Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Letting it Rest
I'm thinking about metaphors today. Sailing is full of them. Give me some leeway, set your course, show me the ropes, change tacks, go against the tide, give me a wide berth, get stuck in the doldrums, take the wind out of your sails, and, of course, keel over...from being forced to read too many sailing metaphors.
Over the weekend I snagged a copy of Beard On Bread at Rabelais, and I've been reading what James Beard had to say about baking the perfect loaf. It struck me, about three recipes into the book, just how much of bread-baking is about waiting. Not just waiting, but going about the rest of your life while the dough takes care of itself.
You proof the yeast and wait. You add the liquids to the flour and wait. You knead your dough and wait. You punch it down, knead it some more, and wait. And you may even punch it down, knead it some more, shape it, and wait yet again before putting it in a hot oven and, yup, waiting some more. It's an act of engagement, trust, and letting go.
We've created no-knead recipes and bread machines that do the work for us, but there is simply no way to shorten that waiting time. As much as dough needs to be kneaded (sorry, couldn't resist), it simply will not survive if you don't give it enough quiet time to rest, rebuild, and grow.
This morning, I was struck by how much of writing is like bread-baking. You hatch an idea and start kneading. But at a certain point, that idea will need to be left alone. And if you don't, it you just keep kneading and kneading, it'll ultimately die.
I have an idea for my next book, and each morning I take several hours to work on it. But this morning I opened my notebooks and couldn't connect. In a flash, my hands felt the dough from yesterday's bread-baking and I thought, "Let it rest." A collision of mental metaphors, but they did the trick.