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Life is uncertain…eat dessert first. Remember that t-shirt slogan?

On vacation last week, Keith and I visited Michie Tavern in Charlottesville. We helped ourselves to the buffet in the Necessary, ate in the Keeping Hall and shared a dessert of peach cobbler a la mode. Delicious fresh peaches with sweet chunks of brown sugar and butter crumble baked warm then topped with rich, homemade vanilla ice cream, lingering pleasure with each slowly savored bite. But what if we had eaten the cobbler first? Even one shared serving would have killed our appetite for chicken (I had baked, he had fried), mashed potatoes (I had gravy, he did not – it’s a yin/yang diet thing), green beans, black-eyed peas, stewed tomatoes, baby beets, cold slaw, fresh biscuits and corn bread, a colorful feast of taste, scent and texture.  

I wondered about the meal analogy in terms of writing. What if I served my readers dessert first? Wouldn’t it be like revealing the punch line before relating the joke? No way could I interest my readers in a full meal, no way could I build tension for the next course, no way could I earn trust that here was a master chef. And yet in class recently, I read a section, beyond the first 5 pages of my book, telling about the entire meal in sweeping analytical generalizations. Although I showed concrete details of a few tasty appetizers, I asked my readers to eat dessert first.

My classmates asked, “Who is the protagonist? Why did you write this? What is the story really about?” At first, I desperately defended of my beautiful creation, clutching this perfect cake being rained upon. A ‘shut up and listen’, agonizing flash of insight immediately followed. Instead of a 3.0 book draft ready to be tweaked and shaped into a delicious 4-star meal (although worthy goals, few earn 5 Stars and bestseller status), I had released version 2.5 swarming with ‘face the demon’ bugs, ‘about story’ pop-ups, and poorly crafted chunks of code out of sequence.

So, how did I spend my summer vacation? Yes, communing with folks at local restaurants and guests at Vanaprastha. But mostly I intently wrestled version 2.5 into something closer to a 3.0 draft that might invite readers to my table for a good meal. And, with help from my classmates at The Writer’s Center and teacher, editor and author Sara Taber, hopefully a 4.0 book will serve up a well-anticipated, rich dessert at the end. Now that’s a worthy goal.

Life is uncertain. What do you eat for dessert?

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