More Blogging Advice

I hadn’t realized this until just now but if you Google “How To Start A Food Blog” the #1 result is the post I wrote on August 17, 2005 about, appropriately, how to start a food blog. Since more than a year has passed since that post, I have an archive in my brain of things I’d like to amend to it: further tips and pointers that I think could help food bloggers who want to get more out of their food blogging experience. So what follows is a sort of free-flowing supplement to the original essay: some of the points will be re-echoed, many points will be new–all of the points will be issues I feel strongly about.

The #1 one thing that I want to add to what I wrote before is this: if you are a food blogger (or any blogger, for that matter) the first thing I want to know when I click your site is: Who are you? What are you about? What makes you different from all the other food blogs? Your style? Your voice? Your perspective?

Too many food blogs just look like generic food blogs–and, usually, they are generic food blogs. Here’s what I do when I get to a food blog I haven’t seen before: I scan the main page and look for sparks of originality or fresh content. I scroll around and look at the cluster of posts. More often than not these posts contain pictures of food and for some weird reason the food on the most forgettable food blogs looks like the food on the other forgettable food blogs. Why is that? I’ll give you a hint: context.

Spending time on a blog is like spending time with a person. Imagine yourself at a party surrounded by people all of whom care about food. Would you rather talk to the sullen person with the digital camera who’s standing near the cheese and crackers and mumbling about the levels of flavor in raw milk cheese? Or would you rather stand next to the high-spirited, highly animated talker who’s telling a harrowing tale of a near-death experience with caramel? I know where I’d be.

Exuberance, energy, originality, flair—these are the qualities that make great food blogs great. You don’t have to be as over-the-top and unsubtle as I am to be successful. You can be snarky and spirited, like some. You can be polished and literary like others. You can be curious and informative, obsessive and dedicated, passionate and thorough, cheeky and charming. You can be worldly and wise and write about balls. But be something! Please, for the love of God, stop being boring!

I am sick of boring food blogs. There’s no excuse for putting boredom out on the web–it’s lazy and dispiriting. Surely you have something original to offer, something original to say. Start with the questions I asked earlier: who are you? What are you about? Don’t you have life experiences that are unique to you? Is the issue that you don’t want to share? Well sharing on the web is like sharing in real life: if you don’t share with others nobody will share with you. And believe me, there are many spoils the food world will share with you if your sharing gets noticed.

Here are some tips:

– Post your picture. That’s an instant reader-friendly answer to the “who are you?” question. I realize many of you out there may be self conscious about your looks (we are, after all, bloggers–how good looking can we be?) but I can’t express enough how much of a turn-off it is to read a faceless blog. Again, use the party metaphor: would you rather dance with the guy with a bag on his head or the one smiling a toothy smile? Blogs allow you to shape the face you show to the world. I’ve met many bloggers who look nothing like the pictures on their sites, but–for some crazy reason–their real-life persona almost always matches their online persona. That’s because the bloggers I meet are bloggers I admire: they pour themselves into their blogs and their personalities shine through. Their picture is part of their online persona which, in turn, fuses with their real life persona. So don’t underestimate the importance of a picture–it helps people connect with you. And if you’re hot, you can at least grow followers based on your looks. (That was my approach.)

– Be original. This is a biggie. Seriously, look at your blog. What about it stands out? There are two layers to this: form and content. Let’s take these one at a time.

Form. The form of your blog matters and by that I mean the visual. What does your blog look like? Design is huge. I paid my designer a lot of money to create the look of my site and I know, without question, that it was money well spent. I insisted on a playful masthead and we worked together on the concept. I knew that my masthead would immediately tell people what I was about: stabbing ducks.

I can’t emphasize this enough but blogs are a VISUAL medium. This isn’t The Wall Street Journal. Even the text-based blogs I read (some of them linked above) have a visual style that is unique. If you are using a basic Typepad or Blogger layout and you want to be taken seriously, forget about it. When your blog looks like every other blog people will pass it over as I often do when I look at a generic blog. So get working on your design! Impress us with graphics! Be funny, be unique. But please, I beg of you, don’t be drab.

Content. Last night Sheila came over and we made duck and OMG it was so delicious. Sheila had a wing and I had a leg–no wait, I had a wing and Sheila had a leg. She took two bites and then I took two bites and then Sheila took another leg. And I was like, “Sheila that’s my leg” and she laughed LOL.

Ok that’s an imaginary bad blog post. Bad blog posts are like bad journal entries–and I should know because my high school journals read just like that: insipid entries about every detail of my day without any sense of what I was feeling or why any of it mattered. I read my old journals and I’m like, “Adam! Don’t you get that ten years from now you’ll be reading this and you won’t care what kind of toothpaste you used or who you sat next to at lunch? You’ll want to know what you were feeling about your friends, your family, your life. You’ll want to know what fascinates you, what you obsess about. What do you think about politics? What are your plans for the future?”

Bad blog entries read like a captain’s log: “We made this then we ate this.” Even my blog suffers from that every now and then. I do my best when I’m doing a cooking post to make it amusing, to put it in some kind of personal context. Like when I had those pictures of food in threes and instead of writing a boring detailed post about what I cooked, I talked about cooking for my roommate and my boyfriend. That to me is far more interesting than what goes into a Martha Stewart brownie. And I think people are far more interested in the juicy details from my personal life than whatever details I may share about brownie batter.

The same is true for you, oh anonymous blogger. Believe it or not people want to know things about you. People want you to air your dirty laundry. People want to know if you’re happily married, if you like your job. People want to know if you’re dyslexic, if you used to be bulimic, if you’re a recovering Republican. People really want to know if you’re gay (believe me). Tell us who you’re dating, tell us who broke your heart, but do it in the context of food. Remember this is a food blog, not a confessional.

And that’s the tricky thing. Writing is like knitting: after you do a loop, you can pull the thread away but you always have to bring it back. (Ok, I don’t know anything about knitting but I think that made sense.) Keep it focused. That’s the biggest tip I got when I started: make your blog about something specific. Don’t ramble. Don’t be all over the place. People are here because you’re writing about food–if you can make it personal and funny by bringing in pieces of your life, then by all means do that. But make sure to bring it back.

You, Mr./Ms. Blogger, are the host of the party that is your blog. Be a good host and entertain. Decorate. Be generous with EVERYTHING. Don’t neglect your guests. Interact with them. If they have a grievance, engage them. If they’re bored, do a dance. Make a comic book post, shoot a video. But most importantly: be yourself. That, ultimately, is why people are staying at your party because they like the answers to the questions I raised at the top: Who are you? What are you about? When the answers to those questions are clear and clearly broadcast, the revelers will come and you’ll party non-stop until the end of blogging.

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