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Stories, chemistry, disasters & laughs

A big bunch of ideas & prompts for writing your best blog posts

Nicki Wood

on 20 February 2015

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Transcript of Stories, chemistry, disasters & laughs

It Ain't Gonna Tell Itself: Writing Best Blog Posts
Tell the story that's already there
Humans are wired to tell stories. The most compelling blog posts are personal & family food narratives.
The "process" post
"Process" posts on cooking gear are fun to write & get lots of response.
Write from your unique position
Artist hunter, scientist economist entertainer: your pursuits inform your view of food and cooking.
Prompts, Mechanics, Resources, Credits
Rule #1 SOFT. Say One F**king Thing.
is a piece of text that tells a story, even a very short one)
Food bloggers are luckier than other writers...
A simple and perfect post has a built-in story that's easy to see.
Events are strong foundations for good posts. Birthday/hanukkah/July 4/festivus/wake/cocktail/tailgate: Write about what you cooked & why.
Lots of readers (myself included) troll gear posts to "test drive" equipment before buying=more hits on your blog.
Here are some "process" approaches
Why you developed/selected the recipe
The steps for preparing it
How you changed it, and why
Interesting things that happened as you cooked
The equipment you used
recipe with a history
family dish
an occasion/holiday
a cooking triumph
a kitchen disaster
a food project
(probe thermometer & surgical gloves I used for larding beef roast for Spiced Round)
I made gumdrop bread because I always wanted to as a kid, but mom said no.
(I understand why now.)
Tupperware Avalanche featured a series on baking in an Easy Bake oven.
A Tupperware Avalanche series on juicers was written as I tested 17 juicers for
Fine Cooking
magazine. Lots of interest from blog readers.
Bonus: Gear posts are an opportunity to request loaners/samples from equipment and gadget companies.
Every dish, every meal has a beginning, middle and end. A complete, self-contained narrative.
Recipe for my childhood neighbor's Blueberry Buckle, scribbled by my late mother. I gave a copy to neighbor's daughter-in-law & we both cried.
Family stories, a recipe with a history, kitchen projects, triumphs & tragedies: These are posts that practically write themselves.
"Firsts" offer a natural narrative to shape a blog post.
"Lasts" can be particularly funny or poignant.
The last time you’ll prepare a dish (and why).
The last time you tasted a particular recipe.
The last time you’ll cook for an occasion, such as your daughter's Sweet 16 birthday, or a wake for someone dear.
To summarize:
The best-reading, most engaging blog posts are food narratives. Use them if you have them, because everyone loves a story.
Cornbread fail from lesleyeats.com
"Beginning" is the occasion itself. "Middle" is what you cooked.
"End" is how it tasted, whether people liked it, & whether you'll make it again.
The first time you cook with an ingredient. Your first encounter with a new cuisine. Your first dinner party. Everyone has "firsts," so the stories resonate with readers eager to compare notes on their “firsts.”
Melissa Corbin had a sweet piece on her ever-cookin' mama's evolving potato salad recipe.
Write about the food preparation process when there's no obvious narrative.
Really, sometimes, it's just dinner. The story is in the journey to the table.
Take notes, even shopping notes--you never know when something interesting will occur
Write with detail about technique, tools, texture, temperature, time, color and consistency.
Document the process
Use pictures where you can instead of long stretches of exposition.
Use varying sentence structures to liven up the writing. Avoid repeating "Then I..." & "Next I..."
Honest-food.net has terrific examples of process posts
Blogger Hank Shaw's smoked duck recipe is so detailed that I use it to smoke ducks & geese, & as reference when writing a process post.
With a process post, the recipe is the beginning, the process is the middle and your result is your ending.
Concentrate on improving the ending by carefully describing results.
Pro tip--> For satisfying endings, use words associated with natural endings: bedtime, sunset, falling leaves, verdicts, departures, fireworks, doors closing, embers, the night sky.
"It was just a sip or two, unexpected, tart and bracing, a little something to put the heart in you to turn up the collar and walk out into the cold, gray day and remember what’s good about winter."
This ending has a result, then a departure, an "endy" action that completes the process.
For The Project Kitchen, I collect & cook obscure, unusual & difficult recipes.
You know something others don’t: use your perspective to shape a food story.
Kitchen science makes a good read.
Posts on KitchenBuddies.com explain the hows and whys of kitchen physics and chemistry, like boiling and dyeing eggs.
Bring an economist’s perspective to food: grocery bills, meal costs, SNAP food.
Compare the cost of a restaurant meal & the identical meal made at home.
Food history devotees have an edge: fascinating factoids plus recipes make quick posts.
Func fact: The ancestor of chicken pot pie is the “coffin,” meat cooked in a casing of flour-and-water paste to protect it from burning.
Your location is unique too.
Mountaintop, downtown, bayside or next to the grocery:
Explore the relationship between where you are & what/how you eat
Matt Baldwin's company moved to a building with an amazing vending machine.
For vendingspree.com, he bought, ate & reviewed everything in the machine. Very funny, big success.
No assignment, no deadline, no editor. It's easy to meander & navel-gaze. Don't. SOFT!
Aim for 300 words.
Keep paragraphs 3 or 4 sentences.
Short sentences are better.
Use a thesaurus. Thesaurus.com is sufficient, wordnik.com is interesting.
Use Evernote to collect sentences, ideas, etc.

