How to Blog: My Rules

January 24th, 2013 · 106 Comments · Favorites, Rules, Uncategorized

I hear from a lot of you that what you like the most about our site is that you never know what you’re going to find from one post to the next. I love getting this note — because it confirms that a) you guys are paying attention, and b) because it allows me to write inside-baseball posts like this one and know that you will still come back tomorrow in search of the perfect tandoori burger. Correct?

Today I want to answer a question I’ve been asked a lot: How do you write this blog?  Which I’m also going to interpret as How do you write and How did you start? It’s an involved question, one I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to answer yet, and one that, you’ll see, sends me in several different directions below. (To give you an idea, the working title of this post for the past few months had been “Everything I Learned About Blogging I Learned in Magazines” before I realized I had so much more to say.) The truth is, I had no idea what I was doing when, in the winter of 2010, GoDaddy told me that Yes! The URL dinneralovestory.com is available! But I’ve figured a few things out along the way and thought it might help those of you thinking of starting your own blog. (As for starting a career in food writing, you cannot get any better than this post by Amanda Hesser.) What I wrote below should not be mistaken for The Definitive Rules of Blogging 101. There are about eight million people out there generating eight million hits a day and maybe even making money from it — and if that’s what you are after, you should skip this post and seek their advice. I’ve accepted now that this site will most likely never be the source of a down payment on that house in Block Island overlooking Mohegan Bluffs. (Why God, Why?) But for a satisfying job that has led to unexpected places, these are the rules I’ve lived by.

Lesson 1: Shorter Isn’t Necessarily Better. Better is Better

My crash-course in blogging lasted about two weeks. I had just lost my job at Cookie, the parenting magazine where I was editing features, and a website called to see if I could help out launching a few blogs on their lifestyle vertical. I was feeling a little lost — not to mention there was not one more corner of the house to organize, which seemed to be my way of dealing with my sudden daily aimlessness — so I said yes and pretty soon was on the 8:43 commuter train again, headed to a downtown office where the staffers seemed to check every box for website start-up. (Skull caps: Check; Bright Eyes station playing on Pandora: Check; Enrollment in artisanal, fetish-y food project: Check.) Everything happens faster online (first lesson) so my supervisor did not waste anytime laying down a few crucial rules about blogging to his seemingly prehistoric new freelancer. Don’t write in long paragraphs. Don’t write long at all. Online readers like quick hits. They like lists and bullet points whenever possible! Say things that will start a conversation in the comment field. (Or better yet, incite a riot in the comment field!) Tweet everything! Post everything on facebook! And my favorite, which I think about every single day: Remember: Producing content is 10% of the job; Promoting it is 90%. Ay yi yi.

For week one I just followed orders and repeated to myself “Don’t be old.” But by week two, I was done. Here’s the thing. My supervisor was right about every single thing above. If you want more visitors  (and any blogger who tells you he or she doesn’t is lying) you can get there more readily by following all of his rules. But you could also assume a certain amount of intelligence from your reader and write the way you want to write, the way most readers want you to write, that is, honestly. The masses might not come right away, but if you take time to write something that is pure and resonant and comes with no behind-the-scenes agenda, people will respond. And you will respond to their response. I remember early on in my DALS life when my ambitions were a little grander, I called my VC friend Roger in Palo Alto for a counseling session on building the “business.” He gave me the best piece of advice — or at least the best piece of advice that I felt most comfortable with. Don’t think about anything but the content for the first year. You need to earn the trust of readers and you need to distinguish yourself. The only way to do that is by paying close attention to what you are producing every day. Roger flip-flopped the formula for me and set me back on the path I knew so well from magazines, and that had never really led me wrong before: 90% of your time should be spent thinking about content, fresh new ideas, and presenting those ideas from a fresh perspective. Your perspective. Everything else? 10%.

Lesson 2: Define Your Mission

One of my earliest magazine jobs was at a major women’s lifestyle title. The editor at the time was a veteran magazine editor named Carrie — she had been in the industry for 25 years, wore all black along with trademark black-framed editor glasses. I didn’t know a whole lot, but I knew enough to know that I should write down every single thing she said and commit it to memory. At our Tuesday line-up meetings, she’d hold up some new book that we should be paying attention to (I one-clicked Botany of Desire as soon as she held it up saying less as a suggestion than an absolute command, “Pay attention to this guy. His name is Michael Pollan”); or of a magazine that was doing something new and exciting visually (Everyday Food! RIP! ); or simply what her latest fashion philosophy was. (“Gap Clothes, Prada Accessories!“) On the Tuesday meeting after September 11th, she told us that she had thought long and hard about our magazine and its place in the new world and decided there was going to be a revamped mission. “We are not a magazine people come to for the news” she told us. “We are a magazine that tells people how to handle the news.”  She went on to say that from that point forward the mission of the magazine could be pared down to three simple words: Comfort, Community, and Control. They became known as the three C’s, and if we had an idea we wanted to assign for the magazine, it had better fit into that description. Boy did we roll our eyes at the Three C’s! But boy did they ever work. Having a mission sharpened our focus. It helped us define who we were and why people came to us. When I moved on to my next job and oversaw a large section of the magazine, the first thing I tortured my team with was defining its mission. I also spent about six months writing the mission for this blog. I knew it would be as important for me to lay a blueprint as it would be for anyone who happened to drop by to see what the heck I was up to. This page is one of the most visited of the site. Which is another way of saying This is where I reel them in.

