Wednesday, September 11, 2013

LET'S TALK WRITING

SESSION I : A SKILLFUL UNDERSTANDING

There is nothing to writing. 
All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed. 
- Ernest Hemingway


Sometimes I feel that writing is like marriage. It takes a lot of hard work. The more time passes, the more we are in the relationship, the more we understand and build on that newfound understanding, one step at a time, in a never-ending attempt to get better at the whole darn thing. It is a constant struggle abounding in frustration, complications and compromises. And patience. Tremendous patience. Yet, swept up in the burning passion and desire, driven by love, we are certainly able to weather the rough storms that keep cropping up on the horizon. We strive to evolve, develop our skill and our knowledge in a constant effort to reach higher and farther, to improve and get it right.


But for all practical purposes, one must compare food writing to food photography.

Over the years I have learned that bloggers treat photography and writing differently. They understand the steps to what they consider a successful photograph. They are prepared to invest mightily in their photography: they buy cameras and lenses after lengthy discussions on Facebook, they invest in lighting equipment and learn how to take photos in natural light vs artificial light vs low-light situations. They invest in Photoshop or Lightroom and learn how to post process their photos – cropping, adjusting and redefining color, light, intensity, etc – to achieve the best possible image. They invest in props – backgrounds, linens, cutlery, dishes, holiday decorations, etc - and learn how to use them to the best of their advantage.

Food bloggers do understand that the secret to a beautiful photograph, one that tells a story, creates an ambiance that draws the viewer in, evokes and incites an emotion, one that titillates the senses and makes the visitor stay, ogle, enjoy… want to eat the food pictured and want to come back again and again requires skill, time, effort and thought. The food blogger knows that the more control he or she has over each element, the more one is able to manipulate the image, the better the chance he or she has to produce a powerful and effective photograph.

Rare is the food blogger today that snaps one single photo, slaps it onto the blog and hits publish.



Yet, what about the writing? Few bloggers think of writing in the same light. “I can write therefore I am a writer!” Yet writing is an art just as is photography – just like cooking, painting, knitting, surgery for that matter. Both are skills in which the understanding and mastering of the equipment – the camera and lens for a photographer, language for a writer – is crucial. Both are skills in which the gestures require constant practice, attention and improvement. Writing, like photography, becomes more interesting the more props – words – we have at our command, yet those props – words – must be used correctly and to effect.

Okay, let’s back up and I will make this comparison clear.

Your equipment:
Photographer: camera and lenses
Writer: language

Your props:
Photographer: linens (tablecloths, napkins, dishtowels, backdrops), background surfaces, cutlery, dishes, holiday tools and decorations, antique utensils, backgrounds, serving platters, etc.
Writer: vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, similes, metaphors, adjectives, adverbs, etc.

Post-processing:
Photographer: editing with Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.
Writer: editing



Don't only think about your photos!

There is so much to say about writing. There is both a technical side of writing and a creative side of writing (storytelling), and, like any skill or craft, writing – good, interesting, effective writing, takes a long time to develop and evolve, learn and master. What I want to do is get you to look at and think about writing in a different way, from a different angle than you might normally do. In a series of posts, I will offer you my thoughts on the process, urging you to consider writing in a new light. I will offer my thoughts and ideas on everything from how to master the equipment, grow your prop collection (prop shopping for the writer!) and self-edit. I will give advice, explanations and tips. Feel free to leave any questions you might have on writing in the comment section! And away we go!




As a writer, a writing instructor and someone who is passionate about language, the first thing – or one of the first things - I always point out to my students is (and the First Rule!) The Trifecta of Good Writing… (and respect for one’s readers):

1) Grammar
2) Spelling
3) Punctuation

Equip yourself with Spell Check and Grammar Check! Inviting someone to read a post riddled with grammar, punctuation and spelling errors is like inviting someone to a dirty home; editing for these three things shows that you care!


For Part II Playing the Lead: Your Role as a Writer link here

31 comments:

Joy said...

I like the comparison between food photography and food writing, which I wish I thought of before. After a long blogging and writing lull, while photography is easy to pick up again, writing is not. I have to work at it some more, like incorporating exercise into my daily routine. I'm so happy you're doing this series, Jaime. So, so grateful. xo.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Oh, that is such a well-written post. Yes, writing can be compared to photography. It demands a lot of work and both processes are not dissimilar. A lot of hard work, cursing and sweating is required. And like you, I find that text is as important as pictures. With words, you also set a mood....

Cheers,

Rosa

Ivy said...

