When Jo-Ann Blondin of the blog 9 Cup Challenge invited me to participate in a vitural blog tour about the writing process, I saw it as a way to see how others approach the craft/passion/occasional hair-pulling frustration that is writing. I also welcomed the opportunity to step back from doing to reflect and gain fresh insight into the why and the how of my writing life.
I’m a fan of Jo-Ann’s blog, and not just because I met her at the inaugural Food Bloggers of Canada Conference last year, or because she’s now my Holistic Nutritionist (yes, I had my green juice for breakfast this morning). I also enjoy the voice and spirit of her writing, and how she weaves so many elements into her overall theme of promoting wellness. Case in point: she takes us on a journey of both her writing process and Thailand in her virtual blog tour post. Here’s her bio:
Jo-Ann Blondin’s goal is to help other women and men feel vibrant, sexy and amazing everyday by encouraging them to eat more vegetables and (limited) fruit. She feels it is easier to add goodness to your plate so it is full of abundance leaving little room for foods that might harm. Jo-Ann shares her wellness journey at http://www.9CupChallenge.com.
My Writing History
For just about as long as I can remember, I’ve succumbed to the lure of the written word. As a child I would read anything, from the proverbial back of cereal boxes (how often we hear that, but it’s true) to old issues of Readers’ Digest to novels. Books were scarce in my childhood home, and I had little, if any, guidance to quality reading material. I kissed a lot of literary frogs before I learned about good writing and became more discerning.
Along with a love of reading often goes writing, and at an early age I was an aspiring novelist. I recall writing a book in Grade Four about the Woods family who had twelve children. At the time I was somewhat miffed that my parents had provided me only one sibling, and a brother at that. I never finished the story of the large and jolly Woods clan, but it was just one in a long line of stories that sprang from my imagination onto the pages of school notebooks.
My interest in writing stood me in good stead through high school and university and then into my working life. Somewhere along the way my creative writing waned, and I focused on professional writing and employee communications. Although I did little writing of my own, I read avidly about the craft: magazines, books, style guides. In 1995, before many of my friends even had email, I took an online course from the University of Western Ontario called Writing for Fun and Profit (never mind that it took me almost 20 years to become a paid writer) and later a certificate program in Communications and Public Relations.
In 2009 I started a novel, and made some decent progress on it, but a serious repetitive strain injury only five months later put a stop to almost all non-essential keyboarding and handwriting for a significant period of time. In the summer of 2011 I was aching to write again, but I knew working on the novel would be too much for me. Somehow I was inspired to write a blog, the reasoning being that it would be complete with each post I published. Next, I had to find a topic. I’ve long had a passion for cooking, so that was settled in short order.
Fast forward to late 2013: I was approached by the editor of Neighbours, a new weekly supplement of the London Free Press to contribute a weekly recipe. I pitched a monthly food column as well, and thus I found myself a published writer. That has since evolved into being taken on as a freelance writer, realizing a long-held aspiration.
Now all I need to do is pull out that novel again.
My Writing Process
Participants in the Writing Process blog tour are asked to answer four questions, so here goes.
What am I working on?
My writing life currently is divided between my blog and my freelance writing. The focus of the blog is on home scratch cooking with real food, made simply and with flair. Mostly I write about what we eat, although often we eat what I want to write about. I’ve developed a routine of posting twice a week, and occasionally more or less. There are four main categories of posts on the blog.
- Most are my standard recipe style with a background story, recipe header and formal recipe. (Like this.)
- The Simple Pleasures category is where I write about something that has caught my eye or has deep meaning for me. The writing style is free-form prose (I hesitate to call it poetry) and the subjects can range from the beauty of citrus to the pleasure of making cookies with my daughter.
- In freestyle kitchen posts I write about my casual cooking style with informal recipes that reflect my ‘non-blogging’ approach in the kitchen. Here I’m free from the restrictions of measurements and precise ingredient lists.
- In community posts, I promote worthy causes. It’s one way that I give back to the community.
Food photography is an important part of blogging, and I’ve improved greatly in this area since the beginning when many of my photos were marred by poor lighting. I’ve included some of the photos I’m most happy with in this post.
My blog is my labour of love. For now at least, I don’t advertise on it or otherwise earn income through it. I’ve always treated it as a foundation to find new opportunities, though, and it was the springboard to my current freelance writing gig.
I provide three types of content to Neighbours currently: a weekly recipe column that essentially repurposes blog posts; “Real Food – Real Local” columns about food issues or themes with a local focus; and, advertorial profiles of local businesses and restaurants. I conduct interviews for these, with an eye to “the story within the story.” In future, I hope to expand my freelance writing to meet my income goals.
