When Food Writers Read Their Work

Jul 312012
 

One of the few at the conference comfortable with a mic, apparently. (Photo courtesy Jonathan Pollack Photography))

I’m just back from St. Louis, MO, where I taught an all-day food writing workshop for about 70 people.

(The sold-out Food Media Forum came about after Stephanie Pollack of The Cupcake Project invited me to teach. Then it morphed into a 2-day conference. My workshop was the most elaborate I’ve done yet, with coffee to order, wine at lunch and a guy who pedaled in on an ice cream cart during the break.)

I like to start the day with writing prompts, while people are fresh (as opposed to after wine at lunch). I ran around the tables asking for volunteers to read. Some people were so nervous that they shook. Some stammered. Some hesitated. Some even tweeted about being nervous:

Robyn Wright of Robyn’s Online World was the first to read her writing out loud, and the crowd applauded. She wrote about being nervous on her blog:

Robyn did a super job. She used a simile and a metaphor, two of the writing techniques I emphasized (“like a fishing lure” and “tasteless rubber blob”). You’ll find lots of action verbs in her writing too — like gouged, plunged and ripped — a technique that amps up writing and moves readers forward in the story.

This is the safe part: Heads down, writing furiously, during a writing exercise.

As a teacher who loves class participation, I’m interested in why this happens. It’s interesting that some people can put their work out into the world but be so sensitive about reading it aloud. Perhaps the issue is that most writers are introverts. (Here’s a cool TED video about the power of introverts.) It’s hard enough to write a little essay on demand, but then you have to read it, unedited, to a group of your peers.

But that’s a speculation. I’d prefer it if you just tell me. Why do you think people are afraid to read in class? Is it about mispronouncing words or stumbling over them, or more about whether your peers will think what you wrote is lame?

Thanks to theFood Media Forum team for putting on an excellent conference! (Photo courtesy Jonathan Pollack Photography)

  67 Responses to “When Food Writers Read Their Work”

  1. I think you are right – most writers are introverts. I remember the first time I was asked to read a piece aloud in class. I am pretty sure my heart stopped beating for the entire time I read the few lines. Needless to say – I survived, but still do not wave my arm around frantically waiting to be picked! Sounds like it was a great event Dianne. I hope your summer is going swimmingly!

    • You make a good point, Mona. Most of the people I called upon had raised their hands, so I have to give them credit for that.

      It was a wonderful event! Looking forward to meeting you at the one in Ireland.

  2. For me, it’s totally being in front of people. I have horrible stage fright, horrible and longstanding. I am confident about my writing. I know most people really like it, but put me in front (or just standing at my seat) of a group, and I go into panic mode. Really. I can’t catch my breath, my hands start to shake. Really pitiful.

    But give my “piece” to someone else to read aloud? I’m fine with that. Well, obviously, look at me commenting freely on your blog. ;)

    If you wonder how I can teach, well, I only teach cooking, and I get those students into the kitchen P.D.Q. so I don’t have to stand up there in front of the room.

    Not all intraverts are uncomfortable in front of a crowd, either.

    • Sorry to hear that, Ruthie. But as you say, you’re fine with giving someone else your work to read, or teaching in front of a group. It’s something about public speaking that makes people nuts.

  3. I am absolutely not an introvert but public speaking can be intimidating. Reading in front of my peers? My voice shakes until I can get my groove, and maybe my nerves get soothed by a smile I see.

    It is so much easier to slap writing up on a blog, but the feedback I get from any kind of live reading or writing endeavor — I’m writing in a window at the local bookstore these days — is very nourishing.

    • Yes. I’ve been in classes where people applaud, and where many students provide positive feedback, so it can be a nourishing experience, as you say. I guess it’s just the fear of public speaking. I’ve read that it’s people’s number one fear.

