Posts Tagged ‘cinnamon rolls’

We’ve all heard about (or maybe even know!) writers with bad additudes–scribblers who are bitter, self-important, unrealistic, or just plain old hard-headed.

I worry about that quite a bit–I don’t want that to be me.  I’m no expert, but here’s what my interactions with writers, agents, and editors have taught me about cultivating a healthy writing attitude:

1.) Realistic expectations should balance optimism.

Some of my friends in our writers’ group tease me about being a bit of an Eeyore when it comes to writing. No, I’m not oozing with false modesty or self-deprecation. No, I’m not a naysayer.

I’m…cautiously confident.

For example, when I started querying my novel, I told myself I probably wouldn’t get requests. When I did, I smiled. When I got requests, I told myself I probably wouldn’t get offers. When I did, I danced. I always let myself dream and entertain thoughts of success, but here’s the key: I never expect them. I never feel entitled when it comes to getting published.

If and when it happens, I will shout and jump into the air and fly to the moon. Until then, I will keep my feet on the ground. I will keep putting one foot in front of the other.

2.) Live in the moment.

Once a manuscript is queried or goes on submission to editors, there’s not much more writers can do to influence the outcome. We have to let our work stand on its own. We have to let our wonderful, capable agents do their jobs. To wax Beatle-esque, we have to LET IT BE.

Here’s what we can do–we can read in our genre or field. We can work on another projects. We can take the time to support fellow writers. Day by day, we can enjoy the blessings we already have in our work, friends and family.  After all, a writing project should be fulfilling, but it shouldn’t be the only thing keeping a suicide watch at bay. (If  you feel it is, PLEASE GET HELP NOW.)

3.) Be circumspect.

At every point in my journey, I’ve been faced with the temptation to blab, blab, blab about the minutiae of my writing life. I’ve fretted. I’ve obsessed. I’ve contemplated word vomiting my ups and downs into cyberspace. But one thought stops me (almost) every time–I can’t regret what I didn’t say, blog, or tweet. My rule is simple: If I can’t say something constructive or share good news, it’s crickets for me.

4.) Embrace opportunities for real growth.

Setbacks and rejections are tough schoolmasters, but they are instructive, all the same. Every time I sit down to write, I process and exploit whatever feedback I’ve received.  I try to get better. I always want to always look back and see development and change. I always want to stretch for words just beyond my reach.

Stasis is my enemy, not rejection.

What about you? I’m so grateful for all my writing friends. What have you learned so far?

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for my cinnamon rolls. They’re from scratch, but they’re worth the wait!


Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

4 packages rapid rise yeast

1 cup hot water (not boiling, not lukewarm, just hot tap water)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 sticks real butter

1 1/2 cups warm (not hot!) milk (heat on stovetop or in microwave)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. salt

8-9 cups of flour

Filling:

More butter

Dark brown sugar

Good Quality Cinnamon (don’t cheap out on this one, ok?)

Frosting:

Even more butter

Powdered Sugar

Vanilla

Milk

Dissolve yeast in a medium bowl with 1 cup of hot water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. You will not the yeast mixture is active if the yeast bubbles up (mixture should get very foamy, if not, you goofed with bad yeast or too hot or too cold water).

Melt one cup butter and combine with 1 1/2 cups of milk. Mix the milk/butter mixture with the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup sugar and then the eggs. Mix in salt and four cups of the flour. Mix until smooth. Add in the remaining cups of flour, a little at a time, just until the mixture is cohesive enough to handle. Save some of the flour to knead with. I usually save the last cup or so for this purpose.

Slap dough onto the counter and knead it a bit. Knead it just enough so it no longer so gooey and sticky in your hands.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Put the dough into the bowl. Cover the dough with a thin cloth and let it sit. Let dough rise for an hour to an hour and a half. Dough should double in size.

Spray a counter top surface with cooking spray. Spray your rolling pin, too. Divide the dough into two lumps. Roll one out one lump into a large rectangle. Soften a stick and a half of butter and smear on the dough. Sprinkle a lot of cinnamon (to taste, I like a LOT) over the dough. Smear a bunch (a heaping cup) of dark brown sugar. Roll up the dough from the widest side to make a log. Use a length of dental floss (unused, please!) to cut and section individual cinnamon rolls (1 1/2 inch width sections).

After placing the rolls in a greased 9 by 13 pan (you should have approximately a dozen), roll out the second lump and do the same. You’ll end up with two pans of cinnamon rolls. Cover pans with a thin cloth and let rise for another hour to an hour and a half. I put my rolls on my stove top and turn on the oven to preheat. The warm airflow near the oven helps the rolls rise.

When the rolls are nice and puffy, bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I have a large oven, so I can bake both pans at the same time on the same rack. If your oven is not big enough, bake one pan at a time. Don’t use different racks.

After rolls have cooled a bit, ice with homemade frosting. For frosting, I use one stick of melted butter, one tablespoon of vanilla, some powdered sugar (just add until the mixture is the right thickness), and a tiny bit of milk. Add powdered sugar and whisk until icing is the right consistency.

Binge!

Mmm… I love the smell of cinnamon rolls baking in the oven.

I’m not talking about the store bought kind from a can. I’m talking about the from scratch, ‘takes four hours to make’ variety. Homemade cinnamon rolls are a sweet labor of love.

I feel the same way about the writing process.

When starting a story, all I’ve got is an idea, a premise, or a character sketch. This hook is the leaven of the project. If inspiration strikes, I write the concept down (usually on the back of a receipt or in the notes on my iPhone). I mull over these ideas and let them percolate for a while.

Start with Yeast, Water, and Sugar

Start with Yeast, Warm Water, and Sugar

Just as the water temperature and the quality of the yeast has to be just right to leaven my cinnamon rolls, the mood and concept for a story has to be just right before I can move forward. Once I have the leaven of a story, the idea starts to bubble up in my mind.

