Writing

IF

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)

Food Writer's Block

Writers block. It happens to the best of us from time to time. Nothing is worse then sitting down after a busy day, wanting to share those new cupcakes, and having no way to cleverly introduce them to the world. Sometimes I just work through it, but often when I look back on those posts, I am disappointed in what I have written.

I am not very good at always having a story to match the dish I am featuring, but some solutions I have found seem to help me to always have new ideas at my fingertips.

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writewhatyouknow

You heard it here first. Oh, wait. You’ve seen this pearl of wisdom somewhere before, haven’t you? That’s right. Everyone, everywhere, who has ever taken an English class has heard this advice ad nauseam. It’s writing 101. It’s freshman year. It’s the learning annex. Write what you know. Mine your experiences and use it all. But, you know, it’s a truth I often forget when food blogging.

Here’s what happens: I see a dish I want to make. I bookmark it to my Pinboard or tuck it in my Moleskin recipe notebook. I rush out to buy all the ingredients and get chopping. It’s fantastic; we photograph it first and devour it second, then I sit down at my desk. And I realize I don’t have anything to say. There isn’t a narrative I can spin that is germane to the recipe. It’s a tasty tidbit and I want to share it. But we’re in the business of telling stories. Without a story, your post is dead in the water.

As I wrote in my last piece, there are countless resources for recipes, both online and in the cookbooks lining our bookshelves. Filling the pages of glossy magazines that sit on our coffee table unread because the baby beckons all day and later, television’s mesmerizing glow calls, and in bed a page or two of a book so that my brain doesn’t completely come unraveled. Everyone’s got recipes. You want to stand apart. Why should the selective, savvy public choose your site above all others?

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personality

“Kid, you gotta get a gimmick if you wanna get ahead” – Burlesque dancers from the musical “Gypsy”

You like food. Your family thinks you’re an outstanding cook. You spend hours pinning recipes from around the internet. Your travels always include sampling the best of local cuisine and spirits. You’re not content to serve mundane, boring meals. You’re a seeker. A foodie. An eater. A writer. All this is good, and bodes well for your future as a food blogger. But you have to have a hook, a schtick, a gimmick, if you want to get noticed.

The Pioneer Woman is perhaps the best example in all the blogosphere. Her success has launched her into the real world with a television show on The Food Network, best-selling books, and high-profile appearances. She has legions of fans. She truly has become a legend. How? Talent, first of all: for cooking, for photography, for writing with a warm and authentic voice. Her recipes are accessible, but not necessarily simplistic.  She seems like your favorite girl from college with a down-home twist. And this is the key to her brilliance. She markets herself smartly, all the way around.

You live on a ranch? You’re The Pioneer Woman. You write about New England, you’re Lobster Girl. (That’s mine now…don’t steal it.) It’s a character you become that is an extension, a dramatization of your true self and circumstances. You’re not making up a persona from whole cloth. But you can embellish, you can create a little fiction, you must maximize your personality and what makes you unique. There are countless voices on the vast internet. Why should a reader choose you? What do you have to say that matters? Where do you live?

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