Lesson 3: No Harm in Making Things Pretty
If you spend a little money on a good designer, you will be ahead of 99% of the websites out there. It can take a lifetime to articulate to a designer the look you are after (I was lucky to earn my Masters in this at Conde Nast) but it helps to “pull scrap” as Carrie used to say. Bookmark anything online that you respond to — not just blogs, but websites, textures, colors. Create an inspiration board on Pinterest to stay organized. Or do it the old fashioned way, cut layouts out of magazines and pin it on an actual physical bulletin board. Fonts are incredibly important. Colors are incredibly important. I knew I didn’t have have a lot of time with online readers so I knew the visual first impression would be crucial. When I was working with my very gifted designer, Ava, I sent her photos of baby birds with their mouths wide open. (Because my dad used to say that his three kids asking to be fed and clothed and, you know, parented, conjured up this image.) After a few back-and-forths she landed on the masthead you see at the top of this blog. I love those birds and feel they are a crucial part of my identity. She also must’ve gone through 25 different logos before creating the chalkboardy font. I think because Dinner: A Love Story fell under the “mommy blog” umbrella, her first instinct — like a lot of people — was to go precious and cutesy and retro. So for a while there, every time she sent me something to review, I kept returning it to her with the same instruction: “No! More f–ked up!” The creative director at Cookie (who is now at Bon Appetit) taught me that one. Thanks Al!

Lesson 4: Ask Yourself: What’s the Hed & Dek?

This might sound a little crazy, but it took me a little while to learn that anything worth reading, for the most part, has a central idea behind it. It doesn’t have to be a big central idea, but it has to have an idea. You need to ask yourself, what is the point of writing this. Blogging is a dangerous medium for the same reason that it is a marvelous one: because you can do whatever you want whenever you want to and however you want to. I don’t think there’s a single person out there who hasn’t read a post by someone and wondered Who cares? Why is this person spending so much time on this? In magazines, there was a little exercise we’d do beforehand to make sure this never happened. We’d do a little something called an OUTLINE. It didn’t really matter what the outline looked like, what was important was the Title and the Subtitle. (Or, in magazine parlance: “the hed and the dek.”) What is the hed and the dek? Before I write anything — whether it was a chapter in my book, a post, a magazine story — I try to ask myself this. If I can’t explain it in a title and a subtitle, I’m in trouble. If I can, there’s my idea. It’s really nothing more than the topic sentence we learn about in third grade writing. Once I know what I want to say, I spend the rest of the piece saying it.

Lesson 5: Seek Out an Editor (Preferably an Editor Who Knows What He or She is Doing)

You need someone circling your copy saying things like: Build to this more. Have a point of view. Tell a story. Paint more of a picture. You need someone to say to you “There’s almost always a better way of communicating that thought without using an adverb,” as Andy did early on in my career. You need someone like Tom Prince, one of my first mentors in magazines, who while editing a story I wrote for Real Simple, came across the word “spud,” circled it, then wrote in the margin: “Never.” I had a B.A. in English from at a pretty solid New England private college and yet I graduated having no idea how to write a compelling lead for a story. For four years I wrote 10-page analytical papers on Toni Morrison and Henry James and Kate Chopin and did fine (I’ll conveniently ignore the C-freaking-minus I got on that Leslie Marmon Silko paper) yet somewhere along the way, I forgot how important it was to tell a story, to build to something, to set up the idea in a way that keeps the readers engaged. To use words that advance the story, not words that trip it up. To use strong verbs. (I’ll never forget coming across a sentence my friend Mike wrote in Esquire a hundred years ago — “We cocktailed-and-hors d’ouevred all night…” — and thinking: You can do that??) My editors in magazines were there to remind me that academic writing is good for academia. But writing with style and voice? There’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, that’s the goal.

…About that Voice

When I feel flat or just plain lost — as I do almost every week,  just ask my husband — the medicine I crave is reading writers with strong voices.  You know how when you travel to another country then after a few days start thinking in that country’s language? That’s what happens to me when I am immersed in good fiction. The trick is not to steal other writer’s voices, but to let them loosen your own. Like pasta water with sticky pappardelle. The quickest-acting tonics for me are contemporary short stories by masters like Matt Klam (“Issues I Dealt With in Therapy” in Sam the Cat) Jhumpa Lahiri (anything in Unaccustomed Earth), George Saunders (“Semplica Girl” in Tenth of December); but I’ll periodically jump in and out of classics like My Antonia and Vanity Fair tooAlso, have you read Catcher in the Rye since your English teacher made you read it in 9th grade? I dare you to pick it up and not immediately want to pen your own Great American Novel. I dare you!

Lesson 6: Think About Pacing & the All-powerful “Mix”

That whole thing about “never knowing what you’re gonna get” when you show up on our site? That’s not as random as it seems. Andy and I went running together a few months ago (which I can’t stand, for the record, because he thinks I’m running slower than him on purpose! to make him mad!) and spent about one mile of the total three arguing about what should go live that Wednesday: Shaun Tan’s Book Recommendations or Mushroom Pizza? (Bet that’s the first time that sentence has ever been written.) What’s the difference? Well, not to make you feel guilty or anything, but we care a lot about the way you read this stuff. And that means thinking about the “mix” of the content and the way one post follows another. We know that you probably don’t want three fish recipes in a row. Or three non-recipe posts in a row. Nor do you want to read a 3,000-word rant right after a 3,000-word rant. (Which is why tomorrow, you will most likely be getting a one-sentence post. Are you so sick of me? I can’t believe you are still reading.) At any given moment on this website you can scroll down the home page and find some combination of content that instantly telegraphs the mission of this website: There will always be photographs of food, family, and books. Again, I have magazine-making to thank for this instinct.