  4. I love that Ted Talk on the power of introverts, and even more than her talk I really enjoyed the look into how painful it was for her to prepare for the talk and get over being such an introvert (read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/books/review/how-the-author-of-quiet-delivered-a-rousing-speech.html). I think in part most writers are by their very nature, at least to a certain extent, introverts. We’re better at articulating ourselves on paper than out loud, perhaps, and confrontation is probably easier by email than face-to-face. I’ve gotten quite good at putting my writing out there and promoting myself on the internet, but when it comes time to talk about it in person, I get shy and uncomfortable. It’s a fear of judgement, and of putting something so personal out there in the world. Sounds like an amazing workshop, and a great experience for all involved!

    • Just read that piece and loved it. Thank you so much, Katherine. She hired an acting coach for an entire week! I suppose she got an incredible advance for her book.

      Well, don’t we have fear of judgement when we publish our work? We put something very personal out there into the world whenever a blog post appears. But it’s just us in front of our computers, and we can’t see the crowd. Is that why it works?

      It WAS an amazing day. It was my record number of attendees too.

  5. I wish I could attend. One of these days, I will arrange my work around my life instead of the other way around.
    For me, I can not get rid of the feeling “am I being judged? is someone laughing at my piece, my presentation, my work?” and when someone else gets up and talks, I do not judge, just admire them for their braveness. Somehow when I am up there, it is more like “whole world against me” . I know it is stupid. It is easier to handle the critism when you are not exposing yourself that way (such as behind papers or on blog) and easier to ignore, I guess.
    I am trying to be better at it, my work offers Toastmasters and also attended Dale Carniege classes to be better at public speaking. Trying…

    • It’s funny how you can be so rational about it, Ilke, but still be nervous. And yet you can write and publish your work, even though it will be judged.

  6. This is advice is all spot on! I used to teach college writing and food was the topic. I would bring in chocolate chip cookies for an in-class writing exercise, and have students free write for 20 minutes or so about it. You can imagine the range of experiences, memories, adjectives, and verbs, and such that come to the fore when thinking about chocolate chip cookies. Dianne, can you take this on the road and please come to the northeast? Philly? NJ? NYC? :)

    • That sounds like an exercise I do as well. I discuss writing with the senses, read examples, and then students write.

      I was part of a workshop in NYC earlier this year, with Denise Vivaldo. I’d love to come to Philly. If you’re interested in getting a workshop together, let me know.

      • Yes please! I would love it if you came this way. I think others would, too. And as for fear of public speaking part, nothing solves that faster than doing it three times a week for 1 hour at a time with 18-year-old college students. I used to always worry I wouldn’t know something, but I quickly got over that and told them when I didn’t know something. Then we’d either look it up together (smart classrooms!) or I’d give extra credit to someone who could find the answer.

  7. I think it takes a special person to say they either actually really LIKE public speaking or they like reading their work aloud – or a high degree of confidence, that is either learned or practiced or comes with time, because I don’t think many people naturally are this way. I think naturally many are afraid to be judged and critiqued by their peers (in person, live, in front of others – not behind a computer screen!) so many just don’t want to be front and center with it all!

    • I have come to enjoy it. I have done it enough to not be nervous most of the time.

      Re judgement, it is a perceived outcome, not reality. I have hardly ever heard someone in the crowd say something negative. The few times I have it is more about the responder who is obsessed with grammar or some small, irrelevant thing.

  8. I’m so bummed I couldn’t attend since we’ve been out of town. Last year at a bloggers meeting someone had mentioned how they disliked their writing so I mentioned your book and how wonderful it was. Only one other person there had heard of it and then this year they invite you to come. I’m glad the organizers enjoyed your book as much as I did. So sorry I missed the event . I suppose I will have to schedule a private session with you when I’m ready to write a cookbook.

    As for that writing exercise I remember the first time I had to stand up in my 3rd grade class and read a poem by Carl Sandburg. Terrified, and to this day remember feeling the warm dribble of urine rolling down my left leg into my bobbie sock. I prayed no one could see, especially since I was wearing a dress. I made it through the poem, then asked to be excused. Fortunately I’ve overcome that fear to speak in front of groups as large as 1000 now.

