By The Rawtarian

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In this episode, Laura-Jane The Rawtarian discusses the creative process of writing her first cookbook, Cook Lively, which was just released in May 2017 and is available wherever fine books are sold!

Also mentioned in this episode, Elizabeth Gilbert's book about creativity, Big Magic.

 

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Podcast Transcript

Hello, and welcome to episode number 54 of The Raw Food Podcast. I am your host, Laura-Jane, The Rawtarian. And on today's episode, we're doing something a little different. As you probably know, I have recently had my very first cookbook come out. It's called “Cook Lively!” It's available in stores everywhere, just like any good, normal book is, and it's been a really exciting time for me.

I've just been doing tons and tons of interviews, particularly on radio, talking about the recipes and what it's like to eat raw and all of those kinds of questions. But I found nobody was asking me about the creative process of creating a cookbook, which, of course, because I just created one, I find that very interesting, and I thought some of you might as well, especially if you're a blogger or you're interested in writing. And I just really thought it would be fun for me to interview myself and ask some of the questions that I wish I was being asked, but I wasn't.

So I think this episode will really be of interest to you if you enjoy writing, if you’re a blogger, if you're interested in creativity, which I certainly am. I'm all of those things, I guess. For me, this kind of feels like the pinnacle of wrapping up my cookbook promotion, and I just really wanted to share some of the behind-the-scenes stuff with you. So I really hope you enjoy it. So stay tuned, and I'll be back with you shortly.

Hello, and welcome to The Raw Food Podcast. I am your host, Laura-Jane, The Rawtarian. Here we are today talking about something very special in my heart: my very first cookbook which is called “Cook Lively!” and it's available in all kinds of stores like Chapters, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, and all of those places where fine books are sold. The book came out in May of 2017, and we're now in the autumn of 2017. It's been a number of months that my book is out, and it has done reasonably well in my expectations. It lived up to my expectations.

And this episode, I am selfishly chatting with you. Yes, it's not even so much selfishly like plugging my cookbook; it's more selfishly wanting to talk about my book in a way that really works for me. I have done a lot of radio interviews lately, actually over the past like all summer, with people interested in my book, and it's always been really interesting to hear what they've asked me, or what they haven't asked me, or what I wish the interviewers would ask me and they never do. So I thought, "Who better to interview Laura-Jane, The Rawtarian, than me, myself, and I, just sitting here in a little room by myself, interviewing myself about my own cookbook?"

But this is the beauty of podcasts: you can do whatever you want. And today, that seems to suit my mood. So really this probably could end up either being the longest episode of all time or quite short because I don't know how interviewing myself will go.

But basically, the book “Cook Lively!” is out, and it is a normal book that I did through a publisher. And I've been a food blogger since 2007 or 2008, and it took me a long time to get it together to actually get a book deal and then to actually produce the content required for the book. So firstly, I'm going to ask myself. I have written down questions to ask myself.

"Congratulations, Laura-Jane. You are an author! You did it! How does it feel?"

 

Why, thank you so much for asking me such a delightful question. I am so proud of myself.

This probably doesn't surprise you. I was a super geeky child. My mom was kind of a hippie. We didn't have a TV, and I used to just read a lot of books, and also listen to talk radio a lot. That was my entertainment when I was growing up. So I always loved books. My safe place was going to my little local library. I used to hang out there, and I am just a super nerd.

And I've always loved books, especially actually mystery novels, and I even write about this at the beginning of my cookbook. There's a couple of chapters where I talk about my story, and I just open up the book, saying that I always dreamed of being a writer. I used to love Nancy Drew, and Christopher Pike, and those “Goosebumps” books, and any mystery. And I always thought that I would write a mystery novel.

And it's funny how life is. You always hear me joke about how I’m weird because I’m a cookbook author and a foodie but I'm really lazy and I don't actually like cooking. And that's been part of my secret is I love to hack recipes and make them as easy as possible. I think I really like the mystery aspect of even being like, "Okay, how do you make something?" To me, food is very mysterious. Especially, I love desserts, so I love the mystery of "How can you make a healthy dessert still taste good?" So to me there, I haven't lost that mystery factor.

And I think there’s something there that to me it really just doing what I do now is a combination of all of my interests and all of my geekiness from my childhood. So I always dreamed of being an author. I didn't know it was going to end up being a cookbook that I wrote, but I really just am so happy that I've had the opportunity to do this, and just that feeling that you've dreamed about—or I have, anyway—walking into an Indigo and seeing one copy of your book on the shelf is really humbling and so exciting. And for me, I just really am so thankful that I had the opportunity to take the time to do this as a creative project. As well, something that is so different from writing a novel, which I thought that I would hopefully one day do.

But there is a huge visual component as well for a cookbook obviously. I really struggled with this because, as you know, I'm a food blogger, and I've been doing it for a long time. And at the beginning, my photos back then, 2007, 2008, the standards were so low. It would just be like a pile of slop and you take a terrible picture of it and nobody really cared. But now, in 2017, the stakes and the standards are much higher for photography.

So when I was shopping myself around and trying to get a publisher and an agent and all of that, being a cookbook, my photography was definitely an issue. There was a big question mark as to was I going to hire a photographer? Should I hire a photographer? In the end, I just had to do it myself, so I did everything. I wrote the book, and there's just under a hundred photos in the book. Almost every recipe has a photo of it, and I did all the photography as well as the food styling. I kind of just took about nine months and I barely saw any of my friends or family, and I just immersed myself in this cookbook bubble. This is like the longest answer to my question of congratulations.

But yeah I did all the photography myself, and that was crazy. I remember thinking like, "Oh my gosh, my dream was to write a novel. That would be so much easier because you don't have to deal with imagery." And so as I was working on the book and stressing out and the deadlines were coming, and I was not doing very well with hitting all my goals or my deadlines, I should say. I did hit them, but it was always a rush at the end that was like, "Oh my gosh, someday, I'll just be able to write a mystery novel, and it will only be text, and it will be so easy." Of course, don't get me wrong. I don't think that's easy, but I was kind of talking myself through that and really struggling with taking the photography. I can talk a little bit about that a little later. But basically, I am so happy that I had the opportunity to do this, and my book is in stores, and thank you, thank you, thank you! That's my answer.

Question number 2: Laura-Jane, what makes your book so special? How is it different from other raw books?

Another good question. All right. You know me. I've been developing raw vegan recipes for a long time. There are a lot of raw vegan cookbooks that are amazing that are already out there. So many amazing books by so many incredibly talented creators. One thing that I really struggle with—and also, my publisher would ask me this question: " Dude, there's already so many raw books out there. What do you have to say that's different?"

Firstly, I have to take this as a sidebar story. As some of you may know—and you may even have a copy of my self-published cookbook that I put out. I don't know when. Let's say 2013-ish. I'd spent a long time and I self-published a cookbook called “Raw Food Favorites,” and I had the opportunity to do a couple of book signings with that, just in a small town at a health food store. And that really opened my eyes because people would be coming into this health food store—so people interested in health—and I would be sitting there with my little table, and I'd be like, "Hi. I am this cookbook author, and I'm sitting here by myself. Would you like to talk to me about my book? We can talk about this cookbook that I've made." And they would look at it and be like, "Oh my gosh! 'Raw Food Favorites?' I could never eat raw food. It's so complicated. I could never do that. That's crazy. It's too extreme."

It was really interesting because with my blog I don't really tend to talk to a lot of people face to face, and this was an opportunity to really engage with, let's say, a potential customer—someone who's already interested in health, coming into a health food store—and a lot of people had a really adverse reaction. Not mean or anything, but just in terms of their own health and eating, they really thought raw food was too extreme.

So I had a lot of opportunities to just talk to regular people, and that experience of promoting my “Raw Food Favorites” cookbook really colored the way that I was thinking about my book “Cook Lively!” that I did a couple of years later because I didn't want people to have that kind of reaction. What I wanted for this book and what makes it different from other raw books is I really wanted anybody to be able to pick it up and think, "Oh, this looks like it uses healthy ingredients. The recipes look really delicious. It is plant-based, but it's doable." And I wanted people who are just interested in incorporating more fruits and vegetables (Who isn't?) into their lives. I wanted it to feel accessible.

There was a few things that I did with this book “Cook Lively!” to make it more accessible to normal people. One of the things I did was, as you know, as a raw vegan, we typically tend to be—for example, if you're going to make a veggie burger, you're using a dehydrator and perhaps dehydrating your veggie burger patties for five or seven hours, and making a raw vegan recipe that way using specialty equipment. So I, of course, for my veggie burger recipes, in my book, I have those normal dehydrator instructions which a lot of you want to have. But also for every recipe in the book, I tested it and gave oven directions so that people who don't own a dehydrator could flip open the book and think, "Oh, okay. I don't have a dehydrator, but I can make this in the oven."

So that was one thing that I made sure to do, and I tested the recipes really heavily, and I have really clear instructions for if you're doing a dehydrator, do this, but if you're doing it in the oven, do that. I'm really pleased with how that turned out, and just how it makes the recipes a lot more accessible for normal people. So you still really should have a food processor absolutely in order to be able to make the recipes in the book, but you don't have to have a dehydrator. But you can dehydrate if you prefer or if you choose that. So that was a thing I did as well.

I also chose to include just a few additional “cooked” ingredients, namely like cooked lentils, was something that I chose to include in my cookbook as well. And I explained a little bit about it in the intro in the book, just kind of saying, I was raw vegan. Really extreme. Didn't cheat or anything for over five years, and that was amazing, and I loved it. But at a certain point, I kind of felt I was eating too many nuts, and I wanted to have something that was hearty and really filling but that I felt would actually be healthier. Nuts are super healthy for you, but the way I was eating in, let's say, my fifth year as a raw vegan, I felt for my body and my nutrition that I just didn’t want to eat quite so many nuts, and I wanted to swap out some of my nut dishes for something that was a little bit different. Maybe higher in protein. Still completely vegan. Still super healthful. So there's just a few additional ingredients in the book.

Cooked lentils. So I have a lentil loaf in there and a few other things. There's not really that many. I think a little bit I do use some gluten-free oats as well for some of the recipes. But it's basically raw with a couple of additions that are super healthy and just really expand the repertoire of the recipes that you can make, particularly in the mains. In the dinner section, I wanted to be able to include some additional recipes.

And it was also a bit selfish as well for me in that I've been developing raw vegan recipes since 2007, and I really wanted to be able to play and have a little bit of fun and do something a little bit different. It's not way different, but it really allowed me to feel like I was kind of starting almost from scratch again and being creative and it allowed me to get really jazzed up about the recipe development process because I wanted an additional challenge as well. So that is a little bit about how the book is different from other traditional raw vegan books. It's just easier for normal people to make the recipes.

This is not a question that I had written down here, but just in case you want to know, most of the recipes in the book are new recipes. So if you're a fan of my blog or you've been with me for a long time, most of the recipes are essentially completely new. But it also does include some of my favorites like brownies, alfredo sauce, and a few staple recipes as well because I thought it would be weird if I had a cookbook and it didn't have some of my really most popular recipes. So it's a really nice balance. It does include a lot of my classics but the majority of the recipes are completely new, so it is actually something that even if you've been with me for a long time, you may want to pick it up and just enjoy trying some different recipes that you haven't seen before.

Laura-Jane, question number 3 for you: Can you tell us about your process of creating a cookbook?

I know no one really cares about my process, but I do. It was so fun. Actually, fun is not the right word. It was really hard, and I want to tell you about it. And also, I just feel like I learned so much. And if I ever have the opportunity to do a second book, I think I would do things quite differently.

I don't even know where to begin because it was my first book. I've been blogging for a long time, but we all put that pressure on ourselves. It's a book, it's new, it's different from what I'm used to doing. I was actually quite overwhelmed with the thought of doing a book.

Initially, how I started doing it was I would just kind of do my normal blogging process. I would just create a recipe and write it down in a Word document and then photograph it. So kind of just one at a time, and then I would be like, "Okay, now I have recipe number 1. It's done. The photo's taken. It's great. It's done." There’s about 100 recipes in the book, so I did that for about 40 recipes. And then I started looking at the calendar and at the deadlines, and I was like "Okay, I am so slow. How am I going to deal with this?"

What ended up happening was I had a deadline for the Word document. The book itself was first. And then a month later, the photography was due. And so as the time started to go crazy, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm running out of time," I had to speed up the recipe development process. So what I ended up doing there was focusing on developing the recipes, and then I was like "I don't know what's happening, but I'm going to have to photograph these things later." And so what ended up happening—and actually ended up working really well for me—was just focusing on the recipes and then doing all the photography at once. Not in one day obviously, but sort of just doing it that way.

And I think another nice thing that happened with that as well is it just made the photography a lot quicker because I would set up a background and stuff, and then I would be able to maybe do a smoothie photo and then a salad photo, and kind of just like speed everything up. So I think if I get to do another book, I'll just develop all the recipes and then do the photography later.

I also might be smart and hire a photographer to help me, but it's a really difficult decision. I think it was for me anyway because I’m quite introverted and I don’t do well with schedules, so I thought, "Oh my gosh, how is this going to work with some other human being in my space?" The whole idea kind of overwhelmed me.

But I think next time if I develop all the recipes myself, and then I'm just in this massive photography mode—I mean obviously ideally, you would like hire a food stylist and hire a photographer and all work collaboratively together. I think that would probably work really well for me in future. But these are hard things that you don't really know until you get in there. And I do love to do things myself. I'm a little bit of a control freak so I think it will be hard for me to let go of that, but you can't do everything yourself.

So that was just a little bit about the process of creating a cookbook. I don’t know if this is interesting to you but it is fun for me to talk about, so I'm just going to keep on going.

Question number 4: What tools did you use for inspiration throughout the creative process?

I love thinking about creativity. For me, I feel like I'm so lucky because my job, I get to create recipes, create pretty pictures, and create e-books and apps. And I feel like what I do is so creative, and I feel so appreciative that I get to do that.

I talked with Emily Von Euw. She has the blog, “This Rawsome Vegan Life,” I believe. In an earlier podcast—not that many episodes ago, maybe 10 episodes, so probably in episode 40s or something—we talked a lot about creativity as well which if you are interested in that subject, you can check out that earlier podcast.

Creativity, just as a general topic, is extremely interesting to me. Because I felt very creatively blocked and nervous and scared once I signed the contract for the cookbook. I was like "How am I going to do this? How do I get started?" And the typical "I'm not good enough. This book is going to suck. I'm not going to get it done," and all of these fears came up. "What if people hate it?" All these things that we worry about—anybody worries about—when they’re doing any big project.

So there's this book called “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The subtitle is “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” It's an extremely easy to read book. It's just so easy and very useful and inspirational because it just kind of talks about how we put so much pressure on ourselves because of our art, and that's so silly. It's just food photography, it's just a novel, it's just a song that you're writing. Just don't feel you need to struggle through it. Just try to find the joy and the lightness and the fun in your work. And you don't have to be a martyr for your art.

We have this archetype of the artist or the creator who's like "Oh my gosh, my work is so hard and I struggle and you don't know how hard my struggle is." And this book really talks about how you can struggle but that's kind of a choice, and it's really so much more pleasurable if you can choose just to love your work and love your art and not feel that struggle. This book by Elizabeth Gilbert—she's super famous—and this book, you'll be able to find it anywhere. “Big Magic” it’s called.

I think it just came out right around the time that I was starting to work on my cookbook, and it was perfect timing for me, and I really found it super helpful in the practical application of what I found helpful was exactly that: just trying to have fun. If I'd be developing recipes, I would be listening to really upbeat music and just try to find the joy in it as opposed to kind of stressing out or being in that anxious mode, which my personality type I go there very easily. But I really was able to just relax and have fun and also just create the cookbook that I wanted to create and not worry so much if people liked it. I mean, I want you to like it. I want you to love me, but the idea is you cannot when you're creating something. You need to create it for yourself or for your audience, but you just need to create what you want to create, and you cannot worry about what people will think. Also, at the beginning of my process as well, I kind of decided that I just wasn't going to read any of the reviews that people would write about the book. Because I felt like if I can just get this behemoth book done, that will be such a success if I could meet the deadline and just do it. And hopefully, people will love it. And if some people hate it, that is okay, and that doesn't mean that I'm a horrible person.

I had to think a lot of this stuff through, but I feel like this might be interesting to you. And even if you're not thinking about a cookbook, I think we're all hopefully doing something creative. And I think to just distinguish between the thing you're creating, it's your job to create it, and that you don't have to worry about what people will think about it ever, or you can choose to just think about that at the end and just focus on what you're creating right now. So that book was super inspirational to me. And I know it's not food-related at all, but it just really helped me get through a lot of my creative blocks.

There's a podcast that goes along with that book, “Big Magic.” I think the podcast is called “Magic Lessons,” and it has a lot of really good episodes as well. Again, nothing to do with food. Just about creativity.

And then photography-wise, I did try to get some inspiration from a lot of different sources. A few books that I had—I can’t even remember them right now but I was looking at lots of pretty pictures and trying to make my own pretty pictures look somewhat like the famous people.

Question number 5: what was the hardest part of creating a cookbook?

I think I've really talked about it. For me, it was fear and the photography. I should have hired a photographer.

The follow-up question which I didn't write down but I feel like I should ask is "What was the best part of creating a cookbook?"

This was very different from blogging in that a cookbook is a collection—a cohesive collection of photos, of recipes—so that aspect was something I never really had to do. Because a blog, it just grows over time and you can have a million squash recipes. It's not a cohesive package. And although you wouldn't know it to look at me, but I do enjoy fashion, and I think about fashion in terms of art. And so I was thinking when I was creating this cookbook, it's kind of like a fashion show. You have different looks, and they should all look like they’re from the same fashion collection. I don't know that I succeeded in that, but it was something that I was thinking about. So I think that was just really fun. I knew to think about it as a whole. For example, the dessert section. It's like "Well, we have to have some chocolate in there, and we have to have some cheesecakes, and some cookies, and bars." It was a new thing for me.

And I think, bloggers, if you are listening to this, that's just something that was really different compared to just blogging where you're kind of just creating one-off things and they exist together in a group on your blog. But this, to me, felt quite different. And I enjoyed that part of it. I do like a challenge, so that was an additional layer of challenge of what made a book different from a blog.

Number 6: “Cook Lively!” is out, meaning you did it. What do you hope to have happen now?

That is a weird question. What does that even mean? I know what it means, but grammatically, it's odd. I found that it was so exciting to have the book. I was working on the book, then I was promoting the book, and I feel like a lot of that is just starting to wind down. And all of that took a number of years. I don't know if I'm slow or what, but I felt like I was really focused on the book for a long time.

And I'm kind of looking forward to just sort of centering in a little bit, coming back to what I used to do, because when you're making a cookbook, you're creating content for the book, and you’re not allowed to put it on your blog and all kinds of things like that. I loved doing it, and I want to do another book. Publishers, if you're listening, yes, please, give me another offer. But I am just really looking forward to just getting back to my normal routines and creating content for you: my video tutorials and podcast like this one and interviewing some other guests on future podcasts episodes. I'm just getting back into my groove and also creating other creative products: I have my apps, now I have this book, and my website, and the members-only area called The Rawtarian's Kitchen.

So as you know, I love projects and I love creating resources for you that help make raw vegan eating easier for you. So I'm just looking forward to the next thing, and I’m super proud that this book is out. I'm just looking forward to coming back to you and kind of getting back to my roots of being a blogger and creating good resources for you.

I'm kind of right now in the planning stages of thinking about what is really important for me to get done again on my blog and what you guys want from me and what I can do to help you. So if you have any thoughts about some of your struggles with healthy eating or what you would find really useful or interesting, I would love to hear from you. I try to answer email. Not always super timely but I do try to get to it, so lj@therawtarian.com.

Of course, I'm Laura-Jane, The Rawtarian, and thank you for allowing me to just babble about my book. I hope you found that somewhat interesting. I know that this episode—episode 54 of The Raw Food Podcast—is probably not super helpful if you're just trying to make a change in your life but probably interesting to a select few of you who are interested in writing or blogging or the process, and how all of that worked as well.

Well, I think I'll just end it there. I've interviewed myself to some degree. Thank you so much for being here with me. I know I haven't been developing as many free resources as I have been in the past, but now I feel that my book is out and I'm super happy about it, and looking forward to just getting back to what I normally do with you: more of these podcasts and all kinds of good stuff like that.

Thank you so much for joining me here on another episode of The Raw Food Podcast, and I will talk to you soon.

You have been listening to The Raw Food Podcast with your host, Laura-Jane, the Rawtarian. Visit me at therawtarian.com to browse over 100 of my absolute favorite simple, satisfying, raw vegan recipes for free. While you're there, be sure to sign up for a free account, so you can favorite recipes and access other special features. Also, consider joining the paid section called The Rawtarian's Kitchen, where you can watch over 70 video tutorials with me, download all of my e-books, take online courses and cleanses, get printable PDFs, and much more. Visit therawtarian.com/getTRK for details on what's included. Thank you so much for joining me here today on The Raw Food Podcast, and I hope to hear from you soon. So until next time, enjoy your raw adventure.

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