A very interesting subject although I believe that photography can be improved whereas writing needs more talent. I lacked this talent even as a student when I was learning English as a foreign language. Composition was my weak spot. Gramatically I may be correct as well as my punctuation and spelling but when it comes to expressions, idioms etc. it's difficult to express oneself in a foreign language. I am looking forward though to your future posts Jamie, hoping to learn something new. Congratulations for the excellent idea.

Jenni said...

I am so glad that you've started this, Jamie! I absolutely agree with you that, if bloggers (myself included) would put as much effort into writing as they do into photography, the entire blogging profession would be elevated.

I'm really looking forward to your series!

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Jamie, you are the best storyteller in the food world and raise the bar for everyone. Great article and so much makes sense about relating writing to photography. So glad you decided to do this.
Sam

Amanda said...

I'm always trying to improve my writing and, while practice goes a long way towards making it better, I think seeking out professional help and tips can make a world of difference too. Find your local writers centre and become a member - just last night I spent 3 hours at a writing workshop. Just wandering off now to check out grammatIIsres 323rly.com - what a great idea!

Robin said...

Amen sister! Excellent post. You can really turn a phrase. So insightful. I cringe when I read poorly written posts and think of how many unskilled writers are flooding the internet and making money at it too!

Robin said...

And by the way, feel free to edit my comment for grammar and spelling errors.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

To be good at anything requires education and practice. Bloggers can justify spending time practicing photography but don't see that committing to making the next post better each time is important.

Loved this post.

Jamie said...

@Ivy: Ah, the question of talent. I will talk about that, but although I do agree we each have our own talents in different areas and not everyone has the "talent" to be a great writer (photographer, cook, etc), with work, thought and practice we are each able to produce something good and evocative. It is really about being conscious of what you do and how you do it and taking control of that.

As for writing in a foreign language: my oh my I so admire those of you who do! The world of blogging is international and so many bloggers want to tap into the largest audience possible, so therefore write in English. No matter how fluent I am in French and comfortable speaking it, no way do I think I can produce a well-written post in French. I know when I read something written by a non-English person and read it differently. But there are many ways to evolve for you, too.

La Torontoise said...

Thank you so much! I love this post!
It's so timely in my life...
Have a great day!

Lora CakeDuchess said...

Thanks for sharing this post with us, Jamie. What a great site to check out. I think we all have stories to tell and it is a lot of work to express it. The important thing to remember is to never stop writing.

Aparna said...

I think your comparison of food photography and food writing is so apt, Jamie.
Except that a lot of food bloggers don't realise that writing is as important, if not more than, photography.
This is a much needed series of posts, so thanks for doing this.

Elizabeth said...

This is great, Jamie! (Of course it is; you wrote it.)

When I first started blogging, I didn't have a camera. I was using my blog mainly as a diary and happily writing away as best I could. I too am a freak about spelling and grammar. But I also love myself giving myself permission to misspell and/or purposely write ungrammatically, hoping that people know it's on purpose. My excuse? Dickens did it, sometimes....

But then I got a camera. And the pictures started to get in the way of the writing. More and more. Now, sometimes, it's weeks between posts (that have become more and more verbose - ha! somewhat like this comment).

Elizabeth said...

Please excuse me for commenting twice in succession.

One of the things I've noticed is that people appear to be demanding to see more images and less writing. For me, this is quite sad. My favourite magazine, SAVEUR, seems to be heading in this direction. The articles are getting shorter and shorter and turning into photo essays, with an emphasis on the photos, rather than the essay.

I love that you are addressing the writing part and particularly love that with your writing, you are encouraging people to stop their mad dash through the pictures to actually read and reflect.

(Am I the only one who has to go through several of the "prove you're not a robot" images in order to find one that can actually be seen?)

saffronstreaks said...

Writing needs lots of patience, writer must be a good story teller too. And it should be engaging enough. Writing need more commitment. But very few readers actually read through the entire story. That discourages the writer, unless she is self motivated enough,. Good photography and good writing is killer combo but a blog can survive alone on good photography. This is very apt topic you have started and looking forward to read more on this.
Sukanya

Junglefrog said...

O yay! So happy you are writing this series of posts Jamie! I love to write but I do find I struggle sometimes to find the right words. Some days are better then others and without fail I can tell by the number of visitors when I had a good day. The pictures; well I guess that plays a part too but the difference in interest is never explained by the pictures in the post. It's always the words that make people jump into a conversation and leave a comment. And we all know I need some help in that area! So I'll be reading your posts carefully! thanks for doing this Jamie!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you! I am starting a food blog as we sprak, so this is vert helpfull to me!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

You put it so well. Writing for me is a much more spontaneous process or at least a little more ephemeral where I'm struck with inspiration and words and then they ebb and flow :)

lisa is cooking said...

