Even though I was told in my early twenties that I had the astrological chart of a writer, I’m not sure if I’ll ever quite get used to people thinking of me as one. Of course, I had heard the words “find your voice” but I hadn’t a clue as to: One, what that meant; two, if it was something I really needed to know much, if anything, about; and three, if I did, how would I go about finding it?
My earliest attempts at writing were high school English papers. I went to a very small school (there were 24 students in my graduating class) and each year we had the same English teacher. Almost all of the papers I wrote were returned with a mark of B- and the comment, “Needs more development.” When I asked for help doing that, the reply was, “Just develop it more.” Right.
I graduated and went on, first to music school in New York, and later to a liberal arts college on the West Coast. Having been in music for most of my life, I didn’t feel a compelling pull toward a new major. My adviser suggested that I sign up for courses that were of interest to me, and ones that would satisfy requirements at the same time. A few I remember are The Plays of Eugene O’Neill
, Russian Imperial History, Irish History, Philosophy of Law, Ethics, and Proofs of God’s Existence, the latter of which was taught by Frederick Copleston
, who had famously debated the topic with Bertrand Russell
in 1948. All the courses I took required at least one paper and usually more. After the “oh gawd, I have to write” moment passed, I would set off for the library, settle down, and begin my research, writing down tidbits, quotes, and citations on 3x5-inch index cards. When it came to pulling together what I had learned, I found myself genuinely excited, and writing more easily than I ever had before. My comments and marks were now high, and I no longer wondered if my papers were “developed” enough. Still, in no way did I consider myself a writer. So how did I become one?
In 2008, when I began to teach pie making, I put up a website that included a blog. I shudder when I read some of my early entries, which other writers and bloggers tell me is a very normal reaction. In the blog’s first year, I asked a published writer I know if they might have a bit of time to give some feedback on a few of my pieces. No matter how kind the comments were about my apparent love of the verb to be
, evidenced by the inordinate amount of times I used it in one entry (as I recall it was well over 20), I allowed myself to fall right back into my decades-old “needs more development” mentality. I shook it off and continued writing — about rolling pins, pie plates, to use or not to use vodka in dough, and sharing the recipes I was developing. Writing about the craft of pie making through a blog became a personal training ground in the craft of writing.
That’s all it took? Being excited? Getting out of the way and letting the words just come out?
Late one summer afternoon, I posted an entry about picking sour cherries. Just a few hours earlier, I had climbed up onto a rickety roof to reach boughs that were laden with jewel-like ripe red orbs. I picked and picked, and as juice dripped from my hands and down my arms, I felt like Kate in Cherryland. I brought my precious harvest home, and while it was still fresh in all my senses and I was dreaming of the pies I would make, I sat down at my computer. I wrote without thinking. It seemed that I was watching my fingers type words that were already written inside of me. I wrote like I spoke, and without edits. Then before I could
think, I pushed the publish button. The next day I received an email from my adviser. “Now
I hear your voice!” That’s all it took? Being excited? Getting out of the way and letting the words just come out? Apparently so.
I continued to write. The more personal my posts, the more comments I received. Next came emails from publishers asking if I would be interested in writing a book about pie making. As honored as I was to receive inquiries, I didn’t feel ready. A book? Me? So I waited, and while I waited, I continued to learn and practice my two crafts; pie making and writing. Six years later, just before a teaching trip to the east coast, I received an email inquiry from a NYC editor. “We see you are going to be in NYC. Would you be interested in meeting with us while you are here?” My fingers typed “Yes."
As I walked down Fifth Avenue to the office, I felt like a big girl. This was no longer Kate in Cherryland. This was Kate in The Big Apple. I met my soon-to-be editor. We talked. We laughed. I shared how I started teaching pie making, and of life in a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest. “Tell us more.” I could have gone on for hours. At the end of our visit, I was asked if I would like to write a book, and this time, ready or not, I said yes. That first book is Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Crusts, Fillings, and Life
. It was a James Beard Finalist, which, in the food world, is like an Oscar nomination. Now I have written a second book, Home Cooking With Kate McDermott
, a recipe book of the home-cooked meals I have made for my family and long-time friends for decades, and more personal stories about my life. And, I’ve just signed a contact for a third. I see myself not so much as a writer, but as a practitioner of a craft that I now enjoy and continue to learn.
To write uniquely one does have to find one's voice. The best advice I can share about how to find it is how it happened for me. Simply get out of the way. Stop thinking about what you think
your words and phrases should be. Write like you would talk to a friend, truthfully, and from the heart. Those are the words from your own voice.
Pie Cottage Scones
Makes 12 to 16 scones
Fresh-baked scones are wonderful for breakfast, elevenses, and anytime you need a little pick-me-up with a spot of tea or cup of cocoa. Don’t worry about being too exact with the ingredients. If you are off a bit here or there, it’s okay. The recipe seems to work out fine every time.
4 cups (548 g) unbleached all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 tablespoon poppy seeds, or zest of one orange or lemon (optional)
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups (280 g) sour cream or plain yogurt
1/2 cup (115 ml) melted butter or safflower oil
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream, half and half, milk, or even milk mixed with some yogurt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon flavor extract of your choice (vanilla, almond, or orange)
2 teaspoons milk or half and half, for brushing
2 to 3 teaspoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients with a fork including the optional poppy seeds or citrus zest.
Make a well on top of the flour mixture and crack the egg on top. Add the sour cream and all the other liquid ingredients including flavor extract. With a fork, mix together quickly until everything has just come together but not as well mixed as cookie dough.
On a floured surface, form into two balls and pat each to the size of your hand. With a brush, paint on some milk, and sprinkle with sugar.
Cut each round into 6 or 8 wedges and place on a parchment-covered or lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They should look golden brown on top and the kitchen will smell really good. Serve with jam and butter.
÷ ÷ ÷
, is the author of Home Cooking With Kate McDermott
(Countryman Press 2018) and the James Beard Finalist Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Dough, Fillings, and Life
(Countryman Press 2016), which Southern Living
called one of the 100 Best Cookbooks of All Time. Over 3,000 people have attended her multi-day Pie Camps and Art of the Pie Day Camps which she teaches nationally. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Oprah, Real Simple
, and many other publications. She lives at Pie Cottage, her home on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, where she gardens, cooks, bakes, writes, and tends her wood stove.