shower isn’t made of kudos. It’s made of feedback. Sharp quips cutting through your sensitive skin to show you’ve got some serious problems.
This week I finished a two tiered cake for a farewell party. The guest of honor wanted a flavor I’d never tried before, Black Forest. I looked up some recipes, came to a consensus of what I thought would make a good flavor combination, and started to bake. Then I built. I’m a novice to the tiered cake arena. While I followed the instructions of others who have done it before me, I added in my own touches too. And as everybody knows, when you improvise you run a risk of making mistakes and um, ahem, find learning opportunities. So while the picture above looks like the cake was a success, I will now break down why it wasn’t.
To the trained eye, the structure wasn’t stable. During construction I let doubt into my thought process and tweaked at all the wrong places. Even though my heart said to stay the course, I pulled off a layer to add more filling for a taller appearance. The moment I did it, I knew it was wrong. The cake started to tear and I knew filling wouldn’t give enough stability. But I was committed. Not enough time to start from scratch. The cake must go on.
The morning after, the top tier tilted and I had serious concerns if it would make it to the destination. I added some additional support and re-piped over the construction. I crossed my fingers it was saved. When I pulled it out to serve, my mistakes glared and my concerns had been warranted. Another baker would be able to see the layers weren’t even, too much filling at the bottom which negated the support for the top, and even the choice of infrastructure was too weak for the weight of the upper cake. It was aptly named “The Titanic” because it was sinking slowly. The only solution was to cut quickly before any other bakers entered the room.
The sinking feeling has been there with my past manuscripts. Times where others were impressed at a completed product, but didn’t look hard enough to see the problems. The flawed areas where I needed someone with tough love capabilities to point it out so I could cut or correct. Times when insecurity jaded my view and decisions were made without sound judgement. The plot structure weak, too much telling, not enough emotional connection with the characters. Some manuscripts were too flawed to be saved, resigned to be cut up and chalked up to learning. In their destruction, knowledge replaced experiment and a new project born.
While in cake it’s easier to identify than in a novel, the result is the same. If the weak areas aren’t fixed before presenting to the world, you can have a mess on your hands. A crumbling tower of cake and frosting slowly sliding into itself. The same for a first novel that may get a full request, but will be quickly rejected because of a weak plot or one dimensional characters.
Both creative outlets have shown me it takes time to craft and build a solid product. Patience, heart, and experience are the qualities needed to press on and make sure the same mistakes aren’t repeated. And even when the cake sucks it isn’t too bad because heck, it’s still cake.