Writing is like…?

I have done what I so often do when I feel a need to regain control: baked. One coffee mocha cake and two big batches of vegan cookies (for my plan-based eater son) later, and that feels better. There’s not much that’s imaginative about my cooking. Not these days, at least, in the quotidien monotony of lockdown: tried and trust recipes, with little experimentation. Still, it’s a creative activity of sorts—if creativity can be loosely defined as generating something new with existing ideas, elements, tools. Something of value perhaps, because it provides interest, stimulation; it communicates. A homemade cake says I care about you; here’s something to brighten your day.

“Writing is like baking a cake.” Or so said actor and writer Greta Gerwig of her screenplay for movie Frances Ha (2012). Specifically, she said, “So much of writing is like baking a cake. I can’t tell you where the sugar is.” Meaning, I suppose, that the sweetness is dispersed throughout, along with the blandness of flour, richness of eggs, and a slight scalding of salt—or do I over-extend the image?

Look up ‘writing is like baking a cake’ (or similar) on a search engine and you’ll find dozens of similes—on the writing process or combining of ‘ingredients’; the completed product; the assembly; the frosting; the decorating…

The simile is very limited, of course, as similes typically are. We know that; Gerwig and others employing the figure of speech know that. The comparison made emphasises or communicates one attribute, but does not convey the whole. For all the necessary technique and steps involved, the element missing here is insight. It’s intuition. It’s inspiration. It’s originality. It’s some or all of these things. Far from following a recipe, writing requires not fully knowing we’re you’re going from the outset. So the full writing process may be like making a cake for an innovative pastry chef, but not in the main. Arguably, the aspiring writer is trying to move from happy amateur to consummate artist.

Many attempts have been made to define the generic creative process, to identify what all creative processes have in common, and by various philosophers, social scientists, and psychologists. Here’s a classic example by English social psychologist and educationalist Graham Wallas in his book The Art of Thought in 1926. It’s one you may well have come across before:
1. Preparation – information gathering; understanding; researching…
2. Incubation: taking a step back, letting your unconscious mind, creative instincts take over.
3. Illumination: arrival of insight – or ‘inspiration strikes’.
4. Verification/implementation: build and develop the output…
As we can see, here, most of the important phases are at the pre-production stage.

Whether you’re a writer, a baker, a photographer, painter, knitter, designer… could you apply the above steps to your own creative process?

Below are a few more, well-known, similes about writing. Do any of them chime with your own thoughts and experiences of creating something? What simile or metaphor would you come up with instead?

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E. L. Doctorow.

“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for  money.” Virginia Woolf.

“Writing is like having sex. The people who never shut up about doing it are usually the ones who don’t know what the hell they’re doing.” Greg Sisco.

“Good writing is like a windowpane.” George Orwell.

“Good writing is like music. It has its distinctive rhythm, its pace, flow, cadence. It can be hummed. The great stylists seem to have an inner music…” Leonard Teel Ray.

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” John Steinbeck.

But finally and very simply:

“Writing is like most things, the more you do it, the better you get at it.” Iain Banks.

Image thanks
Main photo by Jacob Thomas on Unsplash
Smaller photo by Eugene Chystiakov on Unsplash

23 thoughts on “Writing is like…?

  1. wow, it was a huge cake on the picture… I’d eat it in a heartbeat haha

    Loved the comparison of writing and cooking/baking 💙📚 very cool, never thought about it 🙂

    well, what about the talent? isn’t it the main ingredient for the writer?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. With cherries on top 🙂 I agree about talent – hopefully. The cake analogy might work for genre fiction, to a point – but for any original piece, talent, inspiration, originality etc. are key differences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, right… I’m not a great baker 👩‍🍳 in life anyway. Maybe if I’d bake every day I’d develop that skill ..? 🥸🤔🧐


  2. I like the driving in the dark analogy. That’s how I do it, with a destination in mind, but I can’t see how I get there at any point. I just have to trust the lights. The finished product may be like a cake in that you can’t separate the ingredients from each other, but I don’t feel the process is like baking…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree on both points. Even if you’re a planner, have all the maps at the ready, the journey in writing will throw up the unexpected and you’re likely to change the route, if not destination. And at least for me, a cake is a case of skill over art.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Clever collection of quotes. That cake looks scrumptious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The black forest gateau needs to come back into fashion!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Driving a car at night, yes there would be no fun if I knew where my novel was going to end up, but all you have to do is head for the next stretch or bend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting, I tend to have an ending in mind but not fully sure of the route to get there. Scrabbles hopelessly in early(ish) morning brain for metaphor…


  5. I’m not sure about that V. Woolf one lol The Ray one is accurate for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Virginia Woolf quote is a little out there – perhaps says something about her circle of friends?!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …or the time period?


  6. Enjoyed reading the quotes especially ‘Writing is like having sex. The people who never shut up about doing it are usually the ones who don’t know what the hell they’re doing’……….. that made me smile and I have a feeling that particular simile can be applied to many things in life! (Gonna have to try and remember it 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Think that’s true 🙂 The truth of it does make you smile in recognition.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I appear to have been unfollowed?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not by me! Like HAL 9000, some function in WP must have developed a mind of its own.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol sorry librepaley I didn’t mean by you, I’ve noticed over the past 3 years WordPress’s algorithms drive people crazy……….. All good fun.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Keeps it unpredictable… Because life’s just been too unsurprising lately 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Great quotes! Especially the one by Leonard Teel Ray. Happy 2021 🙂 Hope your new year is off to a good start ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Leonard Teel is somewhat recognisable! 🙂 Happy 2021 and all the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Of course the final quote rings true.
    The quote by Virginia Wolf saddened me. I don’t deny the fact that it speaks the truth, but I find it slightly depressing.
    The one that spoke to me the most was: “Writing is like having sex. The people who never shut up about doing it are usually the ones who don’t know what the hell they’re doing.” by Greg Sisco.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, the best observations are of universal truths. The Woolf quote is oddly sad. I cannot decide if it’s wit without truth or a bitter wit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not successful enough to know this for sure, but I can definitely see the potential of truth in this.


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