Lesson 7: Don’t Not Write Because Someone Else Has Done it Better

If you are thinking about starting a blog or a book or some other ambitious writing project, do yourself a favor, do not google the topic of whatever it is you plan to write or blog about. It will be depressing and almost impossible for you to not react like this: “Why am I bothering when so many more talented people have beaten me to it?” If you ignore this advice and start spiralling down to dark places, then just watch Patti Labelle killing the ABCs on Sesame Street. Do you think she said to herself, “I’m not going to bother singing the alphabet when at least a zillion people have sung it before me?” Doubt it. Remember: Every story has been told, but not your version of it.

Lesson 8: You Do Have Time
Every time I hear someone say “I don’t have time to do all that” I always reply the same way: “Well then you are a perfect candidate to write!” No one has time, and if you are busy then you have lots of fertile soil to till for content! Deadlines and limited blocks of time are your friends. They are productivity gods. Recently I had an entire day to work on edits for a Bon Appetit story. What should’ve taken me 3 hours took me 10 because I expanded it to the amount of time I had. And not that I am in any way comparing myself to Jack White here, but in this clip about his creative process (courtesy of the most excellent Talent Code), he says basically the same thing: “Deadlines and things make you creative. Opportunity and telling yourself you have all the time in the world? All the money in the world? All the colors in the palette? That just kills creativity.”

I never really know how long a post is going to take when I start writing. Some days I will write one in the 20 minutes between dropping off the kids at the bus stop and catching the train to the city. Some posts that I think will be pre-coffee toss-offs, take days.  Andy is famous for sitting down at the computer within ten seconds of getting an idea, then 72 hours later emerging from a stupor saying, “Can you believe we just spent three days of our lives writing that?” (And then a week later, he’ll write the instant classic Stromboli in under 15 minutes.) When you are a writer, there has to be a certain amount of pain-denial going on every day. If I remembered how long and involved some of these posts tend to be, I might not ever embark on them. This post you are reading was first entered into my WordPress queue on May 3, 2012. It didn’t take eight months to write. It took eight months of accumulating thoughts (every time I had one, I’d scribble it in the post draft) and then about a day of polishing everything up. As any dinner-maker will appreciate, it’s always a little more efficient when you don’t have to start from scratch.

Lesson 9: It All Goes Somewhere
There is literally no reason not to write. Nothing bad can come of it. Even if no one reads what you are writing, you have a chronicle of something. You are creating something. I’m not the first to say it, but the act of creating almost always leads you somewhere you never would have gone otherwise, and makes you see things differently. How is that ever bad? The luckiest among us might even get nice notes from readers saying how much what we’ve written has inspired them. I’m telling you, if you are coming from a real place, there’s no question that will happen.

 

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106 responses so far ↓

  • 1 andy // Jan 24, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Hi, I’m a longtime DALS reader. I’m also your husband. And I just want to say that I think this might be my most favorite of your posts, like, ever. I am now inspired to go off and write about taco pizza, and that Jack White thing: wooooooooooooooow. See you tonight!

  • 2 Lisa // Jan 24, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Very solid advice. And entertaining too! Just yesterday, (prompted by reading 40 Days to a joy filled life) I made a list of five goals I want to accomplish in my lifetime. Writing a book was number 1. And picking up my blogging again (although I am going a different route with hosting than before) is as good of a place as any to start. Thanks!

  • 3 AnneL // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you. This was fascinating and useful. And I. also, enjoyed the Jack White quote.

  • 4 Jen // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for a great post. As a beginning blogger and a person who’s retooling her work life, this is so timely, helpful, inspiring, and wise. I read your blog religiously, cook out of your book an awful lot (can anyone say Grandma Jody’s Chicken?) and read most of what you two recommend. (As I write, Pastoralia waits for me at our local library.) Thanks for a good time every day.

  • 5 Melissa // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    This entire post comes at just the right moment for me. Lessons 2 and 7 are a bit of a revelation, and Lesson 8–well, perhaps I should carve it on a large stick and knock myself in the head with it every so often.

    I am now going to print this post out on actual paper and pin it front and center on my memo board. These reminders are just as important as the 2nd grade field trip and this weekend’s birthday party invitations.

    So, thanks.

  • 6 Tom // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Such a great post! (Tom sounds like a dick, though.)

  • 7 Tara // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for this. My own blogging (and writing in general) has been pretty well stalled of late while I try to sort out all manner of things, all of which relate to the central question of “What do I want to be when I grow up?” No time like age 42 to sort that one out! This is really thoughtful and helpful, which for me really defines what is so wonderful about this blog and keeps me coming back over and over again: you’re always thoughtful and helpful. That, and the fact that you put so damn much into your work and consistently make me laugh out loud make it pretty hard not to love.

