For me, the highlight of IFBC were the food writing workshops. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Scrawled across the front liner of a blue Gnome diary somewhere at the top of my closet are the words: “I’m a writer at age 8!”
(I’ve also always loved exclamation points!)
So, naturally, I gravitated toward the writing workshops at IFBC in Seattle a few weeks ago. As much as I love writing, even experienced writers need a refresher course now and then. This year at IFBC in Seattle we were lucky enough to hear Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food, and the blog of the same name, share her favorite food writing tips.
Here are a few highlights of Dianne’s speech:
- Adjectives are the crack of food writing. If you use adjectives, you better make them count. For example, “slimy” gives us an image, and not a positive one (I might add).
- When you do talk about food, make it specific. Consider “she walked into a room” versus “she ran into the kitchen” – note that verbs and specific nouns punched up the phrase just a notch.
- Along those lines, use powerful action verbs because you want action in your writing.
- And be sure to use:
Dianne also mentioned a handful of writers she considers worth reading, including:
- Tajal Rao of the Village Voice
- Helen Graves of Food Stories
- Jay Rayner of the Guardian
- Ruth Reichl of just about every major food publication, ever
To drive her point home, Dianne then challenged us to write, in 10 minutes, a description of our lunch. On that day, Saturday of the conference, I snuck away with a few food blogger friends, Laura of Family Spice, Mary of California Greek Girl and Priscilla of She’s Cookin’, to a tucked-away restaurant called Pink Door, right above Pike Place Market.
With pretty pink cocktails and a view of the ocean, the Pink Door was an ideal spot for ladies who lunch. Craving the fish stew of my childhood, I had cioppino, and wrote these words, fueled by Dianne’s enthusiasm for the written word:
I admit it: I stole a better seat. I wanted a view of the Pacific and Pike Place. Even before we sat down, even before we dragged out our iPhones to snap every dish, I knew what I needed.
Cioppino. I craved it. A gluten-free dish that stands alone without substitutions or “I’m sorry, but…” or dot-dot-dot.
I’m from San Francisco so I feel qualified to judge cioppino, even if at home I butcher it by using frozen seafood medleys from Trader Joe’s and tomatoes that come in cans. And the cioppino at the Pink Door refused to fail the test.
The broth could stand on its own – the color of a southwestern sunset, speckled with bits of carrots and onion, a sweet spice raked through the broth for good measure. But the star of the show was the seafood. And oh, the variety! Meaty clams, slick mussels, springy calamari and tender shrimp shared a bath in that beautiful broth.
Maybe it was the warm sun tempered by the cool fall air, maybe it was the company of three dear food blogger friends, or maybe it was my pink lemonade vodka, but that cioppino is going down in history as one of my favorite feasts of all time.
And that’s it! Totally unedited, totally from the heart, all in 10 minutes. And believe me, I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a full story that I can massage and craft into a meaningful piece.
What I love about the 10-minute timeline (especially with Dianne giving you the countdown) is you’re forced to write a complete story in a short amount of time. You cannot edit. You cannot doubt yourself.
You simply write.
If you want to improve your food writing, be sure to check out Dianne’s book, Will Write for Food. To get started, set the timer for 10 minutes and write about what you had for lunch today. Include the setting, your dining companions, why you selected this dish … anything that gives your readers a sense of being there, right beside you.
Consider writing by hand, not on the computer. When you write by hand, you are more connected to the writing. Your hand will hurt. You may want to stop. But I can guarantee you will write something you’re proud of.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon and Sur La Table affiliate links, for which I may receive compensation. This post is also part of a series of posts on my experience at IFBC which I attended on a reduced blogger rate that requires three posts about the conference.