Tough Cookies (Dry Manuscript?)

Last night I made oatmeal raisin cookies.  I modified the recipe to substitute half of the butter for applesauce and whole wheat flour instead of bleached flour.  I wanted to make them healthier; a little less artery-clogging.  In a dream world, these super cookies would have tasted as good, if not better, than their evil cousins.  But the world doesn’t work like that.  Who am I kidding?

Even after the last batch of cookies had been baked, there was one note in the recipe that stuck in my mind, and prompted this post:

“(over mixing develops the gluten, making a tough cookie.)”

This hint came right after the direction to mix the flour into the creamed ingredients “until no flour is visible.”  This got me thinking about my first manuscript, which I just started reading again with fresher eyes.  It occurred to me that my manuscript is not unlike the cookie dough.

Huh?  Yes, I just compared my manuscript to oatmeal raisin cookie dough.  With the cookie dough, there is a fine line between mixing just enough and too much.  Mixing just enough yields the reward of chewy cookies.  The penalty for mixing too much is oatmeal raisin hockey pucks.

My manuscript started out as ingredients in the bowl.  The goal of each round of editing (stirring) was to weed out unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and basically anything that didn’t move the story forward (mix in the flour until completely blended).  I trimmed thousands of words from my manuscript and my heart felt like I had a strong story (chewy cookies.)

Now I wonder, did I edit (stir) it too much?  Did I polish it until it dulled?  One of the agents reviewing it has promised helpful rejections.  I’m crossing my fingers for some insight.

In case you’re curious, yes, I ended up with tough cookies.  I’m nothing if not consistent.  I still have hope that one day I may get the divine revelation as to how to stir in the flour until it isn’t visible without over-mixing.  As in all areas of my life, I look to the light 🙂

My husband tried the cookies and he didn’t gag or grimace.  Bless him; he will eat oatmeal raisin cookies even if they crumble in his hands.  Now, if I can just find a literary agent with the same taste…

How do YOU know when (if) you’ve stirred (edited) too much?


29 thoughts on “Tough Cookies (Dry Manuscript?)

  1. Brown Eyed Mystic December 23, 2010 / 3:40 AM

    Hmm tough question. . . A few hours ago, I edited a 1500 word piece and brought it down to 502 words 🙂 And yet, it did say more or less the same thing. But how I hated cutting my beloved words!

    And the cookies sound yum! Ummm. . .


    • jannatwrites December 23, 2010 / 6:54 AM

      Wow, you did some serious trimming! Sometimes the word-cutting is painful (you know, chest pains, labored breathing, etc.) but yes, it must be done.

      I’m going to have to read my manuscript early in the day (when I still have half a brain) and see if I followed the ‘rules’ too closely and came up with something that’s too flat. (At this point, I’m not sure if my lack of interest in reading it has to do with its current state, or the fact that I’ve already read it seven or eight times.)

      By the way, the cookies weren’t very good at all. I’l be going to the store today to buy something worthy of bringing to the family gathering 🙂

  2. Aligaeta December 23, 2010 / 6:19 AM

    That is an awesome connection your mind made.
    Working the dough: Polishing the manuscript
    Your very creative with a strong writers voice.
    You didn’t spend enough time with the recipe: your intimate with your manuscript.
    It sounds like the recipe sucked: HAVE FAITH IN YOUR MANUSCRIPT!
    Don’t worry about over working it, editing is strengthening. : )

    • jannatwrites December 23, 2010 / 7:00 AM

      Thanks, Aligaeta for the compliments. You are too kind 🙂

      I didn’t spend much time with the recipe, and it’s one I’ve never used before. I’ve got a cold and my heart wasn’t in it (it was curled up on the couch with a mug of hot cider.) Perhaps I’m trying to read the manuscript in the same way (I really don’t want to read it again, but it needs to be done.) I’ll see if I can carve out some daylight hours over the next month or so when my care factor is higher 🙂

  3. T.S. Bazelli December 23, 2010 / 10:05 AM

    LOL my cookies always turn out burned! At least yours were edible 🙂

    I’m not sure if this always happens, but lately I’ve found there’s a feeling of ‘ok I can’t wait for someone to read this!’ when I’ve gotten through enough edits. This typically (for me) is 4 passes.

    • jannatwrites December 23, 2010 / 12:19 PM

      I was excited about it around pass #3, but I’ve been over it several times since then and I think I just need to do one more read through and then leave it alone. Either it’s there or it’s not.

