I don’t consider myself to be a writer.
It’s probably an odd way to open a blog hop blog post about “Why I Write?”. Quite odd, given that I have a blog written in long form where the word count of a typical post averages in the high hundreds to low thousands. That is, when I do actually publish a blog post, which has become less frequent in recent years.
I don’t consider myself to be a writer because I don’t feel that I’m any good at it. I don’t feel comfortable with the medium. I don’t feel that a stream of words, sentences and paragraphs makes you a writer in the same way that owning and using a camera makes you a photographer. I feel bogged down by a self-imposed duty of responsibility I place upon myself and what I write. Writing is a source of anxiety and I struggle with it far more than I do with the photographic side of the blog.
And yet I write. This is why I write.
There are many answers to the question of why I write. I write because I want to contribute to a community of food enthusiasts. I write to inform and educate. I write because I want to be better at writing. However, if you were to render all these reasons down to a single, unifying answer, it would be because I feel that I have something of value to say. I know, it’s not the most exciting answer but it’s the foundation that informs my approach and motivation for writing.
That’s the intention at any rate. There are times when people write for ego-driven, narcissistic reasons like increasing view counts through link baiting, writing about something just because it’s popular and a part of the zeitgeist or to show off how clever you are as a wordsmith (or at least think you are). Perhaps there is a need for affirmation and validation with fluff comments from a circle jerk of yes-men. Some might write to exert power over others, perhaps as a means of payback for some perceived wrong-doing or taking claim to some power they feel that is otherwise lacking in their life, empowered by their apparent position of influence and authority. Some may write just for the money, caring little for the content they produce so long as they’re compensated.
If I’m to be absolutely honest, I’ve written, at least in some part, for all of the above reasons. Not always knowingly at the time, not always with that intent, but ultimately with that outcome. It’s not something that I’m proud of but as with all things in life, you grow, you learn and try to move on.
Now, that’s not to say that having a popular blog, receiving validation, being a critic or speaking truth to bullshit, or being compensated to write aren’t all necessarily bad in of themselves. However, when the cart is placed before the horse, when these outcomes drive the content and are not the consequence of it, what does that say of you as a writer? Are you violating an implicit duty and responsibility to the reader if you do? Am I overthinking the issue for something that’s just a hobby? It’s not like I’m changing the world with my writing. That wasn’t the reason I’d gotten into it in the first place.
Before I get too bogged down in detail, there are a standard set of questions I need to address as a part of this blog hop. Hopefully anything else I want to cover about my thoughts on writing will be covered there.
What am I working on?
Not a lot at the moment. There are always things I’d like to cover. There some outstanding posts I’ve been meaning to see to that are long overdue.
Some of these posts have to do with recipes and experimentation somewhat akin to posts I’ve published in the past like my experiments with dulce de leche (part 1 and part 2). There’s one on barbecue beef ribs that I worked on for last Christmas that went through an experimental process to meet certain time and quality criteria.
There’s also an outstanding post on food photography based on a talk I gave at last year’s Eat. Drink. Blog. Australian Food Bloggers Conference in Perth I’ve been meaning to see to but condensing the talk into a written form has been a bit of a challenge. On the one hand it shouldn’t be overly complicated or wordy but at the same time not just be a list of tips, which in my mind is near useless from an educational standpoint. Duty of responsibility once again.
I could continue ad nauseum with a laundry list of intentions but to quote the lyrics of a musician I have a lot of respect for, “There’s good deeds and there is good intention. They’re as far apart as heaven and hell”.
How does my writing differ from others in its genre?
It’s long form, detailed and analytical in nature because that’s the way I think and it’s quite often what I appreciate in other writers. My writing style is more informative than entertaining.
When it comes to reviews, I aim to provide enough detail to allow the reader to make an informed decision. Expressing, in my layman opinion, both the positives aspects as well as any aspects that aren’t so good, factoring in potentially mitigating circumstances. Some people choose to only write about positive experiences and there’s nothing I see wrong with that. It’s when people only accentuate the positive of a mixed experience where things can get somewhat dicey. If you’ve ever read a review where someone writes a detailed and glowing opinion for some dishes and only gives the dish’s name or just a list of components for others, you’ll see what I mean. What are they not telling you?
Then again, heavily critical reviews I’ve learned through experience are neither that popular, if you care about such things, nor ultimately satisfying as a writer. There is a place for critique but it should be constructive and informative in nature, not just as a way of putting someone or an establishment down. Once again, for me it’s a hobby, for them it’s their livelihood.
With regards to recipe posts, once again it comes down to details. Critical points of the recipe where things can go wrong, things to bear in mind, options and alternatives as well as serving suggestions. I like to provide enough detail that a novice cook would have as much chance as possible to get the recipe right the first time.
Why do I write what I do?
I’m not sure that I have an interesting answer for this question. It’s because it’s what I’m interested in and feel that I have something of value to say about it. That’s all. Not sure that I have much more to say on the matter than that.
How does my writing process work?
My writing process overall is very slow and inefficient. A typical post would take anywhere from 6-12 hours to write, sometime more.
As with any long form writing, I jot down the overall beats that I want to cover in point form so that I have a sense of structure to the writing. What information I think would be useful, what do I want to say and where is it to be placed and in what order. So a typical blog post for, say, a restaurant review I follow a pretty standard formula.