    I look forward to meeting you someday Dianne. Hopefully at the IACP this year.

    • What a story, Vicki! I felt for you. But now look how well you have turned out as a speaker.

      Thank you so much for recommending my book to the organizers. I sold out of the 10 I brought right away.

      Re meeting, IACP is in my backyard next year, so I bet we will meet up.

  9. Wow! I’m sure it was an amazing experience. I read the sample paragraph of your first reader and it made me crave gummy bears & worms right now for breakfast!!! And I don’t even like gummies! You really bring out the best in your students, Dianne! When will teach a class here in the NYC/NJ area? Would love to come :-) Thanks for sharing this! So helpful!

  10. I just read that review of the power of introverts books linked above. I think we’re sort of coming from the same place. Maybe.

    When I was little, I was an actress. Just little local things, but I always got the starring roles and took that for granted. Then one night, in the middle of a performance, someone in the audience coughed or scraped their chair or something, and my six or seven year old brain said, “There are people out there in the dark watching me.” That was it. Acting career ended. I not only missed my cue, but I was mute, paralyzed. Someone had to come and lead me off the stage. I guess I’d never thought about the audience. I mean we rehearsed on that stage, and there was just us. When we did a performance, it was just us on the stage again, only this time the room was dark and the stage was lit. I knew my parents were out there, but not all those strangers!

    I’ve had a career where I’ve had to lead meetings, speak up in meetings even if my information was going to be unwelcome, or surprising, or whatever might cause a poor reception, and it doesn’t bother me. Really. Try to shut me up. I will take over your meeting. But we’re all sitting around a table. It’s the isolating myself up there with people watching me that all these decades later still freaks me out. I even did talking head on television for a short time, but only on tape. LOL! When they wanted to switch to live broadcasts, I was out of there.

    I don’t know if most people realize what the real definition of an intravert or extravert is. I had a teacher explain it as an extravert is energized by being around people and needs that energy, while an intravert is exhausted by it and has to be alone to recoup. Not really anything to do with shyness or nervousness around people.

    • I love this story about suddenly realizing there is an audience. Funny.

      I wonder if people are so black and white regarding intro and extro-verts. They sound like extremes, but most people are somewhere in the middle, perhaps? Both are true for me. I am better than ever at being alone, but I still crave people and feel energized when I’m around them.

  11. If someone, let’s say, hurt my feelings, it would be much easier for me to let them know in writing than in person. We can hide safely behind the page, or the blog. We don’t have to see or hear people’s reactions to our work…at least not right away.

    I took a food writing class taught by Marge Perry. She read our pieces out loud back to us; that was even weirder than reading them ourselves. I love Susan Cain’s book; it allowed me to embrace my introversion.

    • It’s way harder to hurt someone’s feelings in person than in writing. That’s why there are so many rude people in comments sometimes! And why most of us bite our tongues in public.

      Interesting technique by Marge. I am a big fan of hers. And now of Susan Cain.

  12. Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that writing is such a personal profession. And food writing is even more personal than most writing. So we feel as though we are being judged as people as well as writers in these circumstances. In addition, in a class, we are among peers rather than among our readers–new territory for many of us. In spite of all that, I’m never afraid of jumping in in circumstances like these since in my experience my peers are very forgiving. And I’m a ham; that helps.

    • “So we feel as though we are being judged as people as well as writers in these circumstances.”

      YES. This. For me, that’s been the hardest part of blogging – opening myself up to the possibility of criticism of not only my writing, but also who I am as an individual. It’s a very exposed feeling.

      • Tinky and Joy, yes it is personal. Of course, how personal you want to get with your writing is in your control. It seems that we are getting more and more comfortable with being more intimate over time — or at least, I am. I am writing to you in such a casual manner in this post. A few years ago, I wouldn’t be comfortable.

        In a class, people don’t know you, so they can only judge what you read. I find, though, that most of your fellow classmates are not interested in judgement. They just listen and move on. Sometimes they say something nice.