Prompts for when you got nothing
Origin stories: I got my castiron skillet at…I inherited this silver platter….A box of pears was lost in the mail….
In Praise of
I ate something gross
Adventures in the market
Recipe WTH
Food preferences
Second time around
Reading for Writing
Steal from the best writers only. Don't borrow--steal. Take it & make it your own.
MFK Fisher,
The Gastronomical Me
. Classic food narrative.
John Thorne’s books:
Serious Pig
Outlaw Cook
. Thorne’s cooking newsletter features short, single focus pieces, like blog posts.
Bob Shacochis,
. Superior food writing from Esquire magazine columnist.
Laurie Colwin,
Homecooking: A Writer in the Kitchen

by Waverly Root. Crammed full of great food histories & hilariously well written. Secret weapon for bloggers!

Ruth Reichl,
Tender at the Bone
Comfort Me with Apples
Frank Bruni,
Born Round
Bill Buford,
Gabriella Hamilton,
Blood Bones and Butter

Many thanks to these people
Nancy Van Reece, Carpe Diem management for mad Prezi skills
Melissa Corbin, Corbin in the Dell
Lesley Lassiter, Lesleyeats
Sheri Malman, writing instructor, UNC Wilmington
Southern Food Bloggers on FB—my peeps!

Spotify playlist
Great Blog Post Sounds, Nicki Pendleton Wood
Spooky couch by Albert Hammond Jr
Black Mud by Black Keys
Yalopa by Julien Jabre
I Do Not Notice by Cortney Tidwell
Small Children in the Background Mogwai
Radio Protector by 65DaysofStatic
Shuck Dub by Robert Burnside
Selmanaire Rock by the Selmanaires
Saturate Chemical Brothers
With You Friends (Long Drive) by Skrillex
After the Rain by John Coltrane
Ratts of the Capital by Mogwai
Arc of transformation
sounds a lot like "narrative arc", the course of events in a story. See, cooking
storytelling. No wonder cooks are such good company.
Read the cornbread fail post here: http://lesleyeats.com/2008/04/28/the-worst-thing-ever-produced-in-my-kitchen/
"Two riders were approaching & the wind began to howl."
"Jesus wept."
Lyrics by Bob Dylan, immortalized by Jimi Hendrix
Read the post & get her tater salad recipe at http://www.corbininthedell.com/happy-mothers-day/
NatePerry photography via flickr
Photo Stephen L. Gordon via flickr
Last resort: According to Merriam Webster...
VERY last resort: National fill-in-the-blank day. Usually violates SOFT, so use sparingly.
Specific topic + debatable view + significance to reader
Inverted Pyramid: big points first + supporting material, smaller points further down
Compare and contrast
Ethos (who you are/your credentials)-->Pathos (connect with reader’s emotions)-->Logos (information to make reader think)
Story, then moral
Five-paragraph essay
John 11:35
Full transcript