Reader Mail: How Did You Do It?

Every now and then I like to publicly answer reader mail, in case other people out there have the same question. Here’s a question from Jess in Grand Rapids, Michigan:

Hello, I’m an avid Food Network watcher and have recently saw your clips for The FN Dish. I became curious and looked you up online. Your website is very good, but I’m sure you know that. My question is: How’d you do it? I’d really like to know. I just recently graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in journalism, but I have also discovered that I may have wasted the 4 years and the money (a lot of money) on that degree. My true passion is food and it took me 4 years to figure that out. I’ve been working in kitchens (not in the front of the house) at 3 or 4 restaurants since I was 15. I love food. I want your job (without being threatening of course), but I don’t know how to go about doing that. I would love to write about restaurants, cook books and food stars. I just don’t know where to begin. Any pointers?

Dear Jess,

You know, it’s funny, when I look at the trajectory that led me to where I am today in my penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park South (ok, it’s not a penthouse; and it’s not near Central Park, it’s in Park Slope, overlooking a dirty street–hey look, someone’s getting mugged!) I’d like to believe that lots of forethought went into it, that back when I started my blog I said to myself: “If I do this and keep doing it, one day I’ll be standing at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival with Rachael Ray running away from me as fast as possible while I chase her with a Food Network microphone.” Alas, that’s not how it happened.

Here’s how it happened: it started as a hobby. I began my blog to amuse myself and my friends and never really imagined that it would lead where it led. True, my friends Josh and Katy who told me to start the blog may have had an inkling, but I was desperate to be a serious writer, working on plays and short stories and novels all while juggling classes at law school. When my blog took off (thanks Janet!) I thought: “Hmmm, maybe there’s something to this.” But even then, I kept doing weird things like making videos about anorexic Barbie Dolls, staging scenes in my friend Lisa’s microwave, and writing songs about food. Soon, before I knew it, a literary agent approached me to write a book; the book came out, and the Food Network came knocking. That’s a very reductive version of what happened, but useful nonetheless.

Useful because it shows that in a creative field (yes, blogging can be a creative field) you can’t strategize your success. You have to do it because you love it and if good things come along, so much the better, but if they don’t, you’re doing it because you love it anyway. My suggestion: find a forum to showcase your talent (a blog might be a good idea) and write about the things you love to write about. Write to amuse yourself, write to amuse your friends. Don’t write how you think you should write, write how you want to write. And don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself: Lord knows I’ve done that a zillion times on my blog. Risk-taking, however, has its rewards, as does making yourself vulnerable to the masses. You have to have a thick skin in this business–people will write nasty comments, people will call you inane (thanks New York Magazine!) But you keep going because you love it, and if that means you have to wait tables for a while or work a job you don’t really like (rewind 5 years and see me at a giant law firm in L.A.) you channel all your creative energy into your writing and rewards will come. And if they don’t come, you’ll still have the work. If I never had a book or a Food Network show, I’d always have my Pancetta video.

Hope this inspires you and just remember: even Rachael Ray never intended to be a mega-mogul-media star. Now she gets to have idiots like me chase her around for a living. You could be next!

Best wishes,

Amateur Gourmet

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