How Writing is like a Good Brisket Recipe – 8 Key Questions for Every Writer

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

When this post is released on TKZ in the wee hours of the morning, my brisket will be cooking low and slow all night and waiting to be swaddled in heavy foil. I’m praying for a crispy thick bark, an elusive phenomenon for me. My house is filled with an incredible aroma. Someone should bottle it.

There is a genuine art form to making a perfect Texas-style smoked brisket and I already know I will never be worthy, but I’m giving it a go. My older brother is a God when it comes to being a pit master. He’s given me tips and I am sticking to them…as much as my headstrong mind will allow me. I am my mother’s ‘let’s wing every recipe’ daughter.

I will be posting pictures and recipe tips on my Instagram account where I focus on my low carb ketogenic diet and other interests.

Just like a good, tried and true recipe is for brisket, we pick up new tips but keep what works. The same goes for writing. There are ways we all use to build upon our craft methods of writing a novel. We try new things to see what works. We discard other methods that we’ve outgrown as we evolve.

Below are some questions I’d like for you to answer if you see anything that fits you. Feel free to add what you’ve learned about writing in your comments. I am a sponge for picking up new stuff.

Writer Questions – Share your Experiences

1.) Are you still finding time to read? Do you read outside the genre you write? Even when life gets busy, reading can be a comfort, but it can also open your eyes to new techniques or interesting POVs or genres. Always be a student when it comes to your writing craft. You will keep growing.

2.) Do you cherish the time you write, where you write and make sure you don’t get interrupted? Life, family/friends and your day job can pile on to add stress in your life. Is your writing the first thing to go? I hope not. Even if you only finish a page a day, that’s progress. I find that once I establish a routine, my body can react in a bad way if I stray from my writing schedule. I can physically get the shakes. Even when I had my day job, I made sure to write every evening and on weekends. It wasn’t easy but it paid off.

3.) How do you capture those big ideas that can spring on you any time of day or night? Do you keep notebooks all over the house or a voice recorder? I get lots of ideas while I’m driving. The best ones, I pull over and reach for my purse where I keep a small notepad and pens. Or better yet, get someone to drive you so your genius is unfettered. Is there a place where you consistently get your big ideas? No pictures if you tell me “the shower.”

4.) Do you have personal rules/discipline when it comes to unplugging from social media and the internet while you are writing? My usual day is writing 9:00 am until 3:00 pm with short breaks to care for my dogs and grab a snack. I try to get up every 3 hours to stretch and walk and replenish the well for a quick change of scenery but I don’t get to emails or social media until after I’ve achieved my word count goal. YES, I have a daily goal. I generally shoot for 1500-2000 words per day and do rolling edits to keep my progress going on the overall project. But social media and emails are a time drain. No sneak peaking as a diversion when you hit a wall. Pick another way to shake out the cobwebs.

5.) Do you read your work aloud? After all these years, I still read my edits aloud. It’s a great way to insure you have a natural cadence to your dialogue and prose. Even if you don’t do this every day, I recommend doing it for important passages/proposals or as one of your final draft processes. This is the best way to find words you’ve left out.

6.) Do you use the first third to a quarter of your book to set up your world building and character introductions? An editor with a large publishing house said something at a writer’s conference about expecting to read the basic set up with characters and conflict within the first 3 chapters. Now it may not be 3 chapters exactly, as I see it now, but he wasn’t wrong about how to establish your world for the reader. Even if you don’t plot ahead of time, expect that readers and editors and agents will expect you to set that foundation for your story and include your cast of characters and their conflicts in the first part of the book.

7.) Do you plan the ending of your book while you’re working on your plot idea or are you willing to let it happen when you get there? If you’re like me, each book can be different. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night with a new character telling me the ending to his/her story. True. That doesn’t happen with each book, but when it’s that strong that it wakes me, I listen. On the other hand, I am flexible enough to see new ways to add twists. I want to be open to new character motivations too. More times than not, I have found better books by staying open to my endings. How rigid are you? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised with an ending you never expected, just because you followed a rabbit trail or discovered something new about your main character?

8.) How open are you to criticism? Does it matter who gives it? I used to be more prickly when anyone criticized my masterpiece, but after having many good editors from the publishing houses I’ve worked with and solid beta readers, I’ve grown very open to their suggestions. I think of their criticism as a collaboration to make the book better. I may not always take every suggestion. Only the author should decide what makes sense for the world they are building, but pick your battles. Generally, if someone is confused or something isn’t working for them (even if they can’t describe it exactly), I pay attention and try to find a solution. I’ve never regretted that approach. For anyone taking the time to give a critique, take what they say and make changes where it’s appropriate, even if you have to come back to their feedback later. Keep an open mind.

