For years I couldn’t make a decent pancake. I could grill picture perfect steaks and bake bread that could amaze, but pancakes were impossible.
It’s been nearly 14 years since I first tried to make a pancake, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but it’s only been in the last 3 years that I have at last conquered pancake making with both consistency and near perfection.
The other night, I stood flipping my practically perfect pancakes, considering how a couple of years ago, I had found the whole process so frustrating that I wanted to quit trying.
One day, probably at the request of one of my children, I got out the pan and tried again. I hovered anxious the whole time. I watched each bubble form on the upside of every pancake. I read and re-read the directions, while muttering prayers to finally get this right.
And then, as if I’d been doing it my whole life, they turned out perfectly.
This is both a small miracle and also?–the fruit of perseverance.
I’ve thought about that moment repeatedly, trying to figure out why it took me so long to get such a simple meal right. Afterall, in the last 14 years I’ve prepared and cooked much more challenging dishes, so why was this one so relentlessly hard for me?
Here’s what learned:
Pancakes are a somewhat delicate food. Too long in the pan (by a mere matter of seconds) and they turn too dark and tough. Not enough time in the pan and they are gooey and raw inside, which is plain nasty.
For me, I needed to find the balance. I started with my cooking temperature. I discovered that for the particular pan I like for cooking pancakes, there is only one very specific setting the burner can be on. One notch higher, and the pancakes are impossible, every time. Once I figured this out, the pancakes were at least fully cooked (score!).
After fine-tuning my cooking temp, I discovered that while my pancakes were thoroughly cooked, they were too thick and not “floppy” enough. This I recognized was not a heat issue, but a batter problem. For years I hadn’t been stirring the batter enough. Because my cookbook cautions over mixing, I erred on the side of super-lumpy-barely-mixed. Again, crappy pancakes.
It turned out that my batter needed a more vigorous blending, and actually requires (sometimes) a splash or two more milk than the recipe calls for.
That’s it. Perfect pancakes. Every time.
And it only took 10 years of practice.
As I reflected on all of this, I saw the parallel to my writing journey. Even the very best writers “burned a few pancakes” when they first started writing. Writing is a gift, but also a skill to be honed and tweaked over time.
All serious writers learn the necessity and value of perseverance. <–tweet this
It takes practice and evaluation of our work to make it better. When something isn’t working, we go back to the beginning and look at where we went wrong. Maybe the words need to rest longer on the page before being served up. Maybe we’ve gone overboard on the salt and we need to add a bit more sugar. Maybe it works with oil, but tastes better when you use applesauce instead.
The thing about writing is, that while there is a basic formula for good story telling, there is always room to tweak the technique. Sometimes, more than anything, we just need a lot of practice–maybe even more than we think. On the surface, writing seems easy enough. But when you read writing that seems easy, you’re reading the work of a gifted, practiced writer. That’s what good writers do–make it seem easy.
So get back to the desk. Sit down and start again. Read the words of those who have done this before. Tweak your methods. Believe that eventually, your perseverance will pay off. And pray–ask God to equip you for the task He’s called you to.
For some great books on writing check out a few of my favorites, Stephen King’s On Writing, Ann Lamott’s Bird By Bird, Luci Shaw’s Breath For The Bones, and Madeline L’engle’s Walking on Water. These are just a few brilliant writers who make it look easy, but in reality persevered through many a burned pancake.
So tell me, how are you at making pancakes?