    There’s so much here, I have to go back and read it again. Thanks for posting this. It was just what I needed to read today. Oh, and I think I got a c minus on a Leslie Marmon Silko paper, too. Almanac of the Dead – Gah!

  • 8 Tori // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I’m pretty much a hardcore anti-comment person, but I need to tell you that the first six sentences of the last paragraph are among the wisest things I’ve ever read on that subject. Thanks, they’re all ready cut up and posted over my desk.

  • 9 Jan @ Family Bites // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Excellent! What a GREAT post!

  • 10 Sandi // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Niiiiccely done.

  • 11 Kitchen Ninja (Julianne) // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks for this. I often have the “why the eff am I doing this — FOR FREE?” dilemma (thankfully, I always come back to “because I like it, dammit!”) — it’s nice to know others feel the same way. And I agree: it’s the storytelling that keeps ‘em coming back for more.

  • 12 coral // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    whoa.

    this totally spoke to me… thank you.

  • 13 Danielle // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    This is a gift. Thank you for this list, and now I’m off to go think about it and maybe write a post myself. Do you know why I like your blog so much? I often smile as I read it. What a lovely thing to do for someone!

    I’m off to write.

  • 14 Robin@tabletalkblog.net // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    So, I just got through writing this probably way too involved response to your post (it was a zinger) and got the security question wrong. I hit the submit button in my emotional state before I saw the math. So I’ll try and keep this short. I’m going to read 9 to my family. You say it so well. And even if no one is reading it, the act of creating/writing has taught me so much, not just about my topic, but about myself. Thanks!

  • 15 Reynaul // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    I don’t write a blog but I think everyone can take something from this post. I sure am! I am in agreement with your husband and this is one of the best posts ever! I am printing off the last paragraph and putting it on my desk as I type. I come back everyday for this great writing! Thanks for a great blog and keep up the great work!

  • 16 Lisa // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    I’m a new reader and I have to say, I will be back. You truly have something special here and your advice about “it all going somewhere” really gave me the smack I needed to keeping going beyond no comments/ few visitors. Thank you

  • 17 Susan // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Thank you. I’ve been thinking and thinking of starting a blog. I needed a kick and this might just be it to start it. Well done!

  • 18 Jen // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I have been wanting to start a blog for over two years. Fear has stopped me. I keep thinking, “Who will want to read what I have to say?”. Therefore, number 7 speaks to me the most. There are so many food blogs….so many “mom” blogs….but not one of them has my own personal perspective and voice. This just might be my year to do what I’ve wanted to do for so long!

  • 19 Sarah // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    This is so fantastic! I’m giving this to my highschool senior and college sophmore to read.

  • 20 Cortney // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    How many glasses of wine did it take to write this post? LOL….thank you for another wonderful post.

  • 21 Crystal // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you. I originally came to your blog for the recipes but I keep coming back for the heart. So, again, thank you.

  • 22 Francie // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    I’m not a writer, I don’t blog, I doubt I ever will. I just wanted to say Thank You to you and Andy for writing this blog and for the cookbook. Both make me happy over and over as I read and reread.

  • 23 Laura // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    This is the first time I’ve read your blog and I love you already! Thank you for confirming for me my own belief: it’s 90% content.

  • 24 Kelley // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this post – for lots of reasons – not least of which because you posed something in a way that never occurred to me before (probably should have but…didn’t): instead of asking myself “If money was no object and time was of no concern what would I do?” I’m gonna ask: “Quick! You’ve got
    one week left! What’s it gonna be?”

  • 25 Betsi // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I’m not a blogger, but this is a truly inspiring post for me. I can completely appreciate the effort that went into writing it and honestly plan to reflect back on this when I need a boost myself!

  • 26 Caitlin // Jan 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    this is awesome. Thank you!

  • 27 Deirdre // Jan 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Love this. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I can be my own best blocker, telling myself that posting isn’t what brings in the money, that others are doing it better, and that everything else on my to-do list should be done first.

    Your list has given me lots to work on this year. And FYI, your banner (in 2010, before chalkboards were everywhere) is what drew me in, your yogurt-chicken made me come back, and your reflective posts like this one are what made me a cheerleader for your site and book.

  • 28 Bea // Jan 24, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Hard to put into words the thanks, gratitude, admiration and awe I feel at reading something so well written. Thanks for the honesty and inspiration. It is posts like this that make me come back to your blog again and again. (Oh and maybe for the dee-licious recipes too…)

  • 29 Jenny // Jan 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    All these amazingly generous comments are reminding me of another rule. Revise, revise. Polish. Go back, revise. (This is one thing that’s VERY different about blogs vs. magazines.) I have been polishing this thing all morning as you guys have been reading it and have to resist the urge to add a whole ‘nother set of rules. I think I’ll save them for another day, though. And Kelley: Andy, me, and my friend Todd just had the same exact classic conversation on the way to work the other day “If we had all the money/time/etc in the world…” (as we do periodically) and I totally agree with you that it should be rephrased the way you suggest. So brilliant! Thanks everyone and more later…

  • 30 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag // Jan 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    The reason I love your food blog more than any other is because I know I’m going to get a story to go along with the food. I love that. Thank you for continuing to do what you do…..

  • 31 Torrie @ a place to share... // Jan 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    this (no, THIS) is what i needed to push me back into the deadline mode that i have “slipped” out of and therefore, have failed to write since 12/7/12… the longest i’ve ever let my blog go untouched.

    thank you for this.