  13. Dianne I just listened to the link with Susan Cain. It was wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing this delightful speech.

  14. Hi Dianne,

    I’m sorry I missed your workshop and the chance to meet you, (this is as close as I think you’ve been to KY-unless you’re attending the Kentucky Womens Writer Conference in Sept?) We’ve been planning a trip of a lifetime in Sept. to Seattle and Alaska, so I’m cooped up in my house-just me and my words, until that trip.

    The first time I spoke in front of a group to read my writing was just few years ago. I’d performed on stage with a small theater troupe in the past, but this was an altogether different experience. With the theater, lines are rehearsed, the audience is in the dark, etc.

    The reading experience was similar to the one you offered-at a writing conference, after coffee, with a prompt. But it (the prompts) were old picture postcards, and we wrote our dreams. I remember my feelings as if it was this morning. My nerves tingled under my skin like an electric current. I remember thinking if I continued thinking about it (the reading) too much, I might start hyperventilating. Of course it was an option not to read, but I would have been the only one in a room of thirty plus not to read. That kind of pressure was far more severe. And I might add these writers were experienced and published.

    So I began reading and reminded myself of the stage, and the darkened audience. And I’m sure my voice was tentative, even unsure. I don’t remember those details clearly, but I made it through. It was terrible. I’d written an actual dream, not a metaphor of a dream. HA! The things we learn.

    What I learned since that day was to read my work out loud to myself, and then if I’m still feeling unsure, I read it again to my best editor, my hubby. Sure it’s not the same as being in front of a group, but it’s great practice.

    Just another few thoughts…I’m not sure it has anything to do with being an introvert. Alhough I agree, many writers fall into that catagory.

    For me, it had to do with not being sure of my work.

    And so I write, every day. And in doing so, I build confidence, one word at a time.

    Thank you for shedding light on a truly terrifying experience for many of us.

    • Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I loved the description of the writing prompt and your response, particularly “My nerves tingled under my skin like an electric current.” Great use of simile! That was one of the techniques I taught.

      No, I’m not appearing at the conference you mention. What about Food Blog South in January? That’s the closest I’m coming to you.

      It’s interesting that you say reading your work is not about being introverted, but confidence. Hmm. Why do we have the confidence to publish it then? It is a mystery.

      In the meantime, writing every day is about as good as it gets to calling yourself a real writer. And reading your work out loud is one of the best ways to edit yourself.

  15. When I was in high school, my Latin teacher required us to prepare a quarterly report on some facet of ancient Rome and deliver it to the class. That helped considerably.

    But as I got older, and entered the world of technology publishing (working for Dianne J, as it happened), I became less confident about speaking on a topic that was so new to me. Once our boss asked if I would represent the magazine on a panel, I balked. “What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?” I wailed. “Like what?” he asked (he was very Socratic). “I don’t know,” I replied. “There’s your answer,” he said.

    That was very liberating. Once you give yourself permission to say you don’t know something, it’s easier.

    (And if that fails, remember the Jerry Seinfeld bit that talks about people fearing public speaking more than death; “That means at a funeral,” he said, “the person giving the eulogy would rather be in the casket.”)

    • Hah! Yes, it takes a secure person to say “I don’t know” from the podium, Howard. We’re supposed to think of ourselves as experts.

      These days I think of the audience I’m speaking to (or writing to, in this case) are so much more experienced than I am on many subjects. That’s why I enjoy these discussions.

      Of course, I also have opinions, as you know.

      Yes, I’ve also heard that people fear public speaking more than death. Maybe that’s part of what makes students nervous about reading their work.

  16. I get that. I am an introvert that never enjoys speaking in front of a crowd. What’s funny is I am an ex exec and found myself doing it a lot. Some how we figure it out.. as you do/did and make it happen. :-)

    • It is funny, isn’t it! I bet delivering a speech or speaking on a panel is somehow less terrifying than reading one’s own work. AFter all, we both did it. And I continue to ask for more. I love it. Maybe that makes me an extrovert, but most of the time I am alone at my computer.

