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Dare to be different

Over the years, I have received several emails from my food writing students (new, former, wanting to sign up) about how hard it is for them to find a place for themselves in the market. These people tell me that they are: (pick a trendy topic) gluten-free, vegan, lovers of pork, haters of school lunches, experts on sustainability, knowers of all things artisan, etc.

You get my drift?

It is easy to get on a bandwagon and say that “this issue” is what you are going to write about since it is a “hot topic.” It works for some people, but for most writers, this is a bad, bad idea.

I am sure when Shauna Ahern started writing her gluten-free blog, she did not start it because it was a “trendy topic.” She started it because it was a topic close to her heart and affecting the way she ate. It shows in the blog posts: I write because I care about this topic.

Take what is happening right now all over the internet with bloggers participating in @mrswheelbarrow‘s effort towards teaching people about charcuterie. She did not start it, I don’t think, because it is a trendy topic. It was simple: I am starting this because this is something I am passionate about and I bet there are others who are as well.

I had a student, a few years ago, who told he wanted to focus on being vegan as his platform. Great. But then I noticed that all the assignments he turned in, and all the time that he and I spoke, his real interest was in cooking with eggs. He was a great proponent of humanely grown eggs and how to use them in different dishes. Hmmm. So, I asked. “But that is not a hot topic right now,” was the sad reply. I had to ask him if he was truly ready to go without his fave ingredient and talk on a topic that he did not care about. It sounds silly, but think about it: if he wrote great articles and vegan became his platform, guess what? People would want him to talk to them about this topic all the time. ALL THE TIME. Was that something he really, really wanted to spend his life talking about? The answer, which came a few months later, was a no.

My passion is telling stories. I tell stories through food. My food writing is rarely about food. If you have read any of my work, I am sure you are smiling. Sure, I write service stories and I am appreciative of those as they help pay my bills. But my true passion, my true calling (at least in my eyes) is telling stories. If I don’t stay true to that and start talking from tomorrow about the issues of sustainability (just because it is a hot topic), I am staying true neither to my craft nor to my readers.

If you want to stand out of the crowd and be heard, you have to write about  what you really care about. One caveat to this: people say write about what you know. I totally disagree. You can write about things you want to know about, want to learn about. If you want to know about sustainability, learn about it, talk to experts and write about it. I write about a lot of things that I am just learning about. I don’t know a lot about them and do not claim to be an expert. Here is what I DO CLAIM: I care about the topic enough to write about it.

Ever read Ruth Reichl?? Mark Bittman? Michael Ruhlman?  David Leite? Joe Yonan? Julie Powell? Jaden Hair? Heidi Swanson? Cherly Sternman Rule? Francis Lam? or Elissa Altman?… I could go on and on.

Each has a different angle to what they write about. They dare to be different. What they do have in common, for sure, is passion for their subject. Passion sustains. It is the fire that feeds you when no one else will. It is the pat in the back, the push in the right direction. It is what keeps you from going to bed until the article is written or the post is done, it is what will make you stay true and persistent until your message is heard.  Getting on a bandwagon because everyone else is doing it is the easiest (and laziest) way to get your voice heard. It may be heard once or twice, but I can guarantee you that it will not sustain.

Being true to yourself, being you, is the new black.

(istock photo)

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Comments

  1. That’s a very important and the basic lesson anyone could have given to some aspiring writers or also in my case photographers like me. Love reading whatever story you tell and hoping to find my voice too someday!

  2. Truly, deeply, I agree… When I wanted to start a blog, I struggled with the same topic. But I can say that I am at a place where I am comfortable… Yes, I do sometimes think 600 visitors per month is not enough and worry about if I will lose my interest in blogging. But then I remember that I did not start this to publish a cookbook, have a TV show or be dashingly famous. I have started because it makes me feel closer to my family, enjoy cooking, feeding friends and family, sharing and especially writing about what is on my mind lately. And I do not obsess about the numbers!
    Thank you for the reality-check article :)

  3. Such a great article Monica. U r so right and its difficult to find your own voice but when u keep trying honestly in the direction u really want to, it shall lead u to a better place!