This is a great reminder to keep the writing tidy! No matter how many times I re-read and edit, I always find a typo (or two) after I hit publish!

Kit said...

Looking forward to reading the rest of the series of posts. I love bloggers who write well and tell stories with words as well as pictures. You make a good point that many bloggers, food ones especially, have upped their game hugely in photography, whereas often the writing has got left behind., and I agree the two should go hand in hand.

Jamie said...

@Elizabeth: I sadly agree about more blogs and food magazines becoming photo-centric. Yet happily there are some fantastic food magazines devoted to literature, to food writing: profiles, analysis, stories, history (The Art of Eating, Gastronomica, etc and sites like Leite's Culinaria and American Food Roots are concentrating more on the stories).

I think of the divide in food blogs to the divide in people - some eat food while some savor their food. Some simply want to nourish their family while some also want to nourish the soul (food as tradition, heritage, connection). Some will simply make food or put up recipes while others serve dishes, cuisine, and offer the food up with some kind of story.

Jamie said...

@Amanda: Totally agree. Even professional writers who have been published continue to study, learn and take workshops. Stay tuned here and you can find out more about my own upcoming plans for workshops!

For those who can't afford the time or expense of travel, there are also on-line workshops... and I hope that my series of posts will also serve as a learning and growing experience for many of you.

IsabelC. said...

So very true: I do like blogs that have both a good pic AND post. I agree with you that the first thing that you notice is the pic and then the post. Personally, I can write a recipe easily, but it is harder to write the post (lack of inspiration?) and most of all, to publish a pretty picture that gives you the correct and good idea of the dish
Cheers
Isabel

Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things said...

Jamie this is an excellent piece of information, very well written and very well presented. As an old school writer, it sometimes surprises me to see the text that a handful of bloggers post in accompaniment to some truly outstanding images. To my mind, not only is the grammar, punctuation, flow etc important, along with great images, but researching your topic is critical as well! Keep these posts coming. : )

Cindy Martin said...

As a huge fan of your series, 'Plated Stories' I look forward to this series as well. I've just started to blog, so this is a very timely post. Thank you, Jamie!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jamie, I come to you via Ilva's gorgeous site (www.luculliandelights.com). Now those are really amazing photos. And her writing is always engaging. But the reason I feel compelled to comment is that I feel the trifecta of good writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation - essentially proofreading) also needs to be accompanied by editing (as Bizzy Lizzy mentions).

The first time you read the finished blog, read it for the trifecta. The second time you read it, read it for flow, how it tells the story, whether the interconnections/facts hang together properly.

While not looking after the trifecta can be annoying for the reader, not paying attention to how it sits as a piece of work can really turn off a reader.

(My apologies for sounding so strident, but I do this kind of work in my job [which I adore] and see people not paying attention to all of these things to the complete detriment of the message they are trying to get across. So I try to help them craft the story, smooth the edges, make the message clear and accessible, oh and I help fix the grammar, spelling and punctuation along the way!)

Jamie said...

@Anonymous: Thank you for your visit and your thoughtful and generous comment. I totally agree with you and will indeed be covering all of that in future posts. This post was simply an introduction to a series and as this one was linked to a grammar check site I wanted to start by pointing out the importance of our attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation and how simple and fast it can be to get it right. In future posts, I will cover such topics as editing/reading for smoothness and flow, understanding, power and impact.

And obviously I am a huge fan of Ilva's work and think Lucullian Delights one of the best blogs out there!

Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes said...

After so many tutorials on photography, the best chocolate cookies, how to monetize and so on, it's about time someone did one on the writing aspect of food blogging. Love this Jamie!

Brooks said...

Jamie, from the onset of my blogging life I've believed the writing should be as important as the pictures. Thank you for reminding us the written word is raw exposure; a direct view into the author's soul. You do this beautifully with every piece I've read from you.

Mairi @ Toast said...

Great post Jamie, & thanks for sharing your insight & tips. The writing is the bit I struggle most with, but it is blogs like yours that inspire me. You have such a wonderful way with words. Looking forward to more Let's Talk Writing & thanks for sharing. In the mean time a little patience & perseverance will keep me putting pen to paper.

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