Tag Archives: Writing

The Food Writer’s Dilemma

There has been much hand-wringing of late about the state of food writing. Amanda Hesser gave stark advice for future and current food writers. John Birdsall gave his own perspective on the industry. Adam Roberts talked about whether or not food blogging is over.

All of this self introspection is navel gazing at best, because the food writer’s dilemma is the same dilemma that most every writer has always had. How do you make a living at this? The answer to this question, at least at a high level, has never changed, one iota.

Here are the answers, or, as I call them, rules to this lifestyle.

Rule #1: Always be Writing: Period. Full stop. Every day, write something down. It’s amazing to me that the amount of people who want to be writers who don’t do this simple task. Yes, take a break from time to time. But one hundred words, or a thousand, it doesn’t matter. Write, write, write as long as you are mentally able.

People who master rule one can feel free to call themselves a writer. However, this isn’t the subtext of Hesser’s, Bridsall’s, or Robert’s point. Because without a paying audience, you’re writing to yourself, and this, unless you’re independently wealthy, is not a viable career option. So you have to add another rule to your skill set, one that allows you to make a living at writing.

Rule #2: Always be Selling: This is where most people slip up, because they believe that if they write something magnificent, the world will come knocking upon their door.

This just isn’t so. You have to sell either your work or your talent. Some of us get other people to sell our work for us. Other’s figuratively pound the pavement themselves and end up with a long term writing gig at a newspaper, magazine, web site, or other medium. But the rule is, if you want to make a living at writing, you have to sell yourself. Sorry.

The discussions that are occurring now are little more than lamenting the fact that the rules have changed. To this end, they are right. The changing media landscape means that traditional paths to (food) writing have shifted, altered, or have disappeared completely. This is the bad news.

The good news is that there are other paths out there. Other paths have yet to be uncovered. You (and I) have to be motivated enough to look for them, or create them ourselves. If writers are unable or unwilling to do this, then your income will always be limited.

There is one way (out of many) which will find these paths more often than not. Sell good writing. I know, I know. “Good” is subjective. But there are two more rules which will help distinguish your writing, and make it unique.

Rule #3: Always be Editing: Any work can be refined. The first draft almost always is horrible, and the second draft is rarely much better. Add into this the fact that every writer has their blind spots when it comes to grammar, spelling, narrative form, thesis establishment, and a host of other writing issues that I could write a book about. Learn to edit. Until you do, find an editor who believes in you and work with them, not against them. This means being critical of your self, and understanding that writing is a craft, first and foremost. Good writing is almost never a solo effort.

The last rule is an extension of rule #3, but applied over the entire endeavor.

Rule #4: Always be Improving: I suck at selling. I realize that, for me to be able to be full time at this, I have to improve at this skill. I am marginally better at writing, and have only recently been confident enough to understand that editing and writing are similar, but not the same to one another. Every single writer out there, whether it’s Michael Chabon, Amanda Hesser, or Kate Hopkins, all can improve in one of the three areas above. To get where we want to be, we should be looking to get better at each of these areas. When we writers get good enough at all three, success, in some degree or another, will follow.

These rules have not changed in five hundred years of the publishing industry. They existed back in M.F.K. Fisher’s time, and they exist today. Yes, aspects of these areas have altered in one way or another since the first published author, but the basic rules are still the same.

If you want to write, then write. If you want to make money at it, then sell yourself. If you want to keep on selling yourself, get better. Everything else is little more than shop talk.

My Big Announcement

Several years ago, after being laid off from my second job in less than two years, I told my friends that I was working toward a new goal, one that didn’t involve the terms “quality assurance”, “process management” or “synergizing the proactive accounting of production techniques” (a real phrase uttered by someone other than myself, without a trace of irony). I told my friends that I was going to try to become a travel and food writer.

It was a bit naive on my part, because this goal is a fairly common one amongst those who are more than a bit frustrated by the white collar world. But a fair amount of what I’ve done on this site, and the other paying gigs I’ve done over the past three years have been completed with this end goal in mind.

Over the past few days, I’ve been able to get as close to my dream as I’ve ever been able. Yesterday, I signed a book deal with St. Martin’s Press, and they’ve agreed to publish a book based off of the proposal I had written well over a year and a half ago. The book, called “The Search for the Perfect Shot” is about whiskey in all of its many forms. I hope to be able to discuss the history and present day status of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish Whiskey, and Canadian Whiskey. My goal is to visit several dozen distilleries, large and small, and interview folks both passionate and “all business”. The current thinking is that the book will be released sometime in the spring of 2009.

What this means for Accidental Hedonist is that you, the reader, will be seeing more whiskey type posts. It won’t be “All Whiskey, all the time” as that would drive a few of the reader away. But it is likely there will be at least one post a week that deals with whiskey in some form.

Additionally this means that I will be looking for input from the readers in regard to the topic. If you know someone in the industry, I want to hear from them. If you have a favorite recipe involving whiskey, I want to hear from you. If you have an idea about whiskey that I have yet to bring up, I want to hear from you. The goal is to create a wealth of information that supplements the book, much like the “bonus features” one might see on a DVD of their favorite movie. Part of the major selling point of my proposal was that I might be able to get the readership of this site involved in the development of the book in some form or manner. As far as I am aware, this has yet to be done with a food book, and it will be interesting to see just what we can accomplish.

This means there will be some changes to Accidental Hedonist. My hope is that they will be seemless, but there’s no promise of that. These changes include:

  • Moving this site to a new host. My current host has complained that I take up too much of their server’s processing time, so it’s now time to move to a Virtual Private Server. Hopefully this will result in quicker load times for this site.
  • A Forum will be added in order to discuss all things whiskey. Additional topics are certain to be added.
  • I’m going to turn Accidental Hedonist into a Limited liability company. The site has long since surpassed the point of being a business, and it’s time I started treating it as such.
  • When the fund become available, one or two more guest writers will be added.
  • A “Store” will be added – in order to create more site revenue, to help pay for the new toys, and new writers. The store will also be created to offset the fact that, in a bit of irony, I won’t be able to leave my current job, at least for two more years, if even at all.

Like I said yesterday, big changes are coming. Some will be implemented quickly, others over the next year.

And between now and 2009, I’m going to be working my toochis off, ensuring a good first book, and yet fretting about the second and third ones.

My hope is that y’all will hang out for the duration to see what becomes of all of this.

When The Stranger Calls

A few weeks ago, I was approached (via e-mail) by David Schmader. David is an associate editor for Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger, one of two weekly tabloids here in the Emerald City. In that e-mail, he asked me if I wanted to write a few restaurant reviews for their humble newspaper.

My answer to his query can be found here, in the form of a review of Cafe Moose in Ballard.


Technorati Tags: Food, Restaurants, Restaurant Reviews