Yesterday I got some notes on some of my work from a website I was hoping to contribute to. I asked for notes as I think it’s important to get a perspective on your work from somebody who isn’t afraid to kick your ego’s ass and crush your spirit. I’ll be honest, I was fire breathing pissed when I first read the notes, but today I understand the true value of them. I’d like to share those notes with you kind folks as writing isn’t always about good times and noodle salad. I’ll break it down into easily digestible pieces, and then give my own thoughts as we go along this journey of truth and higher learning.
Pav, “so I’ve read the piece and a few of your blog entries, and I think the main issue is that I have a hard time following because of all the extraneous stuff going on in y our pieces. I get the impression that they’re more stream-of-conscience than tightly structured, orderly pieces.”
Well, first of all, they’re not pieces…they’re stories. Second of all they were written for my blog not a food website, there is no size limit and the ink is free. It’s more of an exercise in writing to explore the world of food, and to ask myself a few questions. How does this relate to me? What part did this food play in my life? How did it change me or my understanding of food? I’ve always enjoyed reading narratives where the subject isn’t necessarily about what the author is talking about but rather, what role the subject plays in his or her life. But that’s just me and I understand everybody has different tastes.
I was probably out that day in poetry 101 when “Stream of Consciousness” was discussed, so I went and looked it up. Stream of consciousness is a style of writing where the author’s thought processes are more often depicted as overheard in the mind. Wow, how empty is it in there people? I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to you kind folks for bringing you to such a dark and lonely place.
This style of writing happened to work for Authors James Joyce and William Faulkner so although I’ll never gain their level of success, at least I know I’m doing something right. These were great men of literature, men of substance and critical thinkers. Now I never finished reading Ulysses, ok who am I kidding…I never started reading Ulysses, but this is a piece of literature that is still being talked about in literary circles nearly a hundred years after being written. I doubt very much anybody will be pointing to “The Pioneer Woman’s” post about campfire biscuits even one year from now.
“I mean, some extraneous stuff is ok, but you need to have a bit more organization if you want readers to be able to follow along closely. Before I start writing anything, I always ask myself a few questions:”
Make it easy to follow and stay on point so the reader doesn’t get lost or confused. Are we sheep? It’s ok people, go ahead and think…if you get lost or feel light headed just raise your hand and I’ll try and get around to you as quickly as possible. People everywhere are talking about how the internet is flooded with food blogs that are copycats of each other. Food bloggers should dare to be different and think outside the box, but as soon as they do they are told “get back in the damned box!”
“- Do I have a point? And if so, exactly what is that point? If it takes me more than one sentence to explain my point to myself, then I need to refine it or trim the fat.”
The problem I see with that line of reasoning is this, if you have to ask yourself if you have a point to begin with, you probably don’t. Besides that… sometimes a point, is pointy. There is more than one point to some points and maybe that’s the point that needs to be pointed out. Sorry, that was all for me and in a way…pointless. Trimming the fat, are we at a butcher shop? This isn’t Readers Digest and the last time I checked, we weren’t shelling out big bucks for ink or paper, so why not indulge the reader a bit. Let’s meander around a while and see what we can find together while you stretch your medulla oblongata.
“- What is the arc to the story? Every piece of good writing, whether it’s a short story, a journalistic piece, or an explanation of the development of a recipe should have a beginning, middle, and end, with tension and relief set up. You can give people information in a dry way, or you can give it to them in a way that makes them want to read more. People come for the info. They come back for the stories.”
I’ll be honest this one confused the hell out of me. Ok so I write stories and they have a definite beginning, otherwise they wouldn’t have a title. My stories are musings and can tend to jump a bit. I’m pretty sure musings aren’t something you have to spend a lot of time concentrating on, but ok maybe I need to focus on that whole arc thing a bit more. But I’d say tension is what people have while reading other bloggers posts who are simply sticking to “the point”, and the relief comes when they reach “the end.”
My writing I’d say is more in the ilk of attempted humor so yeah, not really dry at all…in fact I’ll go out on a limb and say it was somewhat moist. Oh wait, what?! So now we want to give them information and a story that they’ll come back for? Whatever happened to the whole “just the facts, ma’am” vibe we were looking to achieve. Also, I don’t necessarily buy into the premise that people are coming for info. I read lots of stories just because of who wrote it, and not because of the info that it may contain. If I want information I’ll pick up a dictionary or a phone book.
I don’t read Will Gordon’s pieces in Serious Eats because I want to know all about the wonders of McDonald’s breaded bits of this or that, I read it because I care about the writer and what he has to say no matter how long it takes to get to the breaded bits of whatever. That’s how you get such things as “favorites.” You don’t buy a record based on the info it contains, you buy it because you like the artist…Although you could make a different argument with Frank Zappa’s song Dynamo Hum.
“…when I’m done writing, I’ll go back a few times and ask myself whether everything was explained in the way that makes the most sense, whether every sentence in the story was necessary, and where I can cut back. I usually end up deleting about 50% of what I write (and even then it’s still too much most of the time). I think your stories would come across as much tighter and more focused if you were more judicious in your post-writing editing.”
Oh right, I knew that whole “people come back to the stories thing was just bullshit…HAHA… good, one… you nearly had me believing it! You have a gift my friend. So after I’ve trimmed the entire story out of the story then I’ve really got a really good story… is that about right? Yeah, so based on everything I’ve just learned I am prepared to write my review on:
“The Clam Box” 246 Hi
gh S treet Ipswich, Ma ssachusetts 01938: The Clams are about the same as every other Clam joints. The Onion rings are fine. They pour had a good Diet Coke with ice. The place gets really crowded but you can eat outdoors. They are a bit pricey. Two thumb s up! Enjoy!
I think I trimmed most of the fat but I’m sure it was still too long as I was probably only at about what, maybe 30% cut….I’m gonna have to work on it.
How does someone write a food article and not bring themselves into it? I understand people at times need to see a brief summation of a dish or a restaurant review and honestly, that’s what places like yelp and urbanspoon are for. If you’re writing a food blog and you stick to describing the mouth feel of the steak tartare, or the somewhat raucous atmosphere that is conducive to eating lambs testicles…you might as well be writing the instructions for the back of a shampoo bottle…then repeat.
If I were writing about that restaurant, you’d hear about that food and atmosphere eventually, but you’d get a story first…like maybe how when I was there I heard a song that was playing the night I turned 18 at a pizza joint where I got a great slice of cheese pizza and ended up dry humping on my date’s princess bed and oh yeah, get the lamb testicles as they’re very tasty, but remember to speak up…it’s freakin loud in there.(Full disclosure, my date did have a princess bed, but all I got was pizza)
“I hope that helps, and good luck with the writing!”
I truly believe it did help. It helped me understand that what I am doing is different. It helped me understand what not to do, and what not to become as a writer. It helped me understand what it would take to make me a complete and utter bore. It helped me realize what the grim reaper of creativity looks for in writing. In the end it has only solidified my conviction to be the food writer “I am”…and as a result, it has made me a better person, and an all-around swell guy…but you already knew that didn’t you…. No not you, I was talking to myself.
Do you go to a food blog for the info it contains, or do you go to a food blog because of the personality writing it….which is first? I hope that you’ll indulge me with a response. <<< The Point, notice how I put it at the very bottom. What a little bastard I am.
As Always, Thanks for Reading…