This is the first in a series of interviews I’ll be posting about food bloggers whose work I enjoy and think you might, too. One purpose of these interviews was personal–simply to learn more about the people behind the food blogs I admire. Another was to learn individual bloggers’ secrets to success and share their work and wisdom with you. (Hint: Every popular blogger I’ve interviewed has a unique, highly personal recipe for success.)
|Jamie Schler, Life’s a Feast|
This initial post features Jamie Schler, host of the well-known “Life’s a Feast : Confessions of a Gourmande” food blog and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Jamie has also conducted numerous food writing and food and culture workshops at venues including the International Food Blogger Conference in New Orleans, Food Blogger Connect in London, and the South African Food & Wine Bloggers Indaba in Cape Town. She also presents workshops for the Plate to Page Food Writing and Photography Workshops group.
Jamie and I have never met in person (though we hope to remedy that soon in New York at the IACP annual conference). And, since we live on different continents, we probably would never have connected if not through blogging. I don’t recall how I happened upon her blog, but I was immediately taken with her graceful, evocative prose, and photographs and recipes that resonated because they somehow reminded me of the years I’d lived in Europe.
For example, the gorgeous chocolate cake pictured below and which she wrote about here looked a bit like some of the Torten I’d sampled in Germany. So, I kept going back to Life’s a Feast for another helping. And she started stopping by Kitchenlane. And well, you know….
Like most successful food bloggers, Jamie clearly understands what makes her blog special: She immediately notes that she has a “multi-cultural” kitchen and perspective, the result of being an American who is married to a Frenchman and has lived in Europe for 25 years. When asked what’s unique about Life’s a Feast she says, “… my writing: my style, my stories and the way I approach and tell the tales of my life. And how I succeed in relating all of that to my food.
…. I never just write about what I cooked and why and I never just sit and pump anything out just to get a blog post up …. ”
Here, edited only for length, are my questions and her responses. I’ve found her answers thoughtful, articulate, and very useful; for me, they ring true. Please comment to let me (and Jamie!) know what you think.
Why did you start your blog? Has the experience been what you expected?
My husband and son, both very connected to the internet, forced me to start a blog. To be honest, they were tired of listening to me talk about food all the time and decided a blog was the best outlet for me. My son designed the blog and got me started. And I had absolutely no expectations; I didn’t know what a blog was really, much less a food blog, and I had no idea what I was doing or where I was supposed to go. The one thing that really surprised me and what I didn’t expect, though, was that the very first day I sat down to write that very first blog post, the words flowed; writing that first story was indescribably exhilarating. It really took me about another year to realize that writing, not food, was my true passion as well as my future.
Can you share some insights into how you write, come up with recipes, etc.?
The food on my blog is what I feed my family everyday: I pull ideas and recipes from each of our various cultures: American, French, Jewish, Moroccan, Italian, etc and then what I choose is influenced by the holidays, the weather, what my family is asking for, etc.
Writing is more complicated. I really need to be inspired and a topic may pop into my head immediately or it may simmer for several days until that incredible Eureka! moment and then I rush to the keyboard. I write, rewrite, edit, change… a story evolves as I write and I can’t hit “publish” until it is exactly what I want to communicate in subject, mood, emotion, etc. It really is like a work of art for me and I apply the same process. I try and touch each of the senses when talking about food and I try and “manipulate” the reader’s emotions: a story is nothing if I can’t pull my reader in and inspire a mutual feeling and emotional response. Language itself is extremely important to me: there are a lot of good ways to say something but there is only one perfect word or expression that exactly describes what is going on inside of my head, whether an action, a flavor, texture or sound, or an emotion. And I try and use language and vocabulary that mirrors and accentuates the mood of the story.
Do you have any secrets to success you could share with other food bloggers?
First, I think that I am lucky that I began blogging before traffic, stats, monetizing, cookbook contracts, and SEO were the blogger’s biggest concerns and driving force. I fell in love with writing and that became the focus of my blog very early on and I realized that I wanted to make a career in writing, both on food and culture.
My secrets? I keep my head down and work very hard every day to develop my writing skills, both the technical side of writing and the creative, storytelling side of writing. It was also important that I found my particular niche – food and culture – because that is crucial when it comes to marketing myself. I don’t let what is happening in the food blog world influence me – I have my style, my goals and I try not to waver from them no matter what; I came to realize that comparing myself and my work to others is futile. I want to be my own voice and pave my own path, not let others dictate my blog design, my recipe choices, my writing style or my goals.
Any other advice you can offer?
Have patience: Give yourself the time to hone your skills, understand your talents and strengths and make them work for you. And don’t judge your talent or how good you are by what people say to you on twitter. Turn to professionals and people whose own work you admire for critique and trust their judgement, both the negative and the positive.
Measure your confidence and your humility: Learn the art of networking: there is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive; be respectful as well as friendly. I do believe and it has been my own experience that if one is talented, one will be noticed without being loud. Never assume that you are the best or that there is no room for improvement, growth or change.
Hold onto your individuality: While I allow others to inspire me I refuse to copy anyone’s style. I seek out my strengths and nurture them. I have learned to trust myself and my instincts and to follow them, while gratefully accepting guidance, advice and encouragement from those whom I respect.
Follow your passion: I’ve been involved in creating, organizing and participating in many conferences, workshops and events. Although I know this helps my visibility as a blogger, I actually do all of this because I love doing it: speaking and teaching about writing, and that passion for the subject (rather than the fame) shows – and it is that that creates one’s reputation! ###
If you’re just getting started at food blogging, you might also be interested in some basic tips in Culinary Blogging 101.
Or for more food writing advice, check out my Three Steps to More Compelling Culinary Prose.
If your goal is a cookbook, you may want to read Wanna Write a Cookbook?–Make Those Recipe Intros Tasty or Three Big Dos and Don’t for Writing Recipe Intros.