    {what a sweet #1 comment that was to see immediately reading your post}

  • 32 Lauren // Jan 24, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    This is terrific. Well done and thank you!! (And also thanks for the apricot and mustard chicken that I have been making approximately once a week since your book arrived on my doorstep.)

  • 33 Tina // Jan 24, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I love the “(…I can’t believe you’re still reading?) part! The Hed & Dek concept is helpful to me. Noticing your husband is commenter #1 made me smile. PS: My husband took advantage of getting a bookplate for my copy at Christmastime. I’m glad you went ahead & sent it without waiting for him to respond with my name. :)

  • 34 Michelle // Jan 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    T H A N K Y O U .

  • 35 Courtney // Jan 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    My favorite part of this is your closing comment – ‘if you are coming from a real place, there is no doubt that will happen.’

    I truly believe in authentic work and even if only my mother up the road is reading my blog it gives me joy to write it.

    Now, I truly need to work on a mission statement for myself! I love that idea.

  • 36 Wendy // Jan 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write all of this down and share it here. Really inspiring!

  • 37 Caitlin // Jan 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I feel like I’ve said this a dozen times before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but this is my favorite post so far. Lesson 7 and lesson 9 are so important for me to read. I’m not a blogger, but I do love to write, and I am constantly stopped in my tracks (for months at a time) by people who do it so much better. Sometimes I put down a book, or read something here, and think, well, they’ve done it. I can’t come close to that. My words can’t be needed. But it all does go somewhere, doesn’t? Loved all of this.

    You guys continue to make DALS my favorite place on this big ol’ interweb.

  • 38 robin // Jan 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    I just wanted to say I love your blog and the book and I am not at all surprised that this much thought goes into it – but you do a great job making it look easy (again, probably thanks to your magazine background)
    Thanks for creating this!

  • 39 Stacey // Jan 24, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Long time reader, but this is my first comment. I just wanted to thank you for making our mealtimes better (tried the stromboli last night – big hit!) and our daily lives a bit brighter. This post is invaluable. I would love to start a blog some day. Right now I am content taking notes in my dinner diary.

  • 40 Stearns 205 // Jan 24, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Amongst the highlights of my 4 years: Crushing an essay on Woman Warrior for BarryO. Top 5 lowlight: getting crushed by BarryO for my Silko paper. Like go be a chemistry major demolished. Haha. Just kidding… sort of.

  • 41 Stearns 205 // Jan 24, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    (great post btw. very informative. wish I were a writer and had something to say.)

  • 42 Arlene // Jan 24, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Today I became inspired, to get out of my own box! To go beyond the expectation of people and satisfy the passion within. I decided to pour my interests and past times into something more creativitly gratifying. I am starting a BLOG. I have no idea how to start other than the decision itself. Interested in finding out about your cookbook I came across your BLOG. And to my surprise… BEHOLD “How to start a Blog”. This is no accident my friend :) . So thank you for sharing and inspiring! Valuable and helpful advice!

  • 43 krystina // Jan 24, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Wow – this is amazing. I just discovered your site about a week ago (I’m perpetually late to the party) and I’ve been flipping through the archives since.

    That notion of “other people have done it before and are still doing it, better than I will” rang so hard in my head when I started my own blog last year that it actually prevented me from posting much; I kind of half-assed it the first few months. I’ve mostly gotten over that- I saw the stromboli post plus 2-3 others the day after…hemmed and hawed over whether I wanted to make it, but (as you mentioned) I know I do have a unique perspective, so I made it and wrote about it, and it was so much fun. Holy run on, Batman.

    That was a long winded way of saying thank you, but really, thank you. This is so getting bookmarked.

  • 44 Emma // Jan 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    The rule I have for myself when writing is to just do it – sit down every day and write. The stories come eventually.

  • 45 Wendy // Jan 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    I have to say all the comments about smiling while reading your posts resonate with me. Your blog comes across as so genuine, down to earth as well as damn funny which is what keeps me coming back. Thank you.

  • 46 Jenny // Jan 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Yes, Emma, that’s a good one. If you watch the Jack White clip he says “Work ethic and creativity ride together” and then later “Do the work everyday.” And Stearns 205 — yep, BarryO for me too. Only I didn’t crush a whole lot in his class to counter it.

  • 47 Amanda @ DinnersintheFourOneFive // Jan 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Weren’t you the one who told me to start a blog? I must admit, doing a blog feels so half-assed for me at times. However, I appreciate that it’s an electronic diary of our dinners though, because more often than not, I go back to it to see what is on the menu for that night. I love that others click on it (through DALS no less!) and that flatters me to no end to have your vote of approval. That said, my lil ol bloggy blog will never be more than just that, a little corner of my world.

    I love what DALS has become and what’s in store for it in the future!

  • 48 JulieD // Jan 24, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    All great advice! I’m still sad over Everyday Food going away! :( So glad a friend sent me a link to this post – your blog is beautiful!

  • 49 Red // Jan 24, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    This is just so SANE. Thank you for taking the time to write it. I follow a lot of lifestyle bloggers who are clogging up my Google Reader and Instagram today with Alt Summit stuff. It’s so nutty and whipped up with anxiety and competition and ranking and promotion. This post was a breath of fresh, clean air on the state of blogging, writing, and creating content.

    Thanks.

