“I love cooking, but I hate to bake.”

If I had a nickel for every time my mother told me that, I’d have enough nickels to make a robot version of my mother who, when switched on, would most likely look me in the eye and say “I love cooking, but I hate to bake.”

(Incidentally, for a woman who hated to bake, she baked a lot.)

Why did my mother hate to bake? Because she was into iteration.

Mom liked to throw things into a pot, cook it for a while, taste it, throw more things in, and cook it some more. To her, cooking was an iterative process.

But baking doesn’t let you do that. Baking makes you follow the directions. Because if your ingredients aren’t in the right proportions, or you accidentally substitute whole eggs for egg whites, or old-fashioned oats for quick oats, or you don’t let it rest long enough, or too long, or at all, you won’t end up with the thing you started out to make. In fact, you’ll most likely end up with a thing that isn’t even edible.

Like my mother, creative people get the best results when they do their work iteratively. Whether you’re writing a novel or taking photos or making a sculpture, the best way to go about it is to try something. Anything. See if it works. If it doesn’t, back up and try again, or maybe just slap a little more clay on the side of it and see where that takes you.

The problem is, creative people also want desperately to bake. We want certainty that, if we combine the right ingredients in the right proportions, we will bake the most amazing cake ever and everyone will love it and we’ll be hugely successful.

Let’s pause here to ogle the amazing unicorn cake my niece Jennifer made for me last year:

Right? Also, those unicorn pops are made from oreos. I know. Here’s a link: J. London Cakery

But I digress.

Who among us hasn’t wished for the magic formula? Who among us hasn’t googled how “successful” writers/artists/photographers/game designers/basket weavers do it in the hopes that, if we apply their techniques, a New York Times bestseller (or the equivalent in the basket weaving world) will pop out of us like Athena, fully formed and Kindle ready?

Here’s the thing I’m discovering: creating isn’t like baking. There’s no “right” way to do it so you’ll get the result you want.

But here’s the good news: there’s no wrong way either. Creating is messy and uneven and needs salt. It’s sometimes exhilarating and sometimes damn depressing. And it’s entirely up to you how you go about it.

The main thing is to keep trying. Create every day, no matter how you feel. And above all, enjoy the process. Because at the end of the day, the process is all there is.