      Isn’t the “I’ve finally got it!” feeling wonderful? May you continue to feel the rush 🙂

      • Tim Weaver December 24, 2010 / 1:57 PM


        I’ll be happy to give it a once-over. Or, perhaps better said, a ‘work-over’ with a figurative rubber hose. I’ll make it talk…or else!

        Merry Christmas

        • jannatwrites December 24, 2010 / 2:11 PM

          That worries me a little, Tim. You did quite a number on my short story…I don’t know if I could handle the gore of my novel being ‘worked over’ 🙂

          Maybe I’ll send you a few chapters (after I make the edits I marked up yesterday.) Then, if it’s a snoozer, can go back an wake it up before you find out the whole story.

          Have a merry Christmas, since it is your favorite holiday…and your MIL is there with you!

      • Tim Weaver December 26, 2010 / 6:36 AM

        Deal. You know where to send them.

  4. nrhatch December 23, 2010 / 10:49 AM

    When I make “real food” . . . I try to make it as healthy as possible. When I make “cookies” . . . I try to make them as delicious as possible.

    When I write, I try to say as much as I can in as few words as possible.

    Enjoyed this post, Janna! We wish you well (i.e., get rid of that cold and enjoy some Hot Cider).

    • jannatwrites December 23, 2010 / 12:21 PM

      I’m glad you liked the post, Nancy. And good rule of thumb on the food, but I still dabble in healthier dessert options on occasion. I should stop that 🙂

      Have a wonderful holiday. I will get my cider eventually…and I’m so looking forward to it!

  5. 2blu2btru December 23, 2010 / 11:23 AM

    I think that you would have been better served finding a recipe that made the same or similar substitutions as you intended to. Using different ingredients than prescribed changes the directions a bit…in both making cookies and in writing.

    What you put in determines what you have to “blend until it’s no longer visible.” If I start out mentally rejecting adverbs in favor of stronger verbs, there’s less to fix later.

    If I can’t fall into the story without seeing all the tricks and techniques I’ve used to build it, I know I’ve gone too far. You don’t want the reader to see the nuts and bolts, but the beautiful finished product. They need to look underneath, turn over, and closely inspect to get to (and admire) your handiwork. You edit a story best when you can’t tell it’s been edited at all. When it flows like one continuous story, one interesting continuous story, then it’s good. That’s a LOT easier said than done, though. 😀

    • jannatwrites December 23, 2010 / 12:25 PM

      I have an affinity for adverbs, but I am catching myself when I write them now. (I might have picked this up from reading books with my older son – they tend to use adverbs heavily.)

      I like your statement “You edit a story best when you can’t tell it’s been edited at all.” It’s a wonderful idea…and yes, it is a challenge 🙂

  6. Kiara December 23, 2010 / 11:58 AM

    Great post, Janna!

    This is actually really relevant to me. Over the course of a few months, my awful first draft went from 140,000 words to 75, 000 words. A lot of scenes were merged and a lot was cut. But the thing is, I’m going over my third draft now, and it feels better for it. It was so messy before; now the plot is cleaner, faster, and there’s less pointless thought and action in it.

    I know it’s a lot to drop, which is why straight after this third draft, I’m handing it to my test readers. After a while, you spend long enough in the editing cave you miss out on the light. I doubt anymore needs to be taken away, but if it comes to it, I can add. I’m okay with adding to it.

    If the risk didn’t pay off, and I’ve ended up with a tough cookie, then at least I can learn from my mistakes. You always take something from an experience, whether it’s in writing or cooking. I guess when editing I go with my instinct. Usually, I find that if something doesn’t feel right to me, it isn’t. But there are always exceptions to the rule.

    Good luck on your feedback, Janna, and have a nice holiday!

    • jannatwrites December 23, 2010 / 12:30 PM

      Thanks, Kiara – I’m glad you stopped by!

      I like your positive attitude in seeing the possible tough cookie as a learning experience, rather than a reason to be discouraged. I have to say, shrinking a manuscript to nearly half its original size is an impressive and admirable task, indeed. Good for you!

      You have a nice holiday too. Best of luck on your third draft; I hope your efforts pay off 🙂

  7. J. P. Cabit December 23, 2010 / 9:02 PM

    Leave it to you, Janna, to find writing parallels in the everyday!

    Overstirring? Yes. Poor lamb. Had to make a new batch of cookies twice over, if you know what I mean. 🙂

    Usually it’s a good hint for me, if I start to change things around and make a completely new story. I.e. writing new chapters to fill in huge holes, inserting new characters “To make it work…” I don’t know, just a guess. This doesn’t happen too too much, since I don’t churn out too many novels on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis.

