This is my first blog post for the wonderful Blog Authors Electric. It has some fabulous articles, so do go and have a look! It was posted on January 15th, 2021.
In the Netherlands, the rule is that up till the 15th of January, you can still wish people a Happy New Year. You can see people shaking hands, or waving at friends from their bikes, calling out, “Best Wishes for the New Year!”
It also means people are still serving guests from their carefully stored stack of oliebollen: dough balls with raisins, cooked in very hot oil. They’re made on New Year’s Eve, the smell in your kitchen reminding you for many days afterwards. Some are better organised, and they bake them in their shed or garage.
Now, you might wonder what oliebollen have to do with writing, apart from providing sustenance. But it suddenly occurred to me, as friends sent me pictures of golden brown balls, usually covered in icing sugar. (You buy special shaker tubs of icing sugar in the Netherlands, to sprinkle liberally over strawberries, mini pancakes called poffertjes as well as oliebollen).
There are quite a few unwritten rules about oliebollen, especially when you make them yourself (wasting money on shop-bought oliebollen)? It can feel a bit like starting your writing. Of course, there are plenty of recipes for oliebollen, YouTube videos, the lot. It’s what’s not told you in the instructions that counts.
If you ladle the dough into the hot oil before it is hot enough, the oil will soak into the balls, making them greasy and indigestible. Writing comes at the right time, sometimes you just have to mull over a story a little longer, don’t you? You start, maybe write the first paragraph, but somehow the ‘oil isn’t hot enough’, and you have to wait a little longer. That one you can detect and instructions for oliebollen will tell you how to tell that the oil is hot enough.
It’s what message is conveyed by the finished product that matters. When guests come round for evening coffee, you present them with homemade oliebollen, maybe warmed up in the microwave for a few seconds, covered in sugar. This is a matter of pride and has to be done just right. You only hand out one, of course. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
The size is very important. If what you hand your guests is too small, that would look awful. Being careful is one thing, being stingy is quite another matter. It also means that the balls will probably be a bit dry, hard to eat, and not very satisfying. You would really need two to get the desired effect.
Writing can feel that way, not satisfactory, leaving you a bit empty, wanting more. Maybe more detail is needed, or maybe one of the characters needs developing more. There might be space for another storyline slithering underneath in a quiet way. Too small, too chewy, not very generous.
Some people like to rush their baking. After all, watching the buckets with dough rising in a warm corner of the lounge, whilst standing near the large pan with extremely hot oil, blue greasy air filling the kitchen… It would make anyone wish the job was done! The result is oliebollen that are too large. They’re beautiful and golden on the outside, but soggy in the middle, and too filling. Your guests will be a little wary too, wondering what message you’re trying to send them.
Are you saying their offerings last year were too small? Are you trying to tell them that you’ve had a promotion at work, and can afford lots of very large, luxurious oliebollen? They’re rather heavy too, leaving your guests relieved to finish the oliebol before the second cup of coffee is offered.
I’m new to writing, and there is so much to learn. What message do I want to leave my readers? Would my story cause mental indigestion? Am I trying to do too much, too quickly? I might have a bright idea, but sometimes, somewhere in the middle, the story isn’t quite done yet.
Just like baking oliebollen, writing might sound so simple, until you try it. What could go wrong with some dough and hot oil? But unbeknownst to you, you might be sending awkward messages to your guests. It’s hard, having a perfect storyline, plots, characters and dialogue. With all that lined up, it is hard to work slowly, carefully, scene by scene, like ladling endless amounts of dough into the hot oil.
Of course, some people cheat, offering their guests perfectly shaped oliebollen from the local bakery. That’s like trying to hand in somebody else’s story, isn’t it?
“Beste wensen voor het Nieuwe Jaar!”