  17. It was so great to meet you this weekend, Diane, and such a pleasure to learn from you. Your guidance has definitely made me think about my writing and will undoubtedly push me out of my comfort zone! Thanks for being with us!

    • Wonderful, Cassie. Being out of your comfort zone is good for you — within reason. Thanks so much for attending my workshop.

  18. This really hits home. I’ll soon be confronting this same situation. My book is done and soon I’ll need to talk about it. The NY Times article was great. Practice helps but it is scary for us shy people.

    • You are going to be terrific, Linda. I’m pretty sure you have already done lots of public speaking from time at Sunset. Like falling off a log, I hope.

  19. I was there in Saint Louis, and for sure didn’t read my work. Not having a computer, I had very little to share after only 10 minutes. With all the cross outs and redo’s it would have been almost impossible to read the few illegible lines I did have.

    For me, writing, other than my morning pages, takes time. I love the process of getting something down on paper and then refining it, reading it silently, reading it aloud over a couple of days. But always a final reading or two aloud before hitting the publish button.

    Dianne, thank you for for sharing your expertise and enthusiasm and supporting our journey with such thoughtful posts.

    • Hi Janice! I know what you mean. I find it painful to write on paper now. After my inner critic is done with it, I can’t recognize it either.

      And yes, it does take time to write something good. I am always floored by the people who whip out an essay with a beginning, middle and end. No wonder they are the ones to read aloud. They should be very proud. I might have a piece of something after 10 or 15 minutes, but only if my brain is working.

      Thanks for such a lovely sentiment. It is my pleasure when I have such thoughtful readers and workshop attendees.

  20. It’s the fear of lame writing. I have a writing group that is supportive and caring and every time I read something of mine out loud to them, I get so nervous that my voice shakes. I’ve known these people for years! But every single time I read, it sounds lame to me or stilted….

    lovely site!

    • Hey Rocky.

      Your work still sounds lame or stilted after years of working with this group? Perhaps you need a talk with your inner critic, young lady.

      On the other hand, Bruce Springsteen would say that it’s the nature of being an artist. I read this long piece in the New Yorker about him, and he is still in therapy, still filled with self-loathing from time to time. And look what he has accomplished.

  21. I love writing from prompts! That is such a gift to give to students. The blank page can be terrifying. I am not shy about reading in front of a class…. however… if it is something I just wrote five minutes ago – yes, I would be introverted. I need to think, rethink, edit and put it away and work again before I am ready to expose it to the world.

    • Yeah, I can’t tell you how much editing I do on these posts, speaking of “showing it to the world.” I am trying to loosen up. This piece was more spontaneous.

      Prompts give people something to start with rather than panicking and drawing a blank, so that’s one reason why I like them. And no one is expecting Ruth Reichl-style lyricism in a 10-minute exercise, least of all me. I just like having people participate, as opposed to listening to myself go on and on all day. They always liven up the day. And there is ALWAYS lots of great writing. I am never disappointed.

  22. Reading my academic work aloud was fine, but reading my food memoir may be a very different story. I always protected myself in my academic work.. My memoir is out there. Controlling my feelings will be an issue I’ve never faced before in public. I mean to practice a lot before the memoir comes out.

    • Wow, Judith. What kinds of feelings do you need to control? I agree that it would be kind of strange to choke up. But I assume you can pick which part of the memoir you want to read. Is that what you mean by practice? Read it to your book group, relatives, etc.?

      • Well, some of the strongest parts are about loss and when I first read them in memoir class, my throat constricted. I’d like to avoid that in the future. I hadn’t thought about reading to my writing group, but that’s really a great idea. In fact, I’ll ask them which parts I should read since they’ve been through every word.
        Thanks, Dianne. I always come away from your blog with something really helpful.

