Friday, May 2, 2014

The Waffle Analogy

I was reading an interview with Alexander Payne yesterday. He’s the filmmaker behind the hits Sideways, The Descendants and last year’s Nebraska. The interview was with Gia Coppola, grandchild of you-know-who and a fledgling filmmaker with her own Palo Alto releasing soon. Anyway, Payne was talking about making movies and how each one is a learning process. “I’ve made six feature films,” he says, “and I still don’t think I’ve made a good movie. I mean, they’re OK. I consider myself a 53-year-old film student; it’s just that now I’m being paid to continue to learn.” 

As I’m wont to do, I translated this to writing. And the statement is alternately encouraging and discouraging, isn’t it? Encouraging because we shouldn’t expect our first novel (or second, or sixth) to be the best we’ll ever do. Discouraging because it means we’ll probably never, ever look at a completed manuscript and think: “Now, that there, that’s perfect.”

He offers more food for fodder. Figuratively, with a food metaphor. He assures us: “Your first movie is like the first waffle—the iron isn’t quite hot enough; you haven’t put enough butter. The first waffle you always have to throw away, or you, the cook, eat it, but you’d never serve it. You know, the second waffle is servable.”

Waffles? But it makes so much sense, doesn’t it? And yet, I can’t stop going over all the possibilities inherent in this analogy. Don’t some people like cake-y waffles and some like crispy? Round or square? What about butter and syrup? Fresh fruit? Whipped cream? There are mini-waffles, whole wheat waffles and chocolate chip waffles. There are gluten-free waffles, of course. There are waffle cones—do those count? How in the world will you ever know if you’re serving the right waffle (book)? And now, of course, there are waffle-themed restaurants serving “artisan waffle sandwiches,” waffle burgers and waffles stuffed with lemon meringue pie. The apex (or perhaps, nadir) of all of this is the newly introduced Waffle Taco. I can’t even talk about that, it’s so wrong.

So don’t worry—you’ll never please everyone and there's no accounting for taste! Make your waffle however you’ve always been doing it. Serve it whenever you darn well feel like it and let everyone else decide what to do from there. They’re lucky you’re making them waffles in the first place. 


  1. Mmm...waffles! Mine are getting better as I get older/have more experience. Over Easter weekend, even the first one was a hit with the Grands. My writing is about the same. As you say, I just keep serving it up and let people take it or leave it.

  2. Quite ... Serve it whenever you darn well feel like it and let everyone else decide what to do from there ... People have vastly different processes of learning and unlearning. At times a work that's been cocooned for years is released and flies.
    That said, film-making is hardly like waffle-making, it takes an awesome amount of resources, good timing, and a skilled team. The idea may sell, but mistakes during production can be costly and are not solved on a page. It's definitely a privilege to be paid while gaining experience.
    BTW- do you know of a recipe for gluten-free waffles?


"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka