Avoiding The (Successful! Profitable!) Middle-of-the-Road

When composing a blog post recently, I caught myself doing something that I’m kind of embarrassed to talk about. But I think it affects all aspiring food bloggers, sooner or later, and it’s not something I hear talked about very often.

I had written a few sentences, and was trying to make a point about something that wasn’t terribly interesting. In fact, I don’t even remember what it was. What I do remember, is that after the first revision, I re-wrote an entire paragraph to make it less specific, and easier to understand.

No, that’s not it. I made it dumb. On purpose.

Not slapsticky-dumb. But I chose words and phrases that didn’t sound anything like the way I actually talk, in order to illustrate my point in a broad, general way, hopefully without making the reader work too hard.

There are so many mixed messages about writing, particularly when it comes to writing for the web. In school, we’re instructed to be selective with language. To know your audience, and to write specifically for them. To avoid resting on worn-out cliche (Better-Than-Sex No-Bake Nutella Fudge! The secret ingredient is love! This Buffalo wing flavored dip is like crack! Etc.).

When it comes to the business of blogging, though, those important messages about writing get a little muddier. Web authors are advised to write at a 6th-8th grade level. To use short sentences. Simple words. To appeal to short attention spans.

Indeed, some of the most successful food blogs on Earth sometimes tend to read like, at best, the second half of an “Airways” magazine that you thumb through on board a flight to Scranton. The whole, “My name is Allison, and I’m just a simple gal who loves baking cakes!” persona is fine when it’s genuine (or at least it was the first 2,000 times you read it), but it’s also turned into a big, profitable business that can be tempting to try and emulate.

This is dangerous for a few reasons. First, it violates one of the cardinal rules of blogging, which is to be 100% authentic 100% of the time. Your readers will know when you’re not being yourself, when you’re choosing different words or phrases, self-censoring, or otherwise speaking in a voice that’s not entirely your own.

Choosing to “dumb-down” your writing also denies you the credit you deserve as an author and a food blogger. If your name is Allison, and you really are a simple gal, and you really do love to bake and share your creations, that’s fine. But chances are, hypothetical food blogging Allison, you’re much more than that. You’re an accomplished food photographer, having mastered not just the control of your camera, but lighting, food styling, props, and more. You’re probably also a social media marketing guru, using various social networks (and reading sites like this one) to drive hordes of hungry readers to your site each day. And let’s not forget that you’re a pretty spectacular frikkin’ cook, on top of it all. Forcing yourself into a middle-of-the-road, “teehee” persona doesn’t allow all the truly amazing, interesting things about you to get the attention they deserve.

Finally, adopting a tone that’s not entirely yours and not entirely true to yourself poses a danger to the whole world of food blogging. That’s right: Allow yourself to be boring on purpose, and you’re putting the entire medium in jeopardy. Because as the tone of food blogs and food blogging runs the risk of being homogenized and commodified (bright, oversaturated photo, clever/punny/topical post title, slow-cooker chicken recipe, mildly amusing anecdote, DONE!), the experience of reading food blogs gets ridiculously, painfully DULL. I think that the future of blogging is already in question, as readers turn increasingly to either established sources, big aggregator sites, or social media for their conversations. Adding another food blog to the world that has all of the flavor and consistency of a milky cup of weak tea damages the reputation of us all, and of all the work that we do.

So let’s all make a promise to each other. Let’s make our writing as bold, interesting, and alive as we are. All the time. Let’s never intentionally make our writing more bland, more middle-of-the-road, less likely to offend, even if it seems like it will cost us readers, or brand sponsorships, or narrow our appeal. If you’re someone who swears like a merchant seaman, let that be in your writing. Likewise, if you’re a Columbia-educated professor of astrophysics who also really loves talking about the molecular chemistry of baking pies, don’t be afraid to be that person, either. Because even if you don’t have a broad, safe, marketable appeal, at least you’re being YOU, and at least you’re doing your part to elevate the potential of the medium. Do THAT, and your readers will adore you, no matter who you are.

(Photo: Flickr/Zen)

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  1. Rose @ RoseBakes.com 5 years ago

    It’s SO easy to slip into that mentality of dumbing things down to draw crowds! Thanks for this reminder to stay authentic!!