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:
- Always use high-quality ingredients. If you do not have any, wait and get some before baking.
- Have your necessaries and tools ready and in good state.
- Stick to the recipe and maintain a thorough time regime; only get creative once you master the basics.
- Prepare your starter and pre-ferments carefully; give them time to rest and develop activity.
- Mix everything together well so that the resulting dough loosens easily from the bowl.
- Do not over-knead; a dough should bond well, be active and structured while preserving moistness and plasticity.
- Let the dough rest and develop; check its state regularly and fold it once or twice.
- Bring it in form and fit it into the baking tin; let it rest again.
- Remember to heat up the oven on time.
- Start the baking process at high temperature, then slowly go down.
- Let the finished bread cool down before using it; share it with others.
- Do not expect the first try to be perfect; the more you bake, the easier it will get.
- Ask for help if you are stuck with your workmanship.
- Try to appreciate not only the product but also the entire process of making it.
- Do not overstretch analogies!
Last updated: 10.04.2021