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.
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.
Next online “Introduction to Food Writing” course starts soon - for more info.