As some of you might have noticed over the last years, baking bread has become not only one of my favorite hobbies but also something that I talk and write about regularly (see Bread). I enjoy baking for various reasons, starting from the taste of fresh bread of course, or the exhilarating moment when the apartment slowly fills with the smell of a bread in the making. What I also like about it is the manual work, the careful preparation of an every-day product that leads to a tangible – and tasty – outcome. Working with all the senses, but also the directly visible outcome, are things that are often not the case in my work as a researcher, especially when it comes to writing papers. This can be a tedious and somewhat arduous process. Don’t get me wrong: I love to write, whether for academic purposes or in connection with private interests. Language is certain to me in a way that I consider to be one of the great enrichments of my life. I live in language and feel at home in it like on a bench by the stove on a rainy winter morning.

Still, I sometimes find academic writing to be a kind of chore, especially when there are tight deadlines that build up some extra pressure along the way. Over the years I have learned – the hard way, of course – to let deadlines pass without a guilty conscience and to deal with something that gives me pleasure instead, for example baking bread. I draw a lot of strength from these little escapes, but they also help me to concentrate on my work again – unless the apartment smells too much of fresh bread… In addition, however, I have noticed that the intensive occupation with baking and all the associated work steps has also changed the way I think about and approach my writing process. It seems to me that the routines and best practices of baking are very well suited to describe a “healthy” writing process.

Both activities share a number of characteristics, starting from the handicraft involved over the routinized execution of certain actions in a set order to the importance of timing and rest for a good product. So I wrote down a little process analogy, 15 lessons I have learned from baking bread, which have helped me in organizing my academic writing process in a better, more joyful and more productive way. Maybe you can see the analogy, maybe you can’t; in any case, I benefit twice from it: with better texts and delicious bread!

So here we go with my little process analogy:

  1. Always use high-quality ingredients. If you do not have any, wait and get some before baking.
  2. Have your necessaries and tools ready and in good state.
  3. Stick to the recipe and maintain a thorough time regime; only get creative once you master the basics.
  4. Prepare your starter and pre-ferments carefully; give them time to rest and develop activity.
  5. Mix everything together well so that the resulting dough loosens easily from the bowl.
  6. Do not over-knead; a dough should bond well, be active and structured while preserving moistness and plasticity.
  7. Let the dough rest and develop; check its state regularly and fold it once or twice.
  8. Bring it in form and fit it into the baking tin; let it rest again.
  9. Remember to heat up the oven on time.
  10. Start the baking process at high temperature, then slowly go down.
  11. Let the finished bread cool down before using it; share it with others.
  12. Do not expect the first try to be perfect; the more you bake, the easier it will get.
  13. Ask for help if you are stuck with your workmanship.
  14. Try to appreciate not only the product but also the entire process of making it.
  15. Do not overstretch analogies!