Today, I have the same feeling as when I discover I’ve given a recipe with a dropped ingredient to a tester. Except it’s magnified 50 times because I omitted a major writing tip in a handout given to dozens of people!
Last Friday, at the Atlanta BlogHer Food conference, David Leite and I presented a workshop called “Seven Steps to Tastier Culinary Prose.” Actually, I’d mulled long and hard over those steps to be sure they covered everything folks most needed to know. At the session, the audience was extremely receptive, and seemed happy with what we said.
It wasn’t until Sunday night, back at home in my bed and drifting off, that I realized there was an eighth step and I’d missed the boat. Not a dinghy either, but a big honking tanker! We had, in fact, touched on the subject in step 5 where we advised writers to get comfortable expressing their views and revealing some of who they are.
Trouble was, we never suggested how to do this. Yes, some writers just naturally loosen up and let fly at the keyboard, but many others choke, hedge, and hide behind their too cautiously crafted words. It’s a habit that costs dearly, because it snuffs out one of the food writer’s most valuable assets—personal voice. (This is just the writerly term for an individual’s persona in print.)
Today’s readers, especially blog readers, want to visualize and connect with the writer, to have him or her open up, share and come to life. If they want just the facts they’ll read the newspaper—and we all know the state of newspaper circulation these days!
“We order foie gras and snails to start. Foie gras is a L’Ami Louis specialty. After 30 minutes what come are a pair of intimidatingly gross flabs of chilly pâté, with a slight coating of pustular yellow fat. They are dense and stringy, with a web of veins. I doubt they were made on the premises. The liver crumbles under the knife like plumber’s putty and tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction. The fat clings to the roof of my mouth with the oleaginous insistence of dentist’s wax. …
I have decided not to go for the famous roast chicken, mainly because I’ve suffered it before and I’d just been watching a Japanese couple wrestle with one like a manga poltergeist from some Tokyo horror movie, its scaly blue legs stabbing the air. So on to the broiled kidneys. Nothing I have eaten or heard of being eaten here prepared me for the arrival of the veal kidneys en brochette. Somehow the heat had welded them together into a gray, suppurating renal brick. It could be the result of an accident involving rat babies in a nuclear reactor. They don’t taste as nice as they sound. …
But still, it’s undeniable that L’Ami Louis really is special and apart. It has earned an epic accolade. It is, all things considered, entre nous, the worst restaurant in the world.”
Is your writing: literary, funny, poetic, friendly, factual, quirky, long-winded, flowery–what? Does it sound like you? If not, analyze why not. Are you too cautious, over-polite, politically correct, formal, unfocused, or wishy-washy? Notice what you like and what rings true, and what you don’t like and want to correct or avoid. Use these insights to make changes and improvements whenever you edit your writing in the future.