  4. As I blogger who is still trying to find my voice this is great advice Monica. As IIlke said it helps to remember why you are doing this in the first place.

  5. Couldn’t agree more. Voice and passion can’t be faked. There will always be a new hot topic, or an old one being “reinvented” to look new. These blazing hot trends burn themselves out quickly — if I hear about bacon-flavoured anything one more time I’ll scream — but genuine interest can weather the media storm.

  6. Thanks for the nod above, Monica. I’m flattered you enjoy my work, and agree wholeheartedly with your statement: “My food writing is rarely about food.” This is certainly true for me, too.

    I can’t really imagine anything more boring than writing, or reading, about a potato, or a raisin, or a hunk of rib-eye. But those are doorways that lead out into the world, and it’s that world — in the broadest sense — that’s so rich in texture, intrigue, and color.

  7. This is a so true! I suppose not writing about something that one is not not passionate about is being untrue to yourself. How can one feel good if one is not true to self? I am no writer, and I do not know how much of my thoughts or feelings I successfully convey when I do write, but like you said I know that I do blog or write about what I like, my explorations, experiments and of course my excitement – and share it with my readers. at least i like what i am doing.

  8. Great article. What’s ironic is that when you often write about something you don’t know about but are passionate about, and your attempts fail (and you write about that too) that your readers appreciate it all the more.

  9. I couldn’t agree more Monica, bravo for your authenticity. I actually find it almost impossible to write about something I’m not passionate about, the words just don’t come out.

  10. Very well said. It is not about trends , though no one would want to really read about something that’s been done to death.
    If you are passionate about and love whtever you’re writing about, the passion will shine through and set you apart.

  11. I try to discover the inner secrets of aroma, memory and words in my writing. So far, so good!

  12. the only reason to write anything is because not writing it is not an option, because you have to. i try to encourage people to not write so that only what absolutely must be written gets written. It’s a struggle of course. Even for me.

    • Great writing either about food or drink should introduce the reader to your inner world, where food/drink is more than a metaphor. It becomes part of your world, and the then part of the world of the reader.

      The best writing occurs without forcing anything on your readers. It’s just great writing!
      And it should make the reader hungry and thirsty!

  13. Thanks for all the great comments. One reason for writing this post is also to encourage all of us to keep the faith in our voice and our work. Sometimes, the different writer is not heard because everyone else is marching to the same drum. Keeping the faith is critical. To use a cliche: cream always rises to the top. More than any talent, any skill, any voice, any dream, what is critical is to write everyday and write with the faith that your writing will be heard. As Michael so wisely said – you write because you have to. You write because writing is part of your spirit and always remember, it is the writing, the process of doing it that is critical. Success is not just about completing a manuscript or a book, success is about loving it all the way.

  14. Thank you so much for posting this, Monica. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and wondering whether or not this is the path I truly want to take, among others. Focusing all my energy on the ‘what ifs’ in life has distracted me; not only from writing but enjoying it. It seems I’ve forgotten why I wanted to do this in the first place. Thank you for reminding me. Your words are truly an inspiration to me.

  15. I completely agree to what you just said. I find ‘being true to oneself’ is the easiest thing to do rather than trying to fit into a shoe a size smaller than yours ( I think larger size is still easier)! ;)
    I know exactly how it feels of not being able to sleep when you have something in your head to write about in your blog (and i quite enjoy it too!)! :) When I started my food blog, I had no clue as to what it was and where it would lead me to. Now I clearly know where I am and what I am doing, I’m still doing the same thing…the same thing that made me start my blog. So it’s a full circle for me and I am happy.
    Beautiful article,Monica. I’m sure your stories will take you a long way! :) I hope this article is an ‘eye opener’ for those people who are trying to find a space for themselves.

