7 Tips for Becoming a Better Food Writer
This has been a really interesting summer for me, in terms of my growth as a writer.
First off, I took Don Genova’s Food and Travel Writing class through UBC. I have been blogging for years, but I just sold my first freelance magazine article, and I wanted to do more. I took Don’s class because I wanted to learn how to pitch to traditional media, like newspapers and magazines. But I learned a lot more than that. I learned that I was stuck in a bit of a writing rut. That was a good thing, but a little hard to take, y’know?
Don uses Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More, as the textbook for his class. When I learned that Dianne was going to be one of the presenters at the International Food Blogger’s Conference in Seattle in September, I couldn’t buy my ticket fast enough.
Here are 7 tips for becoming a better food writer from Dianne’s talk.
Write with all your senses, not just taste. Food is a sensual experience. Don’t just write about how it tastes. Write about how it smells, looks, feels, and sounds. Take your reader on a journey that incorporates all 5 senses.
Create context. You don’t need to just focus on the food. The environment and the history of the place in which you are eating the food can be incredibly important to your story, whether on a beach on a remote Greek Island, or in the Vodka Room at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler.
Add memories. So much of how we remember experiences is tied up in the food we had at that time. Pull those memories into your story, and then bring it into the present with introspection.
Use strong action words. Don’t be wimpy. Don’t say you ate the hamburger. Say you demolished it. Which one is more appealing to read and creates a more forceful image?
Trade general language for specific. Instead of saying “the person” or “he” or “she,” say “the small Asian girl with long dark hair, and even longer eyelashes.” The latter really starts to create a picture in your head, whereas the former could be anyone.
Just write, already. Sometimes we get caught up with our inner critic. We’re afraid to start, or we abandon a draft halfway through because we’re not happy with it. “Just write your shitty first draft,” Jacob says. “Editing is your friend. Go back later and make it better.”
Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell the audience. Show them.
Telling: The peach was large and juicy.
Showing: The peach is so big, I need both hands to cup it. I run the pads of my thumbs along its fuzzy exterior, savouring its hedgehog-like skin. Burying my nose in its deep navel, I can’t help but close my eyes and be instantly transported to another place: the warm sun beats down on my skin, and I’m in the middle of a rustling green orchard, tree leaves dotted with the pale peach fruit, the air full of the drone of buzzing bees. Biting is sadomasochistic. The fuzzy skin makes my tongue curl, but it is followed by a cascade of syrupy juice and pleasantly yielding flesh. It tastes like a day in late August, carefree, summer vacation, when I was 12.
Finally, and one of my favourite things Dianne said: “Adjectives are the crack of food writing.” So, let’s endeavour to stop using delicious.
I have a long way to go, still. I feel like I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut with my food writing, and now I’m trying to change that, experiment, try different things.
By the way, subscribe to Dianne’s fantastic blog about food writing if you want to learn more.