  • 50 Ceri @ Sweet Potato Chronicles // Jan 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    How much do I love this post? So, so much. (Uh oh, adverb, adverb!) It’s devilishly easy to fall into the trap of feeling like any old thing can be thrown up online. But all any of us – bloggers, magazine writers, novelists – have is the relationships we create with readers. Everything else that comes along will always be as a result of that.

    Long live DALS (and posts about dinner, books, kids, writing and whatever else you crazy kids get up to!).

  • 51 erin//suchsmallsteps // Jan 24, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    I’ve done a few blogging e-courses and gone to blogger summits, and this is by far the best, most basic but dead-on blogging advice I’ve ever read! I’ll be thinking about this as I work on future posts. And bizarrely, I remember doing poorly on a Leslie Marmon Silko paper for a college lit class as well :)

  • 52 Rachael // Jan 24, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Thanks so much for this timely post! I’ve just started blogging myself and am going through the trial and error process of starting a food blog, learning as I go and grabbing advice wherever I can. These tips were just the thing I need to hear.

  • 53 Debbie // Jan 24, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Jenny, thank you so much for this. I picked up your cookbook at the library this past summer (mostly because of the banner!) and could not stop reading it. I love to cook and your recipes/tips are amazing, but you are exactly right…it’s the honest storytelling that makes me smile!

  • 54 Raluca | WhatWouldGwynethDo // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:17 am

    As someone whose little blog is starting to grow (and with it, some not so supportive readers) this was such a great read…informative, yes. But also inspiring. Stay the course, stay focused, stay passionate and the rest will come. Thanks, Jenny. PS I totally effed up Grandma’s meatballs the other night, need to try again :(

  • 55 Carrie // Jan 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Thank you for this. I am one of those people who daydreams of writing while I slog away at my regular job. I am printing this out and putting it with my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing to inspire me to just do it and not expect a pullitzer prize to come immediately out. It is – in fact – work. And – I also just want to say that I really appreciate the work that you put into this. It is a highlight of my day. Thanks…Carrie

  • 56 Maria Tadic // Jan 25, 2013 at 11:32 am

    This was a phenomenal post! I’m so glad I came across it. You really made me feel a lot better about my own writing and desire to have a blog. This was just great!

  • 57 Kimberli // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    I just stopped by on a whim this morning while breakfast was cooking. How did I know this was just where I needed to be? How did you know this what I needed to hear? I’ve been working on starting a blog and it has been haunting me lately – just get on with it girl! Thanks for the tips on clarifying my mission and especially on not being afraid to share my story despite all the great writers who have said it before. Thanks!

  • 58 Jacki // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    I just love this post so much. So much I need to come back and re-read when I have some quiet time to really absorb it. Today I particularly needed the last bit. Thank you for sharing!

  • 59 Richard // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I think this is the only food blog I know that can show videos of Patti Labell and Jack White and get away with it. Thanks for the great post.

  • 60 Jess // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    I’ve been waiting with baited breath for this post. It was definatly worth it. It just makes sense.

  • 61 Erin // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I’m with Andy – this is a great post. And a lot of it applies to many different kinds of work and writing. Thanks for being you and doing your thing. It’s a joy to read!

  • 62 Denise | Chez Danisse // Jan 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    “It All Goes Somewhere”–such a great close. And your supervisor and his crucial blogging rules…what a tool. Cheers to making your own way.

  • 63 Margaret // Jan 25, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I loved reading this. I’ve read your blog for quite a while and enjoy your stories, your perspective and your recipes. This post was very interesting on many levels, including learning a little about the magazine “biz”. Thanks for all you share with us, including this post.

  • 64 Olivia // Jan 25, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    This is a must-read for all writers — accomplished, aspiring, and even those who don’t consider themselves writers. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • 65 Deborah Reid // Jan 25, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Wow! I have a serious case of ‘post’ envy. Beautifully said and written.

  • 66 Pauline // Jan 26, 2013 at 12:48 am

    Great post. Like Jacki said, worth reading a few times over to get all your tips.

  • 67 Michelle Cugini // Jan 26, 2013 at 12:57 am

    Wow Jenny! Thanks for that. Its funny, I’ve read many “how-to” blog posts and while many of them say lots of the same, yours was fresh and unique and from such an honest perspective, exactly like your blog.

  • 68 MIKD // Jan 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    First time reader of your blog. Thank you very much for sharing your inspiring tips in such an engaging way. I made notes, that pretty much turned into me rewriting everything you said. And I have many open links to read from this. From all the positive comments people have left it may take readers (and now you) just as long or longer to read comments as the post itself. Thanks for helping me loosen my voice and being a writer for me to read with a strong voice.

  • 69 erin // Jan 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Love this… I’ve given some talks to people about blogging and you’ve written up some of my favorite themes so beautifully!

  • 70 Shalini // Jan 26, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you, Jenny. I feel much better now. You explained it, really well. When you’re busy, it’s easier to write, more to write about. Not when you have the time. And, nothing created is ever a wasted opportunity.

  • 71 Whitney @ The Newlywed Chefs // Jan 26, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Love love LOVE this post. Thanks for encouraging us all!

  • 72 Kira // Jan 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Thanks for the great tools for my tool box. I have been a avid journal writer and write grants for a living but this blog writing is much different. I feel i have a strong voice (17 years of daily journaling) now i am learning to put it in a structure.