  16. Awesome advice Monica!

  17. Wow! This could not have come at a better time for me!

    I am currently in the process of starting a blog and I’ve been struggling with it. I know it’s what I want to do, not because I am an expert on the topics I plan on writing about, but simply because I enjoy learning and I enjoy sharing knowledge. I struggle though, in terms of the topics I’d like to write about and clearly identifying the true purpose of the blog, as I envision it.

    Your post will be most helpful to me in this process.

    Thank you,
    Maria

  18. Thank you, Monica, for the nod. You are absolutely right. I did not wake up and decide to write about charcuterie. I wanted to write about sustainability, about nose-to-tail eating, and about local farmers. Charcuterie was the way to give voice to those issues. When I write about what I love, what moves me, and what interests me, the readers can tell. They will always know when I am writing from my heart, and call me out when I’m writing from my head.
    Warm regards,
    Cathy

  19. Thanks Monica,

    I think you’re spot on. At the end of the day, I find myself connecting to people over time. Getting to know who they are, what they care about. I follow the individuals from topic to topic, newspaper to blog, blog to tv show, etc. A topic of interest might be the initial gateway, but it is the individual, and their unique sensibility, who might make me a long-term reader/follower.

  20. Very nice piece. I often laugh about the situation for artistic folks who cook and write. Lots of us are neurotic writers and temperamental chefs. Pretty potent combination. You are spot on about writing from passion. It takes a level of maturity for this wisdom to penetrate, but when it does? It’s absolutely wonderful. Thanks for the post.

  21. Hi my friend!!! Thank you so much for the shoutout. My passions are twofold:
    1) Inspire people to cook more!
    2) Inspire fellow food bloggers to pursue their dreams

    xo jaden

  22. Monica, wonderful piece. Yes, it’s all about passion–and communication. Passion is the engine, and voice is the expression of that passion. You can’t have really good writing without both. All writers, both new and seasoned, must continue to discover new things that excite them and communicate that to the reader. It will never be a dull ride, for the writer or her readers.

  23. Well said Monica. I totally agree. Write what you care for and not what is hot and trendy.

    Siri

  24. Love this post, Monica. As someone who writes about Italian food I questioned, for a long time, whether there was any need for my voice/books/recipes. What is wonderful is that the world, and the world of food, is always changing. There is always something to learn and always something to teach. And if you love your subject there is always something new to be found in it.

  25. I have hesitated for several years before I started a blog, having no confidence in the technological aspects of it. I read, and I read, and I read (discovering e-gullet 7-8 years ago was a momentous “Eureka” time for me -btw, that’s where I encountered you, too). In the meantime, my writing got lost in editing, proof-reading, and ghost writing.
    Now that I have a blog of my own, filled with stories of friends, family, love, and food that acts like a liaison, I am ecstatic.
    Yes, it is true, the most awaited moment in my day is when I hit the “Publish” button, knowing that a piece of me is alive outside of this apartment, living, breathing, connecting with other souls that think and feel alike.
    I do not have a clue how to incorporate the right “keywords” into my post to make it pop out in the Google search. But I know there are people that are touched by my stories and that is enough for me.
    I do not offer the cure for cancer (although I wish I could). But I offer a corner of my world where you can rest, enjoy, laugh and cry, even for a moment.
    Popular I am not. Passionate? You bet.
    Thanks for another beautiful post:)

  26. Great advice, Monica. I especially appreciate your point that it’s okay to write about something even when you’re not an expert. It took me a long time to learn to apply that more journalistic approach to my decidedly non-journalistic writing, but now the opportunity to be a lifelong student with a purpose is one of my favorite parts of writing.

  27. Beautiful, encouraging article Monica! Even though I know you because of our love of food, it is your stories which I look forward to reading! I can probably recite two or three of them back to you verbatim! Please keep them coming, they let me slip into your world!Thank you!

  28. Hi Monica,
    Thank you for this article. As journalist one of the best lessons I learned from a wise editor: You can’t have a story without people, without heart.

    So true.