  23. Public speaking is a scary, scary thing. I suspect publicly reading out loud my own hard-found words would leave me feeling very exposed, but I can see where it would also be somewhat empowering. I love the idea of writing from prompts – they’d be very helpful in getting over the “starting hump” that I so often experience.

    • Yes to all points. I bet you’d enjoy it, though. I hope to have that experience with you soon, Amanda.

  24. Dianne, I thoroughly enjoyed day – learned a lot, enjoyed your casual but thoughtful and pointed style. I will never use “delicious” or “tasty” ever ever again in describing food. Now doing writing and coaching people in such for my day job, I was a bit dismayed to hear you say commas don’t matter much.

    Denise

  25. Hugs Dianne =) remember me with the liver and onions story – so nervous to share a “negative” memory.
    I’m changing my self descriptive talk from, “I’m not a writer” to “I am a writer!”

    • I loved the liver and onions story! Thank you so much for separating yourself from the “it was delicious” crowd. V. good about the positive talk.

  26. Hi, Dianne! Great post, great workshop!!! I wish I could have been there!

    Thinking about your question, I remembered that during Creative Writing classes I frequented for four years, we should read our stories for our colleagues, and it was really hard, for everyone. Either for those who are introvert or for those communicative and extrovert, reading was dificult. I really think it has to do with fear of being criticised, compared, evaluated. This kind of activity class imposed that participants should say if they’b4d liked or not the text which has been read, and why; as ‘students’, we were writers of our pieces, and editors of our colleagues’b4ones. Not easy was to evaluate if others’b4text were good, what errors were present, etc: there was always the shadow of critical comments, fear of being left behind, of being ‘not good enough’ as writers. And there’b4s another fear, I think: that one of delivering our text to others, when reading in loud vooice: when sharing by reading aloud, we may feel more vulnerable about others’b4spontaneous reactions, mimics, expressions…If a reader is in touch with our story by himself, reading in silence, he may also be criticising us. So what’b4s the difference? Maybe the fact is that not only we are exposed to others’b4evaluations about our text, but also we are in front of this evaluation. Others will listen to our reading and we’b4ll know if he liked it or not, just through his expression and talking. It’b4s something we can’b4t prevent: he will rad, and we’b4ll know wheter he liked it or not. Too risky!

    Fear of others’b4opinions about us and about our textual production is something very complex. Taking text as a part of us is very common:’ if others don’b4t like my text, they don’b4t like me’, may be a common thought, and so reading aloud may be even more risky. It may represent my acceptance and adequacy to social contexts. When one reads aloud, he exposes himself to others’b4feedback, and the impact on selfvalue may be too hard.

    Well, those are my opinions and feelings, based on classes to which I have been for four years and based on my professional experience as a ‘shrink’. Just opinions, but I do think these possibilities exist.

    My best regards!
    Betina

    • What a splendid discussion of all the possible issues inherent in reading one’s work, Bettina. Thank you.

      In my classes, the students are not journalists or editors. They are just other people who love to write about food. So I don’t ask for negative comments. We are all hard enough on ourselves as it is.

      • Thank you, Dianne, for your reply! Yes, you’b4re right!

        I hope I will participate of one of your classes, maybe next year, it will be a very enjoyble activity to learn about Food Writing. Do you already have something planned for 2013? Maybe I can start to plann myself to apply for one of your classes or conferences. I don’b4t remember if I’b4ve told you already, but I own an independent publishing house and “School for Hobby” in Porto Alegre, Brasil. One of our focus is publishing ‘hobby as potential for health’, choosing publishing and teaching projects linked to hobbies, mainly cooking. As a cook, I love to practice, talk, teach and write about cooking; through your book, I’b4m indeed very interested on Food Writing! Thinking about our activities, I thought it would be really great to have you for a workshop in Brasil, in the future! Would you be interested about the idea? Read on your conference and classes made me eager to be a student of yours!

