Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tomatoes and Manuscripts

If you follow me on Twitter you might have realized that today was canning day around my house.  This mostly came about because the three ginormous mounds of tomatoes on my kitchen counter were causing just a small space issue in the kitchen, but I'll admit it also had a lot to do with the fact that I have a small amount of freezer space but a large amount of canned food storage space.

Now, before you think I'm some domestic goddess, I should warn you that the last time I canned anything was when I was eight, and then I was just helping my mother.  And my mother's lawyer suggests that I add a disclaimer here about how I didn't do any of the really dangerous work like pouring the boiling water or pulling heated cans out of the pot.


It occurred to me today that canning tomatoes for the first time (or the first time in almost two decades) is EXACTLY like writing a manuscript.  Well, okay, not EXACTLY like it, but there are a few things you can take away from the job of canning tomatoes and use when you are working on a manuscript:

1. Things turn out better if you do your homework.

It's true: I had to look up information on how to can tomatoes.  I went straight to a university agriculture extension and read all about the art (and science) of canning tomatoes.

It turns out that doing your homework is also a good idea when you are writing a novel.  For example, I am currently researching teen adoption for a possible side story in a WIP, but the more I research the more I realize my original story idea would not have worked at all. I would not have know that had I not taken the time to do a little research.

So do your homework.  It can be before you start a manuscript or while you're writing one, but it needs to happen sometime during the process.

2.  Percolating is good for the project.

Because of the elevation where I live, I had to leave the jars of tomatoes in the boiling water bath for 50 minutes.  Letting them percolate in the boiling water killed all the bad stuff and preserved the good stuff.

Letting your stories percolate is a good thing, too.  Percolating before you write helps flesh out your ideas.  Percolating after the manuscript is written helps you find and kill the awful parts but polish the better work.  It's good for the mind, too.  Well, at least it gives it something to think about when you have to wash all those dishes.

3. Sometimes things don't work out.

Most of my bottlesof tomatoes dutifully sealed, but I had one stubborn jar that just kept popping when I pushed on the lid.  (For you non-canners out there, when a bottle is successfully canned, the lid is firm and doesn't move.  If the seal doesn't take, though, the lid will move up and down and make a popping sound.)  But it's not a total loss, thank goodness.  I can empty the jar and try again with a fresh one (or rewash the old one and try again).  It will just take a little more work.

Sometimes manuscript ideas don't work out, either.  You think they are going to be amazing books once you finish them, but the ideas refuse to jell into solid stories.  But don't fret.  Sometimes they just need a fresh, some additional plot points or characters, a new setting or a combination of all three.  Or maybe they just need a good wash, I mean, a do-over.  Starting with a blank screen and trying again may just work.

4. It's hard work, but it's so worth it.

Need I say more?

(Photo: Tomatoes by ajstarks on Flickr)


  1. You're ambitious. I tried canning salsa once. Too much work. I'll stick to writing. Like the analogy though.

  2. Not ambitious. Just trying to figure out what to do with those mounds of tomatoes!