  29. Thank you for including me in this, Monica. I’m honored.

    And you are right. When I began my food blog a) I never thought anyone would be reading — very few people kept food blogs in 2005 — and I was astonished when I received my first comment, and b) I just wanted a place to write. I felt a deep urgency to share my story, to pour out my discoveries, to let my joy bounce all over the page.

    i still write for the same reason. And I hate the idea that anyone thinks gluten-free is trendy. It’s just the way that some of us discover great food.

  30. All I can say is: well said!

  31. This is a breath of fresh air. Such a simple idea, really, and yet I constantly find myself staring at my computer screen listlessly, uninspired by a topic and yet trying to find life in it just because I think it might sell. I am rarely able to bring myself to finish these pieces and am never satisfied with them. So of course I’ve wasted my time, because I can’t sell them anyway! Thanks for the boost of confidence to write what I love even if I don’t “know” it through and through. Writing is always learning, too.

  32. It takes a while for me to find my voice in writing. I still struggle with it but after reading your article, I feel more strongly about writing as a way to learn something or to share my passion in my subject. So for now, I’m starting my blog as a scrapbook. Once I get my voice, I’m sure I can delve into my topic more smoothly and seamlessly!

  33. Monica, thanks for such a great post. It’s so easy to get caught up with what is ‘trendy’ and forget about why you started your blog in the first place. I still struggle with my angle everyday because it is hard to imagine that any one else would find what I write about interesting. This post is a great piece of encouragement. Once again, thank you.

  34. I couldn’t agree more with your point of view. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to write about what drives you and not about what’s trendy. I’ve been blogging for almost 2 years now and have never planned my posts to be about chicken wings on Superbowl weekend, grilled meats on July 4 or pie on Thanksgiving. Possibly because I’m not American, so, alas, the significance of these events are lost on me, but fundamentally, I think it’s far worse to write just because everyone’s doing it, and not because it resonates with you. After a good 1.5 years of fumbling around the world of blogs, I’ve finally found my platform – profiling the people who are doing something ‘right’ in our food system, and feeding their communities with real, natural food in the process. The success stories, if you will.

    Sorry for this essay of a comment – it’s a long-winded way of saying yes, I agree!

  35. I am still finding my voice, and it is hard for me to say that I will only write about one area of food or cuisine, because I enjoy all things culinary and ingredients. Sometimes I think my area of focus is so broad that my blog becomes a “jack of all trades”. Even though my blog title is “Cajun Chef Ryan” and many expect to see only “Cajun” recipes, but I have so much more to offer than just Cajun cooking.

  36. Thanks for the reminder, Monica. Sometimes we tilt in the direction of what people want from us, especially if there is pay involved.
    I want to tell stories, too!

  37. Its harder when you’ve embarked on a specific topic and inevitably you do compare yourself to other blogs which garner followings in the thousands while you i..n..c..h.. you way one follower at a time, your comment about the student passionate about eggs even as vegan topics were the hot thing really struck a chord! thanks for the indirect inspiration to keep going!

  38. I’ve been on your site for the last two hours and it’s still not enough. You could say I’m hungry for what you have to say. A huge thank you from my heart…especially for this post – and your nominated, wonderful essay. You seem to be my angel tonight.

    I have been writing essays ” a note from the chef” ever since I inserted the first one in my restaurant’s menu in 1994 . I thought it would be a good thing to answer a few FAQ and let my patrons know a little bit about who was cooking their food. I haven’t stopped writing them. A new one is emailed each month to a subscriber list of former patrons and a growing list of cooking students and readers.

    Writing these “notes” is probably one of the
    most consistent things I’ve done for over 16 years. Each month, even if I have no idea what I will write about, I don’t go to bed until I write it. It doesn’t matter to my writing how many or few will actually read it…I write them knowing I have a unique point of view and hope that one day (as I get my technology issues straightened out) they’reach a larger audience.

