On Halloween, a batch of cookies taught me a lesson.
This isn’t a new concept to me – I’ve learned several things from baked goods over the years.
- There’s truly no difference in taste for gluten-free sweets, so just bake what you can eat and no one else will care.
- Bringing homemade treats to an occasion is a great ice-breaker and a sure way to get people to like you.
- Someone who bakes with you is a friend for always.
But this particular lesson was a first in that it applies to my writing. If you do any kind of creative work, reader, let my batch of sloppy cookies inspire you as well.
The Tale of the Imperfect Cookies
‘Twas the night before Halloween when I set out to make gluten-free pumpkin spice cutout cookies to take to my work potluck the next day. I’ve made this recipe every October for 4 or 5 years. These cute, spicy little pumpkins are the perfect coffee dipper on a crisp fall morning.
The problem was that I was 25% making cookies and 75% watch Game 7 of the World Series. I’ve become so confident (okay, cocky) in my baking skills that I thought I could just glance through the ingredients list and my hands would put them together on autopilot while I listened to the announcers.
I added the flour and dry ingredients, combined them with the oil and syrup mixture, and checked the list one more time, knowing I was missing something.
Here’s the thing about cookie dough – you can mix all the ingredients together in any order you want and you’ll get the desired delicious taste, but if you don’t add the sugar with the wet ingredients in the beginning, you get a bowl of giant crumbs.
Cookie crumbs isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you have the time and energy to improvise – make them a crust for a pie, a topping for pudding or ice cream, a crunchy mix-in with a simple bowl of whipped cream – but given that 75% of me was dedicated to the television, these crumbs would not be salvaged into anything beautiful.
So I forced them to become cookies anyway.
After clumping the crumbs together in plastic wrap and hoping an hour in the fridge would make them all stick, I got a thick slab of dough that would completely unravel if one piece was undone. Thus, I tried not to break off much at all.
The end result: giant, brick-width cookies slathered in buttercream to give enough moisture to the massive cookie.
The flavor was incredible, every bit of comforting pumpkin spice and sweet, creamy frosting.
But that presentation was straight-up embarrassing. No, I didn’t snap a picture.
Do I Share These?
This was the first dish I’d bring to my new job. I didn’t want this sloppy batch to make people think I’d never made a cookie before. I have a tattoo of a cupcake – baking is in my blood!
I brought them to work, 80% sure I wouldn’t actually take them to the potluck. But in my heart I felt it would be worse to show up empty-handed. Still, I dropped them off at the end of the buffet line and ran, trying to hide that I was associated with them in any way.
I watched nervously as people placed the frosted bricks on their plates. One person asked me if it was a bread. “Let’s just say it’s a cookie bar,” was my response.
The response was shocking. I got emails asking for the recipe. One email simply said, “those were gluten-free???” At the end of the day, one half of a giant brick remained. I poured myself a glass of oat milk and enjoyed the sloppy treat.
So, how does this relate to writing? Or creativity? Or anything of value to you, reader?
Share your messes. What might be a flop to you could be a hit to someone else.
This particular cookie experience is like writing a story, where the nearly finished piece is nothing like what you had in mind when you set out to write the messy first draft. The thoughts and meanings and characters are all there, but the setting and structure is something from out of this world. You worry about sharing it with your readers because you don’t think it’s as good as you imagined.
You think your audience needs all the context about what this piece was supposed to be. Shouldn’t you explain your original idea? Shouldn’t you tell everyone about the mishap with the sugar and that actually yes, you’ve made several batches of cookies in your life and you know what you’re doing? So they don’t get the wrong impression from this finished product?
But this is a great opportunity to get real feedback about whether your turn of directions worked out or not. The real fun is in not telling the reader (or potluck-goer) anything about what it was supposed to be, and see what happens.
This past month I wrote an essay that came out on paper entirely different from how I saw it in my head. I didn’t quite trust the new version, but when I shared it with my friends, it was clear that the original message came through. Perhaps the accidental format helped it resonate even more.
It’s happened this way several times, especially when publishing blog posts I’m not 100% sure I want to share. Most often the response is an outpouring of positive comments, always surprising me.
We might see our work as bad, but sometimes it’s just our perception when it’s not what we thought it was going to be. This isn’t the time to shame or hide your work. It’s the time to put it out there and see whether your audience agrees with you. You can’t be the only judge of your work.
Share your messes, and let your audience tell you whether it worked or not. Cookie bars and cookies give you the same flavor in a different format. If your work is edible, it’s worth sharing.