I’ve always disliked blueberry muffins. I thought they had a saccharin, chemical taste. So, I avoided them or, if the cafe had no other variety, did without. The other day, however, after waiting out the winter’s first snow and ice storm in our area, we found ourselves out of basic grocery items, entertaining videos, and a couple of liquid essentials. As soon as our county road was drivable, we started our rounds. It was bitter cold, with a piercing wind; walking to from the car to the stores was miserable.
I complained that I couldn’t go another minute without something hot (preferably caffeine) to ward off the chill. I’d also missed lunch and was starving. We stopped at a local coffee shop, and I ordered cappuccino and a muffin. I thought the sign said “breakfast muffin.” I bit into it and was dismayed. It was blueberry. Okay, I didn’t have my glasses on so it was my fault for mistaking breakfast with blueberry. But here’s the epiphany; it was delicious! Wonderful in fact. It was made with fresh blueberries; I didn’t know they would make such a difference. I’m clearly not a baker.
Two days later, I was still thinking of that muffin. It wasn’t large; it wasn’t overly sweet; it was, in fact, quite simple. I decided the person who supplied the coffee shop was a baker who bucked the trends, used a recipe from an earlier time, and produced a muffin that wasn’t oversized and loaded with sugar, fat, and a calorie count that pushed the 500 mark. I also determined I could duplicate it if I dug out an old cook book I’d inherited from my mother. And it worked: flour, an egg, baking powder, milk, and a minimum amount of oil and sugar. And, of course, an overflowing cup of fresh blueberries. I have been enjoying one with my afternoon coffee for the past four days.
I’d also been struggling with several writing projects, wanting to try all of them, but stymied at how to begin any of them. Then I had my second epiphany and developed a few rules I need to follow. I resolved to:
Recognize the beauty in simplicity. Avoid overloading content. Resist trying to make the work bigger, better than that of anyone else. Avoid competing with everything I’ve read–or read hype about. Refrain from including gratuitous material in an effort to “pump it up.” Tell my stories with a minimum of flourish or tricks. Ignore the latest trends if they don’t apply to my material. In other words, stay true to the theme, execute the plot, and keep it fresh. Like chemically enhanced blueberries, artificially contrived fiction (and nonfiction) usually leaves a bad aftertaste.
I realize that, as writers, we are constantly hearing of the big advance, the big contract, the newcomer that’s taking the publishing world by storm, the million dollar sale. It’s normal to aspire to success in our work. Some writers are content with recognition and critical acclaim; others seek the fame and fortune accorded to the celebrity author. It all sounds appealing, but I am also aware that padding one’s work, or serving the market instead of what the story demands, is not a formula that can hold up in the long run. Perhaps, like opening an old cookbook to find a simple treat, we might find the story, essay, or book idea–that we didn’t think was viable–surprising us.