    • jannatwrites December 23, 2010 / 10:19 PM

      Well, J.P., My mind is strange that way 😉

      You mean you don’t write a novel every month? I’m shocked! You’ve noted some very good signs of possible trouble, but sometimes they could just be good editing choices. I suppose the key is to tune into the story’s flow to determine if the changes work or not.

  8. Cities of the Mind December 24, 2010 / 7:28 AM

    Well, one nice thing about writing (since we stopped using typewriters) is that we can un-add and un-delete ingredients as necessary. On the flipside, we do run into those situations where something technically synonymous (say, “add and delete,” vs. what I went with) doesn’t actually capture what we mean. So no substitutions–and wow do I ever want cookies now.

    • jannatwrites December 24, 2010 / 8:50 AM

      Oh yeah, I remember typewriters (barely)…and the fun of correction tape and lining the paper back up once I took it out to fix something. (Is it just me or does that make me seem really old? I’m not THAT much older than you are.)

      Sometimes I wonder if I deleted when I should have added or added when I should have deleted. (Good news, though – I printed out five chapters of my novel and edited them yesterday…and I wasn’t totally bored, so it may not be as bad as I originally thought. There are some changes, yes; but it’s not ready for the bonfire yet.)

      Ah, cookies – and the power of suggestion. Sorry about that 🙂 If it’s any consolation, my cookies weren’t good. But never one to back away from a cookie, my husband is eating them anyway.

      • Tim Weaver December 26, 2010 / 6:35 AM

        I remember writing college term papers on Onion Skin. 🙂

        • jannatwrites December 26, 2010 / 9:57 PM

          Hehehe….I remember writing papers with a quill and ink….not really, but it sounded fun!

  9. duke1959 December 24, 2010 / 7:52 AM

    Why is it that husbands are used as guinea pigs for our wife’s cooking? Maybe there are some insurnace policies involved!

    • jannatwrites December 24, 2010 / 8:54 AM

      My, you are a suspicious one! I’ve got a simple answer to your question: Because they always eat it 🙂

      If my husband started refusing to eat my experiments, eventually, I’d quit making them. Although the insurance policy is an intriguing motive, in my case, I can assure you that’s not a factor. Do you think I want to go through the teenage years with two sons all by myself? NO WAY! 🙂

      Thanks for dropping by; great comment!

  10. Ollin December 24, 2010 / 12:12 PM

    Mmmm… Now I want cookies. 🙂 Too bad your blog doesn’t have smell-a-vision or taste-a-vision.

    • jannatwrites December 24, 2010 / 2:07 PM

      That could be dangerous, Ollin. But no worries as far as the cookies turned out – you didn’t miss anything. The rice krispies treats and pound cake with fruit I’m working on now should be okay though 🙂

  11. chlost December 26, 2010 / 12:38 PM

    Love chewy oatmeal raisin cookies. Love good writing. Good luck with both. I am just catching up after being off the computer for the holiday. I hope that you had a wonderful weekend.

    • jannatwrites December 26, 2010 / 9:56 PM

      Thanks for the good luck wishes, Chlost! It seems I need all the help I can get 🙂 I’m glad you had a fews days “off”, but it’s good see you’re back!

  12. crumbl February 24, 2011 / 11:30 AM

    Put the manuscript down and back away with your hands up!

    Seriously, though … walk away for a bit. Tuck it in a drawer, lock the drawer, leave it alone until you gain a better perspective of why you wrote it in the first place and what you were trying to say. Reading again and again what you’re not satisfied with isn’t going to make it better. That’s just masochistic, like sitting in the dark, listening to country music, drinking and trying to figure out how to “fix” a broken relationship.

    You’re too close, too caught up, and too emotionally invested to let go for a bit. Or maybe, forever. It’s not like you don’t have other projects to pursue, the pursuit of which probably bring you significantly more joy and fulfillment. Focus on the positive. Give the manuscript a little space.

    No need to thank me, especially not with a plate of cookies. ; )

    • jannatwrites February 24, 2011 / 9:55 PM

      The situation is under control…I have put the manuscript away. I don’t know when/if it will see the light of day, but I have moved on to another idea. (Love the mental image of your drinking/country music/relationship example.)

      Thanks for your advice, Crumbl. I know you said there was no need to thank you, and you don’t want my tough cookies….but I do make a “killer” chocolate cake 😉

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