FOR DISCUSSION:

1.) Share your answers to any of the questions I’ve mentioned above–the questions that resonated with you the most.

2.) Add any new questions or tips that you have found a must to your process. What are your core “must dos” and what have you discarded?

3.) Any brisket tips? I promise I will listen, even if you’re not from Texas.

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

20 thoughts on “How Writing is like a Good Brisket Recipe – 8 Key Questions for Every Writer

  1. I’m heading out to the day job so only have time to answer one.

    I always know my beginning and I always know how the ending. I rarely know how to get there – but it’s always fun to find out.

    • I love painting myself into a corner of a story and try to find a way out. Sounds like you thrive on this too. That’s why I’ve never wanted to completely plot out every detail before I begin writing. I’ve changed how much I know about the turning points and the plot movement. I’m no longer a complete pantser, but I could never be a 90-page plot outline person (as I’ve heard other authors talk about at writing conferences). Whatever our process is, it must feel right and produce something that works for each of us, right? Thanks, Cynthia.

  2. First and most important question, Jordan. What time is dinner??? Your brisket description had my nose twitching and mouth watering.

    All excellent questions but #8 is my favorite. If a reader brings up a point that’s bothersome, s/he may not exactly know what’s wrong but that always makes me reexamine it, whether it’s a single word that doesn’t ring quite right or a character reaction that sounds off.

    As you say, critique is very much a collaboration, not an attack on our precious darlings. Thankfully, my betas often notice the spinach stuck in my darling’s teeth and save me from embarrassment.

    My adopted mother (from Texas, of course!) made the world’s best fried chicken–not hyperbole–everyone who ever tasted her chicken said so. I watched her for decades, trying to replicate her recipe and technique. I came close but never attained her perfection.

    • This is my first attempt. I test recipes before I spring on guests, but you’d be on my first list, Debbie.

      Fried chicken is iconic. I’ve never attempted it. My mom just shared her salsa recipe with me and it’s amazing. I can eat it with a spoon. Totally addictive with 5 different kinds of peppers. Like you, I watched my mom make it but since she never does it the same, that made it hard. I finally got a base recipe from her that tasted great so I can tweak it my way from there. I love handing down family recipes. Thanks, Debbie.

    • You nailed it, Jim. No sauce for me. The meat is king and a rub is key. I focused on getting a crunchy bark. From my research, that means a simpler rub with coarse seasonings, especially the pepper. I found an amazing specialty black pepper from my grocer that smells amazing – with sea salt, coarse turbinado sugar, garlic & onion powder, & smoked paprika.

      This morning when I wrapped it in heavy foil for the last 7 hrs, the bark was thick & crunchy. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  3. Regarding social media, I’ve found I can’t just ignore alerts. I have to remove the temptation. I turn off the phone AND put it in another room. I bring up my writing screen AND close the email screen. (I don’t always follow through, but that’s my plan, and it works when I do follow through.)

    • That’s great, Priscilla. I find that I can get into my story best without the distractions. Nothing online is worth not achieving my daily word count goals. Keep your goals reasonable so they’re achievable. When you hit your goal, treat yourself with something good. It may not be play time on the internet but if that’s a treat to you, go for it. Thanks for your unplug tips.

  4. Excellent questions, Jordan! BTW, your brisket looks amazing. I can almost smell it from NH. 😀

    #1: Absolutely! Reading is my reward for writing.
    #2: Absolutely! I love writing. I stole the entire day yesterday (with a book on pre-order, as you know, that’s not easy), and I had the best time.
    #3: Any way I can. I usually make notes on the notepad on my phone if I’m away from home.
    #4: I pop into social media every other day, with the off days reserved for only writing. ‘Course, new releases require more marketing time, but I try to stick to that schedule whenever possible.
    #5: Yup. During the final read-through before submission.
    #6: I use a four-act structure, so yes, about 20-25%.
    #7: Yup. I plot all the milestones before I start writing, but I also stay open to other ideas.
    #8: Very open. My editor doesn’t sugarcoat it, either. She tells me straight if something doesn’t work, and I trust her opinion. I once had a character with a gaping gunshot wound to the chest, and he got up and ran away. Whoops! Writers can never see our own work as clearly as others do. If we’re not open to criticism, we’re only hurting ourselves.

