Soul Food: Writing Pitfalls and the Zen of Bagel-Making

Fresh whole wheat bagels in the oven

Restless and annoyed, I set to work in my kitchen to make some whole-wheat bagels.  It’s not something that I do often, being that my name is neither Martha Stewart nor do I have a strong urge to use my creative energy on food.  But today I was hungry and irritated by that feeling of unease that comes with being halfway through a novel and not quite understanding where it should go.  Sure, this is normal.  Writers are supposed to be uncomfortable, you say.  But here’s the thing.  How do you deal with feeling lost on a solo writing quest?

In school, we get gold stars, a nod of encouragement, awards of various kinds and perhaps the odd A+.  I don’t know about you, but I was one of those kids who loved getting A’s.  In fact, somewhere, trapped in the recesses of my parents’ cavernous basement are boxes filled with old report cards and plaques from each year that I was in school.  When I finished school, I was broke, jobless and determined to write.  This led me through a series of odd jobs: selling hand cream, fetching doughnuts (yes, that is a job), stamping election postcards and editing the odd doctoral paper (to name a few).  It was tough going, but worse still was that no matter how hard I worked there were no gold stars in sight.  The only gold star, it seemed, was to be plucked out of odd-job land and into some sort of professional gig.  Surely, then I would find the gold star that I so craved…

Flash forward to the present.  I’m sitting in my kitchen, feeling rather pleased, because despite my strictly anti-Martha Stewart inclinations (sorry, Martha), I made some pretty kick-ass bagels.  There still isn’t a gold star, but I’m starting to realize that gold stars don’t matter anymore.  It isn’t really the outside praise that keeps the fire going—it’s something deeper, more intrinsic that fuels me on every morning, despite the writers’ block, impending deadlines or that odd, unsavory rejection poised and waiting to attack in my inbox.

I never did find that elusive gold star, but here are some things that help me keep things in perspective:

  •  Acknowledge when you’ve done something well.  Let the little things that don’t work out go.
  •  Remind yourself that what you are doing is important.
  • Read inspiring quotes.
  • Go for a jog, do some yoga…anything that gets your heart rate up and your muscles feeling happy.
  •  Complete some other task that makes you feel accomplished (i.e. bagels. Will they win me a Pulitzer? Nope, but they taste pretty damn good.)

So here’s what I think: don’t wait for someone else to tell you that what you are doing is important—you already feel that it is or you wouldn’t be doing what you are doing in the first place.  Be your own guide.

Here’s the recipe for my Super-Simple Zen Bagels:

(adapted from Spark Recipes)


1 1/8 cup of water (room temp)

2 tsp margarine (or butter)

1 ½ cup whole wheat flour

1 ½ cup white flour

1 ¼ tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

¾ yeast (preferably bread machine or fast acting)

  1. Add the ingredients into your bread machine in the order above.  (Remember: not Martha Stewart, here.  Besides, shouldn’t you be getting back to writing?)
  2. Select the dough setting.  When the dough has been through the whole cycle, separate it into ten portions and form them into circles.
  3. Put them on a greased cookie sheet or something to that effect where they won’t stick like carbuncles and put a cloth over them to rise.  This will take between 40-50 minutes.  (While you are doing this, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and go back to your writing, or whatever task you are avoiding by reading this post.)
  4. Now here comes the fun part.  Once you’re back from kicking ass and getting that long dreaded project finished, it’s time to boil those sons of bitches! And by sons of bitches, I mean bagels.  DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT boil your notebook, laptop or any other writing utensil!
  5.  Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large saucepan.  Add the bagels to the boiling pot one at a time and watch them get all puffy.  Do this for 2 minutes. Once boiled, put the bagels back onto the cookie sheet and bake them for 20 minuutes (or until golden brown).
  6.  Breathe a sigh of relief, because you made bagels! This makes you a kitchen goddess, or something to that effect.  Give yourself an awesome pet name and go back to what you were doing.


  1. I miss getting gold stars too. I think every writer needs a gold star fairy to visit them once in a while… maybe at the end of every chapter… or every day 🙂

    Haha, love the bagel receipe too, they sound yummy, though sometimes I think boiling my laptop and note book would be kinder to all concerned! 😉

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