Writing contests, baking cookies, and taking advice
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
How do you make cookies?
I want you to really think about it. How do you make cookies? You might follow a recipe, or you might not. If you’re an avid baker, your mind might be dancing through a dozen different options, trying to decide what type of cookies to make first.
We might try to say there are some basic ground rules when making cookies. You know, the rules that are always followed. If we did, what might those basic rules be?
Well, for starters, you need butter and sugar.
Unless you’re making vegan cookies.
Then you for sure need flour, right?
Oh… Unless you’re making gluten free cookies, or flourless cookies, or no bake cookies… Right. No-bake cookies exist, so we can’t even say that baking is a requirement.
Sugar? Well… yeah. I’ll give you sugar (or at least a sweetener of some kind, according to your dietary choices). And the cookie should be small enough to supposedly eat all at once. Shareable cookies are their own thing, and are really a variation on the original…
You know what. I lied. There are absolutely no basic ground rules for making cookies. Do whatever you want, call it a cookie. All it needs to be is delicious, according to someone.
What does this have to do with writing contests and advice? That should be pretty obvious.
Cookie = your story
Cookie rules = writing advice
There are absolutely no rules that apply to everyone, everywhere. All you have to do is tell a good story, a story that is enjoyable to someone, somewhere.
Now, is it possible (and arguably a very good idea!) to go looking for advice? Yes. Especially when you are just starting, or if you want to try something new, or are feeling stuck. Just as a recipe can guide you, so can writing advice. Just as a Pinterest board full of beautiful cookies can jump start your baking engine, so too can a well-written book or even an article about writing.
There are rules that apply to many stories. Many cookies are baked with butter, flour, and sugar as the main ingredients. They are delicious.
There are rules that I will apply to all of my own stories, because that’s how I function. My cookies almost always have chocolate and never have lemon in them.
There are rules that will apply to one story and not another and neither one is worse off for it. Chocolate chip cookies are not inherently “better” than thin mints, and those are not inherently “better” than white chocolate raspberry cookies. They are different and they require a different recipe.
So when you are entering writing contests, or soliciting feedback from a critique partner, remember your recipe. Remember that those offering advice might like different cookies than you do, and they might not have any idea what a white chocolate raspberry cookie is even supposed to taste like.