Aspiring author Debra Sennefelder has two constant writing companions, her Shih-Tzus, Susie and Billy. She's been an avid reader since childhood and found writing came naturally for her. When she's not writing, she loves to cook, exercise (yes, really) and read. Learn more about Debra at her website.
Every new writer hears at least a bizillion times to "write what you know" when they begin their writing journey. Most of the time these new writers take the advice literally. They write about their own lives and just change the names to protect the innocent, or they stop writing because what they know isn't interesting enough to carry a three hundred-page novel. The truth is, there is a lot of bad advice out there for writers and one of the most important skills a writer can develop is the ability to identify the good advice from the bad advice.
I'm not saying "write what you know" is bad advice, it's a great place to start. I interpreted the advice as to write authentically, which comes from working the experiences in my day-to-day life into my stories.
I write cozy mysteries, but I’ve never been involved in a murder investigation. However, I can draw on past experiences where maybe I was a bit too curious or when I found myself living in a town that was swarmed by the media because of a tragic event. Now, my characters aren’t me and they aren’t living through every event/experience I’ve lived through. An example is my amateur sleuth in my series. She isn’t me. She’s divorced, she’s had fifteen minutes of fame, and she bought an old farmhouse with a wraparound porch (so jealous). But we share a lot of common interests and that helps me write her in a way I hope readers will find relatable.
One of the things we have in common is baking. It’s one of my greatest pleasures. Baking also helps me with my writing. When I’m stuck in my story, I go into the kitchen and bake something—cookies or muffins or my go-to snack of raisin-oatmeal bars—and just as I’m cleaning up, I find I’ve worked through my story problem. Plus, I have something yummy to eat. Win-win.
Over the summer I was stuck in edits. My agent had sent my manuscript back to me to make some tweaks here and there, but I came across one scene that I wasn’t happy with. I knew that it could be better. Staring at the page on my computer wasn’t yielding any results. Frustrating, to say the least. I pushed my chair back from my desk and headed into the kitchen.
I remember that Sunday well because it was one of the least hot, humid days of this summer. I could breath and didn’t feel like I needed to be wrung out. Which meant I could turn on the oven for a little bit. I needed to bake something. It had to be quick, easy and satisfying. My decision was made. Corn muffins. I love corn muffins with a light spread of soft butter.
I pulled out a mixing bowl and the muffin tins and started baking. As I followed my recipe, I let my mind wander and do its own thing. When my husband woke, he found a treat waiting for him, and I had an idea of how to fix the scene I was unhappy with.
And that leads me to share with you my recipe for corn muffins that I now affectionately call, Fix the Story Corn Muffins.
Fix the Story Corn Muffins
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted
Nonstick cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the eggs and milk and mix. Pour the melted butter and mixture into the dry ingredients at the same time and mix just until blended.
Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray and evenly divide between the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.
Serve warm with fresh butter or fruit preserves.