  • 73 Sharon@CheesyPennies // Jan 27, 2013 at 1:56 am

    Thank God you included #7, otherwise I’d read this post and just give the f*#@ up.

  • 74 Jessica | Femme Fraîche // Jan 28, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Jenny, this was just the post I needed to finally get my own blog started today. I’ve been sitting on the domain and the hosting all week, ready to go, but totally intimidated and worried it’s all been done before. Thanks for the inspiration and the nudge, from one Five College alumna to another. <3 Hope to see you on a book tour through the Midwest some time soon; Minneapolis, to be precise!

  • 75 Jen P // Jan 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Hi, this was such a great post! Perfect timing for me as I start on a new writing endeavor. Curious if you or anyone has a favorite online program for e books or a favorite software for writing a book.

  • 76 Tara // Jan 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    @ Jen P: I’ve been really enjoying Storyist. It has some great features like storyboarding, and the ability to attach notes and research to a project, plus a lot more stuff I’m still figuring out. And there’s an iPad app, too. It’s worth a look. storyist.com

  • 77 Katherine // Jan 28, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Fantastic advice. This is so refreshing. I spent the weekend at a food blogging conference that I used to enjoy, but this time I came home feeling downtrodden and frustrated. A lot of it has to do with the fact that so many people enjoy talking to bloggers about marketing and social media without first encouraging them to create content they’re proud of. Did you read this interesting article in the WSJ about branding? This part in particular resonated with me: “Increasingly, individuals are producing a self-brand not to promote one’s work or accomplishments, but to promote their very presence as a commodity in a market society. Indeed, those various reasons one might garner public attention based on what one does, rather than how one is packaged, now seem almost antiquated, old-fashioned ideas in the contemporary economic context. I worry about what this means for a new generation of students and scholars who have been taught to value domain names and retweet campaigns over books and articles and ideas, perception and hype over content and substance, when what we promote becomes the very act of promotion itself.”

  • 78 Peggy // Jan 29, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Thank you, Jenny! Just what I needed to hear today. And that last paragraph? Beautiful sentiments and reveals your gracious spirit!

  • 79 Margo, Thrift at Home // Jan 29, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I love this post. I think I’ve been hanging out in the wrong bloggy camp, thinking my blog is crap because it doesn’t fit with the slick mommy blogs with their tutorials and organizing projects and recipes photographed without a fingerprint in sight.

    I do love to write. My blog attracted the attention of a publisher and they offered me a job as cookbook editor (I took it – I love it). I love my blog. Thank you for the reminder and the inspiration. Thank you.

  • 80 Kim // Jan 29, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I tripped over your blog on my friend’s blog today and I enjoyed this post. I love the personal essay form, and have tried to be a decent essayist since I first learned about them in college. For the past 20 years, my essays have been orphaned, neglected, misfit and skiwompus flotsam, lost and forgotten. Now that I have a blog, I can write one, post one, and it has a life in its native form in the perfect medium. It doesn’t matter if anyone doesn’t read them, but it sure makes me happy when someone does. I also have a repository for the insipid little things that get my attention, like hot pink pants or what the queen says in private about prince Harry’s naked ass on the Internet, followed by the princess’s bubs, and the ironic ways in which the universe says that it doesn’t matter if you’re bad or good, rich or poor, we all arrive at the same destination.

    I also appreciate the point about a deadline making you creative–I want to add to that and say it’s not so much the deadline itself, but the framework. Iambic pentameter or whatever you happen to have in the larder, or a window of time are all frameworks that inspire the most amazing results. Jazz. Improvisation is what happens when you know your instrument, be it a pen or a pan. But ask me to change a tire or debug source code in three hours and all you’ll have is a hot mess.

    Tanks for the food for thought!

  • 81 Rhonda Sittig // Jan 30, 2013 at 2:29 am

    I hope you know how darn helpful this post is. thank you.

  • 82 Staci // Jan 30, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    That’s the best thing you’ve ever [written] all year.

    You can tell Abby I was inspired to write that comment by her (over at the 15-minute “Stromboli” post). Seriously, thanks for this. It makes me want to write…which I’m suspect was your mission for this post.

  • 83 Megan // Jan 31, 2013 at 9:58 am

    I think you’re really great. :) I seem to find myself talking about DALS every other day with my coworkers. I just e-mailed the link to your blog to several of my friends! Thanks for your advice and delicious, easy recipes!

  • 84 lulu // Jan 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you, this is the most thorough “how to start blogging” post i have even seen. You did a great job. A lot of cooking blogs dont even really write anymore, they just take fancy overly styled food pictures.

  • 85 Noellen // Jan 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I just love this. Can I say how lucky we are as readers to read your content? Thank you so much for your honest and eloquent voice. A+ (that’s a grade for the whole site)

  • 86 katy // Jan 31, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    I am a newsletter subscriber. Do I win the Lodge cast iron skillet?

  • 87 heidi // Feb 4, 2013 at 9:01 am

    This is such a comprehensive list. Thank you for sharing your opinions on blogging. I am crippled by #7 all of the time.

  • 88 The Weary Chef // Feb 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks so much for this, especially #7. I have come back to read that more than once. I’m just getting started, and the more I look, the more established, gorgeous blogs I find doing the same thing I’m doing, only better. Your advice helps me keep chugging along, and hopefully I’ll find my place in the blogging word before long.