1. Open & Hook
A few opening sentences to give a taste of what the post is about, its tone and something to hopefully keep the reader interested in reading the rest of the post.
2. Environment & People
A number of paragraphs that covered essentially everything other than the food – the environment, the decor, the ambiance, the service and perhaps even a little something about the chef or the concept of the restaurant, for example.
3. Food Review
A breakdown of the dishes, from its major elements through to my thoughts and opinions of it. What aspects I liked and what I didn’t, trying to make allowances for things such as personal preferences and mitigating circumstances. Some thought is also put into the flow of this section. Sometimes it’s written in sequential order, grouped in some logical fashion or opened and closed with the best dishes.
4. Close & Details
A short summary of the overall experience, often linked in some way to the open. Also any contact info for the restaurant goes here as well.
Why I Don’t Write?
This last question isn’t a part of the standard set of questions for this blog hop but in my mind a post on why I write would be incomplete without a section on why I write so rarely. I picked up somewhere that the world renown entertainer Jerry Lewis would stand in front of a mirror and have a conversation with himself to deal with some of his personal issues in his life. This is my moment in front of the mirror with regards to my writing.
As I mentioned in the open, writing for me has become a source of anxiety. It wasn’t so much in the beginning. Back then I was blissfully ignorant of how bad I was at writing. If you know about the four stages of learning, this was my unconscious incompetence stage. As my photography skills developed, I also had greater expectations on my writing to be at least on par in terms of quality. I have a perfectionist streak, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. Quite the opposite because it’s a hindrance. I find that I’m often not satisfied with my writing.
There was a clear turning point from my unconscious incompetence to my current stage of conscious incompetence. While I won’t name any names, a certain person had kindly offered to edit my blog posts after they were posted, pointing out any spelling and grammatical errors. While I was initially thankful for the help, over time it became a source of anxiety. No matter how much I edited and reedited before publishing, there was that laundry list of spelling and grammatical errors that never seemed to diminish in length. It’s discouraging that no matter how hard you tried, no matter how many times you’ve read over the post, things did not seem to improve. I don’t blame this person at all for this issue but this anxiety still affects me to this day. For the record, this is the third draft of this post with a total time clocked in at over eleven hours including four editing passes.
Then there’s the issue of length. I write long form and detailed because that’s how I think. However, readers of food blogs tend to prefer short form. That’s what more people read and respond to. Understandably, there is such thing as too much information and I’m well aware that people can be intimidated by a long stream of text, either being too much of a time commitment or it’s just not interesting enough to sustain interest. At least a pithy, empty calories sort of post has brevity going for it. However, pithy essentially meaningless text isn’t something I want to do. I don’t see any value in following a photo of a dish with just “This was so good!” or “Mmm bacon”. Why was it so good? Of course “Mmm bacon”. When is bacon ever not “mmm”?
Some people have the ability to provide a lot of good detail with few words. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people but I’d like to be. Though, how much time do you spend whittling down the detail to only the essentials? Yet another thing to not be good at. Yet another thing to slow the process down even further.
It’s these sorts of anxieties and frustrations that have left a graveyard of posts in draft status, well past their use-by-date, or aborted before its been given a chance at life. There’s one thing I’ve come to realise while writing this post – I’m not a good writer but that’s ok. It’s unrealistic to place such a high expectation upon myself when I know that I still have a long way to go in my development as a writer. This isn’t an acceptance of mediocrity but just an understanding that I’m being far harsher on myself than I deserve to be. I should write because I have something to say and I won’t be any better at writing if I don’t write.
I wish I could say that this is an affirmation that things will change and I will be writing more blog posts more frequently. Unfortunately, I’ve let down some good people and have burned a few relationships with my good intentions but otherwise poor deeds to do that, something that I regret. My aim is to be less of a perfectionist and be more of a completionist; someone who gets stuff done rather than talking about the intent to get stuff done. It’s a noble goal. I hope I have it within me to achieve it. I haven’t given up on blogging but I think I have a long way to go before I’m comfortable with the writing side of it.
I am not a writer. I am a photographer. I am a photographer because I have an inherent need to shoot and document the world around me. I don’t have that same need to write as all writers do. I write because I want to, not because I need to.
I am not a writer but perhaps I will be one someday. For those of you that still take the time to read my posts, you have my sincere thanks and gratitude. I hope you found some value in this post. After all, it is the reason why I write.
Writers I Admire
Given that this is a blog hop, while there’s an implicit requirement to tag people with these things, there’s no expectation from me for the following list of people to continue this forward. It’s just a small sample of the writers that I admire and look up to in some way.
Grab Your Fork – Helen was the person who had gotten me into food blogging in the first place. She’s the person I look up to when it comes to finding that right balance between useful detail and brevity.
One Bite More – I love Sheryl’s narrative storytelling style of writing which includes a regular cast of characters. Her posts are as entertaining as they are informative.
Tomato – Ed was a journo in his past life so writing is very much his forte. He’s a long form writer whose not one to mince words. I’ve always found his posts on food culture and blogging to be interesting and engaging despite its length.
There are plenty of other writers that I admire that are not on the list. One such person is Lauren from Corridor Kitchen who had gotten me involved with this blog hop. Thanks for the opportunity! Check out her post on why she writes.
For more posts on why people write, check out the other blog hop links.