The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition – February 10, 2009
I recently read The Laws of Harmony – the latest novel by Judi Ryan Hendricks – and loved it (read my review). Hendricks has a way of drawing her reader into the story, of making them feel like they know the characters. I asked Hendricks if she would write a guest post for Caribousmom and she readily agreed. When I read this post it resonated with me as a writer and as a reader…I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Of Bread and Books
by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Bread, as any baker will testify, is a process—slow, arduous, messy, unpredictable. The French, of course, have a saying about it: To be a boulanger, they say, you must be big, strong and dumb—big to carry sacks of flour, strong to knead the dough, and dumb to work so hard.
As with most French sayings, there’s a germ of truth at its heart. You don’t make bread because you want to get rich. You don’t make bread for prestige or fame or even respect—although those things may come collaterally. But the real and only reason you make bread is because you have to. You make bread because you can’t not make it.
By changing a few words here and there, you can say the same about writing. Writers don’t have to be big or strong, I suppose, although it helps if you can carry a six-pound manuscript in one hand and heft your computer bag into the overhead bins on airplanes with the other.
But you could definitely make a case for being dumb. Why else would you sit alone in a small office all day, everyday for four years—missing dentist appointments, letting your mother leave messages on voice mail, forgetting to eat lunch, ignoring the dog while she nibbles the Tibetan rug? Why else would you subject your book to the slings and arrows of hostile reviewers, drag yourself around the country to signings where you sometimes find yourself reading to the bookstore staff and a couple of transients who just came for the refreshments?
Why? See above. The only reason you write is because you have to. You write because you can’t not write.
My career as a novelist began in a bakery. Appropriately so, I’ve decided, because the longer I go at both baking and writing, the more similarities I see between them.
Bread is basically the fusion of four of the earth’s most elemental ingredients—flour, water, yeast, salt. In the kneading there’s an exchange of energy between baker and bread—and you learn to know by touch the exact moment when the dough comes alive.
A book also has some pretty basic ingredients—character, setting, plot. You manipulate them, work them together until they fuse and the story takes on a life of its own. And you know when that happens, too.
To bake bread is to understand that yeast is a living entity, and it may or may not always do what you expect or want it to do. If you persist at the craft long enough, you learn to let go of your expectations, forget about the outcome and let the bread direct you.
Likewise, there comes a time in the writing process—usually just when you think you know exactly where the story should go next—that you find yourself writing something—and suddenly the character seems to be glaring at you off the page. You can almost hear a voice saying, That’s ridiculous. I’d never do that.
You learn very quickly that the process works best if you let your characters take you by the hand and lead you into the story. This is where the messy part comes in, and sometimes you end up in a game of dominoes. Changing one thing, and finding that it alters everything down the line. Or having to backtrack to rearrange all the events leading up to it.
Creation—whether of bread, or of a book—is an imperfect, spontaneous, organic and on-going process. We aren’t the originators and we don’t have ultimate control, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to be present. We’re able to tap into the process, to assist at the birth.
And that’s enough.
To read more about Judi Hendricks and her work, visit the author’s website.
Read Judi Hendricks’ blog: The Kitchen Table