Wednesday, May 25, 2005

[Writing] Your approach or tricks to writing food-related posts?

Inspired by the thought that I could improve on the writing I do on Lex Culinaria, I recently checked out a stack of "food writing" books from the local library. I was surprised to find so many! There are whole books on how to write a recipe, the best food writing of 2004 (etc.) and on food journalism in general. I was surprised to see from some of these books that there are many recipe and food writing conventions (for example, the order in which to list ingredients and methods) espoused by these authors.

I found the sheer volume of literature on food and recipe writing surprising as I just tend to write, without thinking about how I'm writing or the reason I'm writing in a certain way.

In order to get everyone thinking about why we write the way that we do and share what works for us ....

1) Does anyone particularly recommend food and recipe (or general) writing resources that might help your fellow bloggers to improve their writing skills and the content of their sites?

2) Do you just type (like I do) without thinking so much about how and why you are writing the way that you do?

3) Do you have any particular tips and tricks or conventions or style rules that you use when you write your posts: for example, do you provide a headnote (brief summary or catchy story) under the title of a recipe as a matter of course? Do you always list liquid ingredients first? Do you split out sub-recipes (i.e. how to toast coconut) out of the main recipe (i.e. toasted coconut flan) or do you include it in the method for the main recipe?


Amy Sherman said...

In general I want my posts to be either informative or entertaining and ideally both. But I do fail every so often! Usually when I take pictures of my dinner and write about it....

As for recipes, I use standard abbreviations, always try to list the number of servings, and I usually list the ingredients in the order they are used. Just because that makes it easier to follow the recipe.

Derrick Schneider said...

Re writing in general (your 2): Usually, I make a short outline and a theme statement, and start writing. I write, then I rewrite, and then I start editing. I edit, re-edit, and ideally let my post sit overnight so I can edit again. And yet still the flaws come! Still the shortcomings appear!

Re recipes: I don't include them, though it would almost certainly boost my readership to do so. There are a lot of reasons for this stance. But when I do write a recipe (more common on my SFist posts), I'll write a headnote if there's an unusual ingredient (I'll give sources) or if there are substitutions that will work well. I don't call out sub-steps so much as sub-units (e.g., steak and potatoes would be three recipes: meat, potatoes, sauce). And ingredients get put together based on order (e.g., roux is butter then flour, not flour then butter).

McAuliflower said...

Regarding recipe formats... I like how Delicious: Days lists out the recipe ingredients at the end. It's a nice variation. I compose my recipes as a nariative with the ingredient requirements popping up in bold as the protocol progresses.

Gee, I really don't mean to push Ruth Reichel's recent book again, but I liked how her format allowed you to see the building of her stories that leads to the actual review.

I think gathering up the Best of Food Writing series is a good way to go. I tend to learn by reading- and that will definately keep you well fed!

mrs d said...

I'm probably the last person who should be answering this post, since my blogging philosophy runs more along the lines of "rules, what rules? Break 'em."

That said, I do have a couple of guidelines, which I try to adhere to (though lately I've been running out of time when posting and guidelines get forgotten. Wait. Who am I kidding? We've been around for all of two months -- everything is lately).

First guideline is to use my special "recipe" CSS div tag to separate that part of the post from the rest so that it's obviously not part of the narrative. Of course I broke that rule just a few posts in by using my "recipe" tag for a reminiscence instead.

Second guideline... wait... I'm not sure I have one. It probably has something to do with dividing ingredients into appropriate sequential groups, but I'm sure I've blown that one a few times as well.

Oh, I know. Second guideline. It's my voice. Be me. Keep it entertaining. In other words, I'm not writing a text book.

I did however grab one of those Best Food Writing books at the library the other day for inspiration because (as they always say in writing classes) it is better to learn the rules before breaking them!

Cate said...

Timely post since I just picked up some food writing books yesterday on Amazon, including the Best Of. I've been doing freelance writing here and there over the past 10+ years or so, and always looking for more ideas. I don't do an outline but sit down and let everything come out, and then reassemble it so it makes sense, since sometimes it's more "stream of consciousness."

I try to include personal anecdotes here and there. I do so to help the reader get to know me a little bit, as I feel that helps the relationship grow. I think that if they feel like they know me, they're more likely to come back regularly. That said, I'm careful with what I put out there, and consciously don't reveal TOO much.

Lastly, I like to include recipes, or at the very least, the source where the reader can find them. If I'm going to rave about how good a recipe it, seems only fair that I give them the tools to recreate it at home.

Lady Amalthea said...

I almost exclusively have recipes and I like to start a post with a brief story about the recipe, be it how i found it, or about a particular ingredient it contains.

I list ingredients in the order they are used. Since I am currently in France but not completely comfortable with the metric system, I include grams when I know it (like when I know just how much meat I've bought) and otherwise try to go by teaspoons, tablespoons, etc. I have a gram/liter measurer, so I sometimes do that too. And I like to include both Fahrenheit and Celsius.

sarah said...

a friend just tipped me off to this...i have no idea what these things are like, but thought y'all might wanna take a little peek. i guess it could be helpful, but who knows?

paul said...

I use to adhere to a style - intro, with description, list the ingredients (AP style - T=tablespoon etc.), then the method, all the while peppering through some nice links referring to the ingredients, method or history of the dish.

Then I got lazy.

However, I usually try to point people in the right direction with a link if I don't write a followable recipe.

Susan said...

I like how most food blogs explain why they chose the recipe they did - what attracted them. It gives an insight as to the person, as well as the recipe.

Derrick Schneider said...

A friend of mine who's a writer and editor likes Media Bistro a lot. I belong to Freelance Success. The two seem to have a sort of chowhound/egullet antagonism thing going on, but both are good resources.

Winslow said...

Yikes. I have plenty of writing books lying around the house, but the idea of picking up a book and finding out how to write about food scares me, for some reason. I don't give many recipes in my blog, because most of the recipes I cook from are other people's recipes. In those cases, I paraphrase so as not to run into the whole copyright issue. If I alter a recipe, I usually say how and why.

I guess the main issue is that my food blog is writing for fun. On my other writing projects, I might obsess a lot more about doing it right or following conventions. My food blog is just writing for my own enjoyment, so I have a more relaxed approach to it.

As for the approach (such as it is) that I do use, I take my cue from an interesting meal I've cooked (interesting = something new or not previously blogged), something happening in my (cooking-oriented) garden, or a restaurant I've recently visited. As someone who writes about Asian cooking a lot, I do a little bit of describing "exotic" ingredients or dishes, but I assume that any reader of mine can probably google for more info if they want it. I have thought about setting up a glossary page of frequently used ingredients and definitions, but have not researched doing this further. Heck, for all I know, my readers may know more than me about cooking Asian food!

Lara said...

When I'm blogging, my writing is pretty casual. One draft, and little bit of rambling is fine.

I do about half narrative, half recipe. I like McAuliflower's post about putting the ingredients last. I may try that.

A few books about writing that I'd recommend: On Writing, by Stephen King; Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamont; and Writing as Craft and Magic, by Carl Sessions Stepp. The first two are geared toward fiction, the last toward journalistic writing. There's a lot of rich content in the first two that can be applied toward any kind of writing, however.

Jono Tosch said...

There is one good trick: write well. Unless every word that rolls off your tongue is understandable, brilliant, funny and informative, it's not a bad idea to look at your words and ask yourself, "Self, if I found those words on the web, would I actually read them?" Food writing is like any other writing: people continue reading because the writing engages them. Most readers duck out at the first boring sentence. So write sentences that aren't boring. It's not always easy, but it is important.