What The Great British Baking Show Taught Me About Writing

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This story was originally published in issue #16 of Unwinnable’s Exploits. If you want to support more writing like this, consider subscribing!  

The staccato violins rise, the camera cuts wildly between flustered red faces, and Noel Fielding is buzzing around the tent dressed as a bumble bee. Every round of The Great British Baking Show ends with a montage of finishing touches on a ciabatta loaf, genoise sponge, or the lime-green dome of a princess cake before the contestants perilously tiptoe their creations to a pair of grim-faced judges. The entries are sampled, a verdict is reached, and then this thing, this object of hard work and meticulous planning and research, is disappeared to be presumably passed around the cast and crew before being spirited to a confectionery compost pile.

We’re conditioned to expect products from our labor, but sometimes the resulting output is much more ethereal and un-quantifiable than the input. What goes in does not always equal what comes out, if the endeavor is even a success to begin with. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes the baked alaska melts into a mud-colored milkshake and it needs to be binned. So what becomes of the time spent, the effort exerted, when there’s no physical or digital thing that we can point to and say, “Hey, I made that”? Was all that energy wasted? Did we learn anything at all from the process if the emerging data is lost or indecipherable?

My writing data can be traced through laptops, custom-built desktop PC’s, and errant USB sticks. Documents got lost in the shuffle over the years, either through carelessness or disinterest in carrying them forward, and I find myself searching occasionally for some half-remembered essay I remember being proud of. I receive a wave of guilt whenever my search turns up empty, and I feel silly for letting something vanish.

But do I need a three-way comparison between Olivier’s, Firth’s, and Macfadyen’s Mr. Darcy and how they emulate the moving target of masculinity over the years? Maybe, losing that one hurts. Realistically, however, I believe that my work has been internalized and incorporated well enough into my brain that I’ve improved as a writer without the symbolic stockpile to prove it. I can create the best cake I can, present it, and then let it go with the confidence that the next one will be even better.

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