How I Wrote a Cookbook

A lot of writing advice suggests you begin before you are ready. My obstacle to writing a cookbook wasn’t that I wasn’t ready, it was that I never would be. I wasn’t anxious about waiting to join the crowd of cooks who board the train of a published cookbook, it was that I wasn’t on the train platform or looking for it.

Writing a book seems hard because we know how good books can be.  A cookbook falls into this same camp.  One of my favorites, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything is a tome. The kind of thing you might pass down to your kids. It has dog eared pages, flour stuck to the pancake recipes, and notes in the margin as I experimented with double batches or whole wheat flour. Creating something like that was as likely as going to culinary school, in France. Then my wife and I did The Whole30 and we started cooking more and experimenting with our own recipes. My mom was the first cook in my life and it another mother that made me create this, necessity. Here’s how I did it.

August 14 recipe generation. I sat down at the kitchen table with my notebook open and began to think about ideas for my next project. Author James Altucher believes that our idea muscles need exercised like anything else, so I began writing down recipe ideas for our Whole30. After about twenty minutes of jotting down, crossing off, and underlining, I had a nice list. I had been active on the Reddit message board about the Whole30, and knew that people wanted recipe suggestions, and thought that maybe this could be a book.

The next day I began drafting it. I wrote for 30 minutes and added 700 words. That night I was reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and she wrote, “There is no cosmic importance to getting published, but there is in learning to be a giver.” That quote changed my thoughts on the whole project. Before, I was doing it just to do it and maybe make a few bucks. Now I was thinking about how great the Whole30 made me feel, and how I could help feel better.

August 16 and 17. I didn’t do any work because friends were in from town and I needed to write a different thing those days.

August 18 to 20 writing it. According to Rescue Time, it took about 4 hours to write the 6600 word first draft. That writing time is the blue section inside the red box.

cookbookwritingtime

August 21-31 editing it. It took ten days to edit a book with less than 50 pages, which seems like a lot, but it took this long because of three things.

First I had to give myself some distance so I could see it freshly. As Wired magazine pointed out, our brains can get stuck in a certain groove of thought, and even though I’m reading the words, my brain can shuffle the meaning back into my existing grooves. Even simple edits sneaked through two rounds of proofreading. My eyes saw the words, but my brain already established their meaning.

Second, I wanted feedback from others. Asking for feedback is hard, asking the person to hurry up so you can get this book out there is impossible. Luckily for me, my wife had a chance to read it all in one sitting. Her comment alone that I was using “riff” too often was worth her reading it. Though she also included comments like, “can you make this for me” and “we need to have this again.”

Third, I liked to proofread a printed copy. I would print it, make edits, make the changes, and print it again. This may seem redundant, but like water being filtered many times for a better product, this cookbook needed to be looked over many times.

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p style=”text-align:left;”>On the final day of August, I uploaded the file to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and formatted a cover. After previewing the inside of the book, and fixing an alignment error I still don’t understand, I published, If you Like This Try That.

September 3, give it away. Before writing it I had hashed out some ideas about how I might monetize it. I decided to give it away because I was just happy to have created it. I wrote a post about finishing the cookbook and included a link to the recipes. I also shared it on Reddit. Through these two places it was downloaded 30 times. In the cookbook I shared a link to my Paypal account if someone wanted to make a donation, 2 people clicked but no one donated. The book has sold 2 copies on Amazon.

Upcoming. The cookbook will continue to grow. I’ve got recipes that didn’t get included because eventually I had to say enough, this thing will never be published if I don’t stop now. My family has made requests to experiment with things and as the seasons change, so to do our meals.

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