  • 89 Katie Blackburn // Feb 8, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Loved this article, both for its practical advice and for the way your own writing models all that you said. I’m inspired! Thanks for writing this, it will be a reference for me again and again.

  • 90 Crystal // Feb 9, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    I know I’m a little late to the comment party but I just wanted to let you know how much I loved this post. I so enjoy your blog, your voice, your husband’s voice, the fact that there’s a real family behind this site. As someone who blogs for fun and is quite sure no one is reading my words, I’ve been using my site as a type of journal, a place where I can keep going daily, writing-wise, because I’m under the impression that it can’t hurt, and I’m going to keep with it as long as I’m still enjoying it. I really appreciate your advice. Thanks so much for sharing xo

  • 91 Michael Broder (@MichaelBroder) // Feb 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

    I found this sentence very helpful: “At any given moment on this website you can scroll down the home page and find some combination of content that instantly telegraphs the mission of this website: There will always be photographs of food, family, and books. Again, I have magazine-making to thank for this instinct.”

  • 92 Blissmamaof3 // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you for this, you encouraged me to bring my food blog out of hibernation. It feels great to be writing and talking about food again. Your encouragement and example have been invaluable!

  • 93 Hanalei @ Foggy Dress // Mar 5, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    I REALLY needed to hear this! I am embarking on this blogging journey with new insight, now. When I first started college, I wanted to write for magazines like Teen Vogue. For some reason I ended up graduating in Broadcast Journalism, but now I find myself doing what I originally loved (since blogging and magazine writing go hand in hand!) THANKS again.
    xoxo.

  • 94 Viola Saldanha // Mar 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I almost deleted my comment when I realized mine would be the 94th comment on this post, but I’m going ahead because your lesson No.9 says ‘It all goes somewhere’

    Thanks for this informative post.

  • 95 Chelsey Hankins // Apr 9, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Jenny,
    Thanks so much for this post. This is absolutely great and very inspiring, especially Lesson 7. :)

  • 96 Lynn Risch // May 4, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Any chance you could make your ink print darker? Thank you.

  • 97 Michelle W. // Jun 18, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you for this post – I’m a sometimes writer and lately my lack of confidence has been stopping me from going forward. This post gave me a little boost to keep on going no matter how discouraged I might be :)

  • 98 Sandra@foodmanna // Jul 9, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Thank you for writing this.

  • 99 Mayra // Dec 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I am a bit late.. but thanks for this awesome post. I’ve been wanting to start blogging for years but as a fan of so many amazing, well written, inspiring blogs (this one included), I just didn’t think I could do it . You and Patti Labelle gave me the push I needed. I started blogging and I am having a blast. Although my family and friends are the only readers I will ever have, I am so glad I jumped in. Thank you so much.

  • 100 Charlotte Rouchouze // Jan 5, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to write this for us fledgling bloggers.

  • 101 Andrea Enright // Jan 17, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    I’m late the game as well but I loved this thoughtful, inspired list. Most definitely needed to be reminded of #9 today.

    And I just devoured this blog. So grateful that I stumbled upon this. I love that you’re capturing the beauty and messiness that is a family dinner. Pinned and bookmarked everything and will be making braised pork shoulder ragu tomorrow night!

  • 102 Bérangère // May 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Probably too late to comment a year and 4 months later but I needed to read this. So thank you! :)

    I’m an illustrator. I’m no writer but I seem to enjoy it. My head is buzzing with things to share and even though I want to talk about a million things, food is where I feel the most natural and confident. I didn’t go far. I have 10-11 posts with half a dozen drafts (and too many ideas piling up). Life is taking over with 2 young girls, a band, work, and an older daughter who will get married. Great material technically right? I just need to edit and focus a bit more. I just started to over think things and hit a wall. This post of yours is helpful and encouraging.

    Also as an illustrator, I totally agree with Jack White and his idea on creativity! Good one.

    Now back to supper! Bon appétit!

  • 103 Kaneia // Jun 9, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Being nosy, about a year ago, I spotted your book on a client’s living room table. I jotted the title down and promised myself I’d buy it, attempting to honor my commitment to becoming a better (newly wed) wife, by enjoying, and not loathing, cooking.

    Now, I’m considering starting a blog of my own, but not about cooking, as I’m not there yet.

    My point? Yes, well I stumbled upon your blog again today, after almost a year, and realize why i appreciate it so: the way in which you proffer the idea of cooking is simply irresistible–a love story.

    So, while I haven’t purchased your book yet (should I be telling you that?), you have inspired a 180 degree change in my orientation with cooking (ok, more like a 100 degree change). My point: I’m moving in the right direction thanks to the title of your book, reminding me that love is where cooking should start.

    Thanks!

  • 104 Stephanie // Jul 15, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Love this post. Patti labelle and the ABC’s! inspiring for an aspiring writer.

  • 105 alexis // Sep 30, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Oh, I love this so much! I just started my own blog and this was so inspiring and a fantastic read. And the reminder at the end, that it doesn’t matter if anyone ever reads it because I’m creating something and that is part of my journey wherever it leads me. And I also love George Saunders. Thank you for sharing these thoughts!

  • 106 Beth // Oct 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    I just had to comment that although I’ve been reading this blog for quite a while, I have never noticed the birds in the mast head before.

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