• Laura Bray

Writing a Novel=Smoking a Brisket


Wait, what in the world does writing have in common with smoking a brisket? More than you might think.

"Texas-Style Barbecued Brisket from the Oven" by texascooking is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

They both require:


  • A lot of time and patience.

  • Copious research.

  • Quality raw material (either the ideas/characters or the cut of meat).

But the most common element is—the “stall.” (And I’m not talking about writer’s block.)


For those unfamiliar with brisket cookery—the best pitmasters (see @FranklinBBQ) smoke (not grill) their briskets for a long time (12-16 hours) over low heat (225 degrees).


When you’re the pitmaster, everyone you’ve invited over is sitting around, enjoying their beers amidst the redolent smell from your smoker, eagerly anticipating tender meat for supper. As a conscientious pitmaster, you carefully monitor the internal temperature of the meat—and try not to register panic when the thermometer gets stuck at 160 degrees. For hours.


This is the dreaded “brisket stall.”


This is exactly what happened with an early draft of “Springs.” Except instead of a temperature, I got “stalled” at 40,000 words (target: 50,000).


Based on articles on @WritersDigest and other research, I decided early on to just plow through my timeline and get an entire draft done, coming back to fine-tune and revise and edit later. On early drafts, some scenes spilled out with little effort, with plenty of notes on other things to include or to work on in subsequent revisions. Other scenes (from a previously constructed timeline; more on that next time) included only sketches of what I envisioned (“Ralph rides out on a bootlegging raid with the sheriff”).


As I moved further into revisions, I improved those “spilled out” scenes and adjusted the timeline (when needed), tightening the narrative. But I’d also delete those “copious notes” and large whacks of narrative that just didn’t work. My word count would often peep over 40K, then after another hour, drop back down. This went on for weeks. It was immensely frustrating. When I vented to Bruce, he said, “You’ve hit the ‘brisket stall.’”


I’m pleased to report that—just like a brisket that eventually moves past its “stall” to its target temperature of 205 degrees—the novel has gotten over the word-count hump. And I continue to fine-tune and improve the narrative, with the help of my fabulous beta readers.


But that “adjusting the timeline” thing introduced another hiccup. Remember those kiddie games “Barrel-O-Monkeys” or Pick-Up Sticks? Stay tuned.


That’s all she wrote…….Laura

-TEXAS AUTHOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER-

LAURA BRAY

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