Breadder Burque Ch. XX: Bread + Creative Spark = Productivity

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on breadder burque. It’s not because I haven’t been baking—I have, every week, sometimes twice a week.

I have had some noteworthy success and a few noteworthy failures. Topics have popped into my head as potential blog posts, yet I have not put my fingers on the keyboard.

Some are successes, such as this batch of multi-grain

More likely, I am experiencing inertia; time without the parentheses of deadlines. For 30 years, I have worked according to the ebbs and flows of publication schedules. For the past five years, that schedule has been relentless, thanks to the success of my business.  At times, I was managing 8 or 9 magazines at once. Thanks to our friend Covid and other circumstances beyond my control, my work life has come to a near-screeching halt.

And so has my motivation.

One would think I’d use all this time to jump wholeheartedly into finishing my novel. Aside: yes, there is one, and yes, it’s about a baker—and that’s really how this whole thing started, by the way. Baking and writing for me are somehow inextricably linked. I have time, but I also have creative paralysis.

As a potential antidote, I joined my friend Natalie’s five-day online creativity challenge. Natalie is a fabulous painter, yet at first I was skeptical, believing that writing, baking, and painting had little in common. Each of Natalie’s 5 challenges made me examine some element of my creative process—a process I didn’t really believe I had.

Natalie Voelker’s 5-day Creativity Challenge

Our last challenge (today!) is to come up with a ritual to spark our creative juices. Light incense, meditate, announce to your studio that you’ve arrived, free-write—doesn’t matter what it is, just do it every day to set up—to signal—the beginning of a creative session.  

It occurred to me that each of the rituals that consume me in the bread-making process sets the stage for creativity. Like all creation, you need the right tools and techniques to launch into exploration. The act of feeding my starter (which, thanks to above-stated inertia I had not done in a week) begins with removing my favorite bowl from the cabinet, weighing my starter and gathering additional ingredients.

Bread books and sourdough starters. So many of each.

While my starter bubbles away on the counter, I read cookbooks, tab them with sticky notes, and think about whether I should stick to a tried-and-true formula or do something new. I sometimes (but not always) think about how ingredients would change a ratio of water/flour/yeast (recent learning: green chiles are wet once they are roasted and peeled. Therefore: Reduce water percentage of overall formula!).

If you look very hard, you can spot flecks of homegrown green chile

The process of starter-awakening takes a few hours, so that gives me plenty of time to cogitate on what I want to make. It also, I realize, gives me time to write. If I could combine the baking process with the writing process, as I am doing via this blogpost, I could be quite productive on a number of fronts.

They look a bit overcooked, but these baguettes were an overall success

First, I could make enough bread to sell at the farmer’s market. I’d spend the hours between steps (sometimes 3 to 5 hours, depending on the temperature), crafting the last pages of my novel. This sounds like a good ritual, one that would make my more empty days feels productive, and where I could get lost in the imaginary world I’ve built in the first chapters of my novel.

That is until the timer goes off, or the starter is bubbling. Managing the interplay of baking steps with other creative output is my new production schedule.

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