When a cohesive plot grows from a concept, I’m ready to develop a story skeleton. The most basic ingredients–the plot structure, conflict, character traits, subplots, themes–are combined and sketched out.

The basic ingredients are ready to expand.

The basic ingredients are ready to expand.

Usually, my story skeleton grows a little at a time. Over the course of a few days or weeks, I add elements until I have a rough and rambling word document. The story is just a lump of goo goo ga’ joob gibberish, waiting to be shaped.

Roll out and smother, with butter, dark brown sugar, and spices

Roll out and smother, with butter, dark brown sugar, and spices

After my skeleton is ready, I start writing a first draft. I roll out the plot and type away. The basic structure is layered with a thick  smattering of description (classic overwriter, that’s me). At this stage, I don’t worry about editing; I write, write, write, knowing I’ll  reshape the text in later drafts.

After plowing through the first effort, I divide the novel into manageable scenes and chapters. Any scenes or dialogue that don’t move the story forward are cut. Then it’s time to step away from the laptop for awhile. I let the manuscript rest in peace for at least two weeks.

Cut and leave em' alone for awhile

Cut and leave em' alone for awhile

In the meantime, I work on other projects. I can always prewrite the next idea while a current manuscript is resting.

This is also a great time to catch up on reading. For me, a steady diet of good fiction is the best fuel for writing. I’m always inspired by the craft of other writers.  Good books keep me going.

risen unbaked cinn rolls

Puffed up and ready to bake!

When it’s finally to revisit my first draft drivel, I roll up my sleeves and turn up the heat. Anything half-baked gets edited out or rewritten. In this revision, I weed  superfluous descriptors, unnecessary dialogue, redundant action, bad dialogue tags,  inappropriate passive voice,  distracting POV shifts and irrelevent plot points.  My mantra is “when in doubt, throw it out.”

baked unglazed cinn rolls

Almost ready...

After this edit, I pass the manuscript along to a critique partner. Some of the very best advice I’ve ever gotten has come from reading at DFW Writers’ Workshop and posting at Agent Query Connect. Other more experienced writers have valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t. These frank (and sometimes brutal) criticisms are essential and appreciated. I incorporate suggestion into revisions wherever appropriate.

After another round of editing for clarity, I let the manuscript cool off again. Another two weeks. Or even six. No rest for the wicked. I work on other projects and soak up good stories from favorite authors. (Thank you, Neil Gaiman. Please keep writing. I can’t get enough.)

After reading and resting, I’m ready to make one (final? who knows?) more revision. By this point I’ve cut thousands of unnecessary words. It’s time to pore over the pages and look for places to polish. I highlight my favorite scenes and markup up my least favorite paragraphs. I look for places to strengthen word choice and voice.

glazed cinn rolls

Good enough to eat!

Mm, sweetness! I’m ready to begin the query process. Will I taste success? Let the rejections begin…

Gotta run…time to enjoy the fruit of my labor. While my writing advice is far from foolproof, my recipe for Sinful Cinnamon Rolls will satisfy your sweet tooth. (Hey, it’s not bragging if its true, right?.)

close up glazed cinn roll

Binge!

Sinful Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

4 packages rapid rise yeast

1 cup hot water (not boiling, not lukewarm, just hot tap water)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 sticks real butter

1 1/2 cups warm (not hot!) milk (heat on stovetop or in microwave)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. salt

8-9 cups of flour

Filling:

More butter

Dark brown sugar

Good Quality Cinnamon (don’t cheap out on this one, ok?)

Frosting:

Even more butter

Powdered Sugar

Vanilla

Milk

Dissolve yeast in a medium bowl with 1 cup of hot water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. You will not the yeast mixture is active if the yeast bubbles up (mixture should get very foamy, if not, you goofed with bad yeast or too hot or too cold water).

Melt one cup butter and combine with 1 1/2 cups of milk. Mix the milk/butter mixture with the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup sugar and then the eggs. Mix in salt and four cups of the flour. Mix until smooth. Add in the remaining cups of flour, a little at a time, just until the mixture is cohesive enough to handle. Save some of the flour to knead with. I usually save the last cup or so for this purpose.

Slap dough onto the counter and knead it a bit. Knead it just enough so it no longer so gooey and sticky in your hands.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Put the dough into the bowl. Cover the dough with a thin cloth and let it sit. Let dough rise for an hour to an hour and a half. Dough should double in size.

Spray a counter top surface with cooking spray. Spray your rolling pin, too. Divide the dough into two lumps. Roll one out one lump into a large rectangle (see picture). Soften a stick and a half of butter and smear on the dough. Sprinkle a lot of cinnamon (to taste, I like a LOT) over the dough. Smear a bunch (a heaping cup) of dark brown sugar. Roll up the dough from the widest side to make a log. Use a length of dental floss (unused, please!) to cut and section individual cinnamon rolls (1 1/2 inch width sections).

After placing the rolls in a greased 9 by 13 pan (you should have approximately a dozen), roll out the second lump and do the same. You’ll end up with two pans of cinnamon rolls. Cover pans with a thin cloth and let rise for another hour to an hour and a half. I put my rolls on my stove top and turn on the oven to preheat. The warm airflow near the oven helps the rolls rise.

When the rolls are nice and puffy (see picture), bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I have a large oven, so I can bake both pans at the same time on the same rack. If your oven is not big enough, bake one pan at a time. Don’t use different racks.

After rolls have cooled a bit, ice with homemade frosting. For frosting, I use one stick of melted butter, one tablespoon of vanilla, some powdered sugar (just add until the mixture is the right thickness), and a tiny bit of milk. Add powdered sugar and whisk until icing is the right consistency.

Binge!