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 High Street  Ipswich, Massachusetts 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 thumbs 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…


19 thoughts on “REJECTED and A REVIEW!

  1. This was great! Keep it up! While not a big foodie, I run a blog along similarly lysergic lines about music. As a writer, it's important to get your ego bruised every so often to remind yourself that you aren't all-that and that some people doing the reading will be hugely critical and unmerciful. I'm in a bit of a writing comfort zone and need more critical feedback sometimes.Love on y'all.

  2. Thanks for your kind words Dr. Had I even an inkling that this particular post was going to be read by over six thousand people, I would have probably explained how I came to "ask/accept" notes on the stories… I would surely have explained what happened much more precisely….Who knew?! Socrates was right…and we all have so much to learn. I am happy in what I do, and have no such illusion I am going to be "discovered." I thought the end result of sending in said stories was going to result in more exposure to my blog….nothing more. Thanks for reading, and I'm glad you have no problems sticking around to hear my musings. A lot of people moved through the last couple of days and few bothered to take a look around and see what my work was about… in the end, I'm appreciative a few did and if they like what I write… It is all worth it.Thanks again, and BTW….love your blog!Pav

  3. Spineless, it was meant to be tongue and cheek, but I can see how it would be taken otherwise by people who don't know me. I should have most definitely given that aspect more thought. Well to say solicit may be an overstatement. I know it's how I wrote it but if you have a sec I'll explain what happened. A writer friend of mine asked me to send some stories in to to be read…not necessarily critiqued but because he thought they could maybe be used. He being on the "inside" I thought he would know best. So I sent them in as requested, but something had gotten "lost in translation" or was just misunderstood when my stories were recieved. Obviously they were of a size that was too large for what the site ever runs, and they had a lot more "meandering going on in them then they would ever use on their site. Except they were never intended for anything more than my blog which has no such limits.The editor politely declined my stories as if I had sent them in expressly for the purpose of being published (which they weren't….but I guess a little bit of me wished they were…"delusions of grandeur")but offered instead to give me some "notes" on the stories. To which I thought a kind gesture.Knowing how busy this person is, I fully expected a brief few words of "too long" "getting away from the story" "more info" etc… The editor to my surprise went above and beyond (in a good way) to really give me some helpful advice. The problem was we were on two totally different pages to no fault of his own, as I never mentioned my writer friend had asked me to send these and thinking the two of them had talked about it already. Believe it or not, I appreciated the criticism and it will be most helpful should I ever decide to write something for that, or any other such site. Thank you for reading…

  4. Thanks Carol…Yes, well said. I'm glad you read for the entertainment value…I know that's the reason I read, and if I happen to learn something along the way then great!

  5. Ha! I love it! We are talking blog writing here, yes? The whole point of blogging is being yourself, and sharing that with others – WTF!I think far too many bloggers think that they are serious writers, and that someday some publisher is going to fall over their blog and 'discover' them – and they'll be famous. Ha.Let's face it, some folks are story-tellers, and some are not. Those that are don't need someone to tell them how to tell a story. You think Mark Twain went around asking others how to write?I'm a blogger, and I've often thought about how to approach blogging – and here's what I keep coming back to; I blog for myself first, because I have a need to write, as an outlet for my inner thoughts and feelings – of course, if my thoughts and feelings (mostly about food and bread) are of interest to others, beautiful! That's rewarding too – but not as much as is my need to express myself in my own way.Socrates once famously said something to the effect of, the beginning of wisdom is when we realize how little we really know. Such realization may be the basis for you asking others for their assistance, but what is their basis for giving you their opinion?Be happy in your efforts, amigo – and be yourself. If, OTOH, you wish to 'formally' improve your writing, seek out a local creative writing opportunity, and get 'learned' advice.

  6. Yeah, Sue is my sister. She's a bad ass too. Baker by nature, I think, but loves porky stuff and cooking with booze. Pav, you and the Cat should hook up with Sue for lunch some time. Maybe we can all have some fun in the end of June!!

  7. There is a saying somewhere, and I don't know the exact quote… but the gist is, if you solicit advice, don't complain about it when you get it. I mean come on, this wasn't someone trolling. You asked for a critique, and you got a constructive response. I don't see why you are throwing a hissy fit. Frankly, if you can't handle constructive critisism, you shouldn't "put it out there".In the end, it's up to you to do with it what you want. If you don't like the critisism, then go ahead and ignore it. Otherwise look at it as experienced feedback. Take the pointers that are appropriate, apply them and carry on.

  8. Don't change a thing. I read you for entertainment and you never disappoint. Let me know when you start contributing to Wikipedia. I'll check it out, I'm not against learning.Succinct enough?

  9. I'd buy that for a dollar Roddy… Yes, I could shorten things down to a mere 800ish words. But the extraneous stuff comes along for the ride… well some of it anyway. Thanks for your thoughts buddy! I do appreciate it…

  10. I agree with their feedback, not just for you but for all writers. It's always hard to take criticism, but writing for the public is different than writing a personal journal.My father calls it "falling in love with your words". Especially for good writers (like yourself) you put effort into your content, it's hard to cut anything out. But it's often necessary. With the way most articles, posts, etc. are presented today you should be flattered that you have the readership that you do without a million pictures, and bulleted points. I think you'll be able to find a common ground where it's still very much your own writing, but tailored to be even MORE appealing to a general audience. *I'm sure that same editor would tell me to cut back the above content*

  11. Thanks for reading Rob. I think my mistake was probably not writing a piece or two that were more "mainstream" and then asking for comments. However, making every contributed piece look like every other is boring and somewhat unimaginative. Kenji I think gets that and has some nice talent in his bullpen now…but it sure has taken long enough!

  12. If you want to write in a highly individualistic style, publishing it on your own blog is exactly the right choice. If you want to write for publication on another site, they have a right to expect you to follow their stylistic preferences. You asked for their comments, and they gave them. Friendly advice: if you don't want to know what somebody thinks of your writing, don't ask.

  13. I think most people are like this Sue. I also think editors like to hear themselves talk as they seem to be a very self important lot. Anybody who says they have a hard time following any of my pieces should probably wear a helmet at all times and write in only crayon.My brother was the same with regards to Stephen King, I myself…was a Bazooka Joe man as my attention span limited me to reading comics and half a dust jacket at a time.Thanks for responding Sue, and thank you very much for reading.

  14. I read the newspaper for information but I read writers if I like how they write regardless of my interest in the topic. If you're a good writer I'll read your thoughts on the impact of frogs in the ecosystem in South America becauseI trust that you will make it interesting. My sister (dhorst) read almost everything Stephen King wrote because she liked how he wrote – although now that I think about our childhood maybe it was the macabre nature of his books she liked…hmmmn. But that's another discussion…keep writing!

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