And finally, there’s that novel I mentioned. I generally don’t say much about it, other than it’s a mystery set locally and featuring a woman who runs a small business and comes across bodies from time to time (don’t we all?). I only seem to work on it when I’m on vacation, so don’t expect to see it on bookstore shelves anytime soon.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I like to think my writing style and voice sets my blog apart. I use humour, sometimes ironic, without turning my writing into a comedy routine. I also enjoy playing with vocabulary and different writing styles. For example, my post about lemon curd is one of my favourites because of the tone it strikes, its brevity and some of the phrasing that I found so pleasing. One of my favourite lines is, “If optimism were a fragrance, this would be it.” I wish I could write like that all the time.
I’m not a ‘confessional’ blogger. While I do write about what’s happening in my life, it’s centred around the food and fairly private. This is not a space to bare my soul. When I do talk about personal issues, like my struggles with repetitive strain injury or why I left my job last year, I’m reserved in how much I share. In fact, the Culinary Enthusiast and I became engaged last fall and I never mentioned that, although I suppose I could have worked it into a post. Maybe one of these days I will, but until then it can be our little secret.
Most of my food photos these days are taken on the verandah railing, overlooking our backyard (somehow, I haven’t lost a plate of food, yet). Every summer there are photos overlooking the lake from the cottage we rent, and those are special too. Although I’m concerned about my photos becoming too rote in location and composition, I do quite like the style I’ve landed upon.
Why do I write what I do?
My passion is to encourage more people to cook real food, from scratch. For the most part my recipes are accessible and I hope not intimidating. I think it’s important for novice or timid cooks to know that kitchen misadventures are par for the course even for seasoned cooks like me, and the best response is one of humour and learning for next time. It’s all part of real life in the kitchen.
I write this blog for myself, for my children and for my readers. It’s my major creative outlet, and I freely admit that I take great pleasure in looking back at what I’ve created in this space over almost three years. I hope my kids will turn here not just for the recipes, but also for the memories they represent. One of the satisfying yet originally unexpected aspects of blogging is the sense of community I’ve found out here. It’s been wonderful to engage with people all over the world and to form friendship connections with some.
How does my writing process work?
Some posts seem to effortlessly flow onto the page. Do I need to tell you that’s the exception rather than the rule? Sometimes it seems I have to fight for every word, and the process feels like the photo on the left.
My general approach to food blogging is to combine a background story with a description of the cooking process and the food itself. Writing about the flavours, aromas, textures and colours of food has made me a more mindful eater and sharpened my palate.
I generally write the story part of the post first, and then the recipe header, ingredients and directions. I like to incorporate my voice into the recipe itself with humorous asides, ironic observations or descriptions of how glorious the kitchen smells when you chop garlic or zest citrus, or how the smell of sweet pancakes can linger all day as a pleasant memory.
I like to vary the length of my posts, and am striving to write more that incorporate the elements of story, description and voice in only a couple hundred words or so, followed by the recipe. Today’s is exceptionally long (thank you, patient reader, for sticking with me thus far).
Editing is an important part of my process. Some posts don’t need much, but I go over others repeatedly, rewriting, tweaking and looking for just the right turn of phrase to convey the pleasure and passion of cooking.
For me, writing is a quiet pursuit, with no music or radio in the background. Right now, the only accompaniment to the words flowing onto the page is the gentle music of the bamboo wind chime outside my office window. I also write best when connected to or in view of nature, whether overlooking the view of the yard or the lake, as in the opening photo to this post. It brings me peace to write in peace.
Thank you for indulging me in my exploration of my own writing process. It’s been gratifying to take the time to reflect on what it is I do and the great satisfaction it brings me. Special thanks to Jo-Ann Blondin to inviting me to take part.
I hope you’ve found this interesting and perhaps in some way helpful, if only to inspire you to pause and take stock of whatever creative passion in life you follow. This reflective process deepens the experience.
Next Stop on the Tour: Barbara Bamber of Just a Smidgen
One of the loveliest and most pleasing blogs I follow is Just a Smidgen by Barbara Bamber, aka Smidge. I was delighted when she agreed to participate in this blog tour. Her writing is expressive and elegant, and often includes her moving poetry. And her photographs … just visit and you’ll see what I mean. Here is how she describes her blogging experience:
My goal in beginning my blog, Just a Smidgen, was to focus on a mindset of gratitude and appreciation and in doing so, change my life. The transformation, through the exploration of the many avenues of cooking, baking and creativity and its subsequent connection to my life has been phenomenal, it truly exceeded every dream I could have imagined. I love having a place to post and sharing my poetry as well, it’s such a great outlet for personal expression.
Barb will be posting about her writing process on Monday, May 5 and I know we will all learn from her. Do check in to see what she has to say.