  5. To stretch the cooking metaphor…

    I love to cook. I love recipes and learning new techniques. I am thinking lately it is very close to writing. You must learn the basic rules only so you can break them and come up with something that’s your own. This is what I did with the Chicken Provencal recipe I found in the NYTimes a long time ago, but over the years turned it into my own. (Definitely need more vermouth than the recipe calls for).

    This is also why I don’t bake. The rules of baking, unlike cooking, are absolute. If you don’t adhere to them, the souffle won’t rise, no matter how creative you think you are.

    This week, I wanted to make whipped cream. I hate the taste of that junk that you find in the freezer aisle. I don’t own a mixer so I had to beat the heavy cream with a whisk until my arm fell off. It worked! But this would not have worked if I hadn’t refrigerated the cream, metal bowl and whisk first or I would have eneded up with cottage cheese. Which I think is like the writing rule about never killing animals. Some rules are there for good reason even if you think you don’t need them.

    • Ha! I love this, Kris. You sound like me. When I downsized my house & kitchen, I got rid of unused appliances but found I had to purchase some things back again.

      I’m not a baker. Not into sweets or desserts and am trying to cut out sugar in my low carb diet these days, but I conceded by buying a hand mixer to whip stuff. It’s come in handy.

      Recipes become tried & true as we gain experience but that doesn’t mean we don’t keep an eye out for new things to infuse into our repertoire. Yes, just like writing. Thanks, Kris.

      • Yup…have to go to BB&Beyond for Keurig filters today. Might throw an electric mixer into the basket. 🙂 Although it was fun seeing the whipped cream take shape. Maybe I’ll churn butter next.

  6. Good tips, thanks Jordan. I want to a talk by Walter Moseley and he said he stopped reading his work aloud after his twenty fifth novel. I’m way off that so I’m still reading aloud. It no longer alarms my partner when she hears me chundering away to myself.

    • This of it as honing your acting skills, David. Who knows? You may want to be the voice for one of your audio books. Many bestselling authors are their own narrator.

      I find that as I get older, missing words happen more often. I see it when I beta for other authors too. Reading aloud helps.

      • It always seems like Brit & Aussie actors do a better American accent than American actors can do a British accent. There are exceptions like Meryl Streep but not Dick Van Dyke, Kevin Costner or Brad Pitt.

  7. 1.) I read while eating, and while waiting for the computer to run through all its get-ready business. And then again, late at night, until I nod off so often I have to go to bed.

    2.) This is my year to create more routine in my writing world. I’m tired of getting distracted by time-wasting non-essentials.

    3.) My ideas come from dreams, from bits of conversation I overhear, from news reports, from voices in my head…maybe I’d better not admit that last one. Really, guys, they’re character’s voices. Honest.

    4.) I used to need music in the background while writing. Since a head injury many years ago anything going on around me is a painful distraction. So I crave quiet as I focus on my writing. Once I get to that state, it’s often so deep I forget to stop for food, drink, or other needs. But I do miss the music.

    7.) I’m generally a pantser, but I do know the value of stopping to jot down plot points and revisit arcs when I write myself into a corner. Of course, it’s not my fault that I end up in so many strange places. I told you, there are these voices.

    8.) I’m of the take what I can use and thank the critiquer before tossing the rest out the window school. And I pay more attention to questions and comments from people who can tell me why something doesn’t work, rather than a generic “didn’t work for me.” I’ve worked with some tough critics, but I’ve learned so much from being open to hear what they have to say.

    Around here, Jordan, it’s all about pit barbecue. Only a month or so before the church parish BBQ fundraiser season starts. There’s one every weekend until late fall. And of course, the International Bar-B-Que Festival. If you can’t get your fill of mouthwatering grilled goodies, you’re not trying hard enough.

  8. Hi Suzanne. Your fundraiser sounds like a must visit. My mouth is watering.

    On your #4, the Coffitivity app has background sounds of a coffee shop. I normally prefer quiet but this free app is interesting. TKZ’s James Scott Bell shared this tidbit & I’ve loved it. It trains your brain to work with white noise that’s not distracting. Really cool.

    And voices in your head are completely acceptable. No meds or strait jacket required. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jordan, the fundraiser is a series of events. Every Catholic parish in the diocese, including the cathedral, has its own fundraiser. They have assigned weekends. The parish teams compete at the International Bar-B-Que fest for top honors in meat and burgoo categories. If you don’t know which parish is cooking on any given weekend, just follow the scent of wood smoke rising from the pits.

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