Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three Essentials for Writing a Perfect Food Blog Post -- Lessons from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Reading A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg is a writing course for food bloggers. Her book grew out of her popular and long-running blog Orangette. The book tells the story of her life through vignettes and recipes. It was our Kitchen Reader choice for February, chosen by Jules of Stone Soup.

Wizenberg's voice is chatty, friendly, and laid back. She paints word pictures of her family and friends in a humourous and loving way. She has been a food blogger since 2004. In her book she says that she writes "about my life some, too, since it intersects with food roughly three times a day." It's clear that this book grew from the stories on her blog. Each of the forty-five short chapters in her book is a perfect model of how to write an engaging blog post. I learned three lessons to apply to my food blogging. I'm considering these the three essential ingredients for a perfect food blog post.

The vast majority of the chapters are exactly three pages long, plus a recipe. Almost exactly 1200 words, to a one. I imagine this is a bit longer than I could write regularly in a blog post. But Wizenberg is very consistent and from this I see that I should be more consistent, too.

Every one of these chapters tells a personal story. Often they concern the recipe that follows quite closely. Other times they tie into the recipe more loosely. But each of them is more about life than about the food, in my opinion. This is something I should learn how to do more. Wizenberg writes, "I don't think many of us are terribly interested in recipes that have no stories or real-life context."

Many of the chapters follow a common structure. This structure makes writing the chapter simple. I imagine that if I were Wizenberg, I would have planned these chapters in the reverse order to that in which I wrote them.

For example, one chapter finishes with a recipe for white chocolate dessert. This was an eighties fad dessert. Other eighties fads were aerobics (which Wizenberg's mother loved), shoulder pads (which her mother wore), mullets, and crimped hair. The chapter starts with the fads that were less personal to Wizenberg (the crimped hair and the mullets). She discusses the eighties in general. Then she proceeds to talk about her mother's shoulder pads for one paragraph. Then she tells some stories over several paragraphs about her mother's aerobics. She finishes by linking to her mother's cooking of the eighties fad, white chocolate dessert.

This structure is repeated dozens of times: from a general idea, to a personal connection, to a recipe that links both. This is an easy way, I now see, to plan and write a blog post.

Writing the perfect blog post is like making bouchons au thon. Following Wizenberg's step-by-step recipe for French tuna patties has reminded me that learning to write blog posts is also about getting the essential ingredients correct.

What do you think? What are the essential ingredients of a great food blog post?

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