    As you know, food has been a metaphore for life…probably since the beginning of time. Just look at all the life quotes that use food analogies. Funny thing is that it was only recently that I finally accepted the fact that I really don’t write – or want to write – about food. I write about
    life…about awakening to who you really are and the life around you. I just do it using food as an example. A lifetime of cooking has taught me that the kitchen is a very wise teacher.

    Thank you for reaffirming for me that what I write – and how I write is not only okay…but a sample of integrity and authenticity. I will persevere.

    Thanks for all your fine work and know that you are a true inspiration to this writer and teacher. Silvia

  39. I read again and again what you just said and I agree with you specially the last para. and it inspire me to do things my way. When I start my food and travel blog almost 2 yrs back, I writes for myself because I have to share my views, never thought that someday somebody will like it, but when you dig deeper into this, when comment starts coming, you get carried away and in next few months I realized few handful people actually reads my blog, rest are simply a courtesy visit. As you said I do jumped upon the ‘what’s popular’ wagon..but in the end gain nothing. I do not know whether people actually loves what I write about, but I try to communicate as much as possible. At the end of day I write what I want to because I have to..and as you rightly said passion only feeds you when nothing else and that will helps me to sustain here.

    Thanks for such inspiring words…dare to be different.

  40. Gosh, Monica – I really want to meet you and chat with you in person. An occasional twitter conversation is just not enough! I have struggled to believe in my own voice (Cheryl has reprimanded me several times for this!) and I have wondered if, as so many “experts” have told me, that I have to find a niche. But writing about one thing just isn’t what motivates me to write. What motivates me is when I’ve influenced someone to get in the kitchen or to connect with others through food. Sometimes that’s when I share a recipe and sometimes it’s the story behind the recipe. I think the struggle becomes complicated, though, when you are trying to build a career and earn money and so many brands, publishers and agents want big numbers and multiple platforms so we get all caught up with trends and what will get us the most RTs and follows.

    Through it all, though, I am trying to cling to consistently high-quality content because, in the end, I really believe it will pay off. The key is patience, passion, and persistence, I think.

  41. i agree with you, write what you are passionate about, not what’s trendy. definitely better to be different. i never worry about getting many followers, traffic, comments etc even if i were to monetize my blog in the future, quality over quantity is what i’ll stick with. comparison is the thief of joy , i don’t give in to that. thanks for the inspiration !
    besides your blog, i enjoy reading 5secondrule(different), cooksister, life’s a feast, food wanderings, what’s for lunch honey & some more – their passion shines through every word

  42. Such an excellent article Monica. I agree with you completely. It easy to follow trend but it’s always fun to be yourself!

  43. Such a beautiful post Monica… I completely agree with you about drifting away towards the trend and admit it happens to me too
    Writing from within and passion is what really matters. It will definitely take to to a different level.

  44. Sigrid Trombley says:

    Right on target, Monica. I read your work, not because of WHAT you write about, though it interests me. I read your work because it MOVES me. The passion obvious in your writing somehow reaches into my inner being and “grabs me.” Frequently it touches my soul. Now how many writers whose work we enjoy can we say that about? I’m guessing relatively few.

    I often want to share what you write with someone else but admit to some difficulty on occasion. “No she’s not a ‘food writer’ ” I say, “though food is sometimes part of a piece. And no it doesn’t matter that you don’t like Indian food or spicy food,” I tell someone I’ve sent a link to. “Well then, if you don’t want me to read her blog because it’s about food, why do you want me to read it,” I imagine them saying. I haven’t been able to put into words a meaningful answer to that question before. But I think I’ve got it now. It’s “universal truths”, that’s what Monica Bhide writes about, universal truths. She speaks to what links us together as human beings, and THAT’S why you should read her work.

  45. How True… Everyone wants to do things which are in trend or as we say HOT but the reality is thats may not be our passion or belief…
    We all need to learn to believe in ourself n our true calling…
    Very beautiful and well written Monica!!

  46. Well said! And very well written. It is absolutely essential to be passionate about whatever you do.

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