I spent last weekend at a food blog conference. For those of you who might be unfamiliar, a “food blog conference” is an actual thing now. Imagine knowing that fifteen years ago–that there would be a phenomenon called a “food blog” and whole conferences just for people who have them!
The keynote speaker was Molly Wizenberg of Orangette. She comes from the same era as writers like Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, David Lebovitz, and Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. They are the Julia Childs (Julia Children? LOL) of today’s home cooks. At the conference, these were “household” names among the attendees. We could say something like, “Oh yeah, I mean I’m no Deb,” and that would make sense to people. In addition, these women have become models of what bloggers mean when they say they’re “on track” or “on the way to success.” Success, in the food blog world, means something like “ten years of content, millions of views, and a book tour.” It’s a lot to aspire to, especially when there are now thousands of people writing about food in the United States alone, and it’s a bumpy road to actually making any money off the gig.
Anyway, after eight hours of inspiration, guidance, technical tips, intimidation, eating, small-talking, and name-badge-wearing, Molly’s talk felt much-needed. She didn’t stand up and tell us the steps to success, and she didn’t make what she was doing feel like a mystery. She told us that when she decided to move forward with blogging and writing, she realized she didn’t have all that much to lose, and many of us don’t. If we’re sitting around writing about food and making bundt cakes, we’re living the good life, “we’re all really lucky bastards…most of what could happen to us is not so bad.” It brought me back down to reality. If I’m at a food blog conference talking to people who care about all the things I do, then that counts as success on at least some level.
She talked a lot about the decisions she has made surrounding her blog–for example, the fact that she goes through periods of writing little about food on her “food blog,” and she described the giddy rush she felt when she first started writing in “a space only for [herself].” She confided that she has to remind herself to write honestly instead of posting what she thinks people want to see.
It made me stop and remember why I’m writing and cooking and posting photos of it all. It was easy, at the conference, to get wrapped up in the perceived successes of others, to compare viewership and awards and wonder what makes a certain website design just *click*. Molly’s advice? “To always do the work I want to see done, to write what I want to read, to cook what I want to eat.”
After her talk, I got the guts to go talk to her. I had been sitting next to her in the back of the room for 45 minutes before her talk and never got the nerve to say a word. As she spoke, though, I realized we had some common ground. Not only did she start her blog while realizing her path in graduate school wasn’t leading her where she wanted to go, but she also spent little stints in kitchens, like me, and even opened a pizza restaurant with her husband. I know!!
Well, I felt like I should go talk to her just to let her know how uncanny it was to be sitting there hearing a story that started out so much like my own, but I don’t know what I hoped she would tell me. I think I just wanted her to know that her talk resonated with me. That, even though she is miles farther down the highway than I am, her words reminded me of why I’m doing this. I told her about my fears–that I’m putting all this time into a blog no one wants to read, that it’s not helping me reach my goals (whatever those are this week), that I’ll never get thousands and thousands of views, blah, blah, blah, because I can’t figure out what people want to read and see–what they want to cook. She said this, and it really stuck with me, “Your blog is your space, and whatever you do with it, make sure that you are using it to show your best work, whatever that is.”
“Sometimes I feel like it’s too late for me.” I blurted out, “I should have done this ten years ago. I should have a recognizable career by now–”
She cut me off, “It’s never ‘too late’ if you’re doing good work.”