        Best wishes,
        Betina

        • Are you kidding me? I’d love to come to Brazil. I need to update my Events page, but as you will see, I am going to Ireland, Britain and Australia to speak in September and November. And Mexico next June. I get around!

          Contact me by email, dj@diannej.com and let’s discuss this further. And if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll know where I speak next.

  27. Dear Dianne! Great!!! Thaks for your reply. I will contact you next Saturday, by e-mail, to discuss this idea.
    Thank you for considering it.

    Best wishes, and congratulations for your work.
    Betina

  28. I love love LOVE… speaking in public. Something I’ve always enjoyed doing because you get instant feedback as to whether the subject you are talking about is flying, or collecting crickets. There are verbal as well as visual clues as to how you are being received. When things are good, my “id” and I are giving each other high fives! When they’re not it is time to dig deeper…

    I don’t consider writing art… unless you’re a poet. Just like professional cooks are not artists. Yes I believe there is a certain art like component to both as you are in fact “creating” something. This is the result I believe, of learning/using certain skill sets that you’ve refined to your own esthetic and used time and time again to achieve specific results. This is why I believe writing/cooking are “crafts” as these are things a crafts-person does.

    I find writing to be more of a cathartic experiencing and I do it for myself. I don’t have expectations as to what others may think of something I write as long as I’m happy with it. I doubt very much J.D. Salinger pained himself over his writing except the end result had to be pleasing to him. I met the man on several occasions and trust me when I tell you he was a curmudgeon and an S.O.B. besides not concerned with anybody’s thoughts on any matter whatsoever.

    P.J. O’Rourke is in my estimation a very good writer and he writes to his “style”, which is to say…not much style at all. Writing about things he finds interesting with little to no regard of his readership.

    The notion that a writer has to in fact “pander/adjust” to others who read their work is absurd in my estimation. Yes I guess some folks need to be told “Hey you use the word Yummo one more time and someones either gonna slap you, or give you a TV show” or other self-edit skills… but really….they should just be true to themselves.

    The other “art like” thing writing has are critics. Like art critics, writing critics are there for the simple fact that they were too big to be a parasite and live off other beings in a true parasite like manner. So they decided to take something so subjective and so personal as writing and make a living telling “sheep” if something is good or not.

    I sincerely wished I could have been at this conference as I think I could have maybe gotten an enlightened perspective on a few things I’m outwardly taking issue with (not so much in a negative way, more of a counter-intuitive to my way of thinking)…I’ve enjoyed some of what you’ve said in this post and then some of it has given me fits.

    I’m not sure if it was touched on but instead of teaching food writers/bloggers how to be different with their descriptions of food. Maybe teach them to be different period. I mean writing about a recipe that someone else wrote or writing about a recipe that they changed three items in is not exactly cutting edge. Writing about how the cheese suffle was at Chez Louise isn’t gonna be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon either.

    I’d love to work something out for a speaking/teaching engagement here on the New England seacoast sometime in the near future…enjoyed this post very much. Very thought provoking…Thank you!

    @Pav1ov

    • Hey Pavlov, thanks for this reply. People don’t usually mention JD Salinger and P.J. O’Rourke in my comments. Nice change.

      Several things to consider here, ex. you don’t consider writing and cooking art. I do, as they are creative exercises. Not everyone is going to be Picasso, of course, but it’s still a form of self-expression.

      I have always admired those writers who don’t care what anyone thinks and just write whatever they want. I wish I could be like that, but it just isn’t in me most of the time. I take some consolation in the fact that most people in this category aren’t very good writers, as a consequence.

      I’d love to know more about what in the post gave you fits.

      Re teaching along the New England coast, I’d love to come on a summer’s day.

  29. Writing is very personal, even if it’s about food. When you read it aloud to other people, you’re being vulnerable to criticism and critique. If people don’t like what you wrote, it’s hard to not think that they are then rejecting you too.

    Thank you so much for coming to St. Louis. I benefited immensely from your writing work shop. I hope you enjoyed your time here!

    • Laura, yes, that’s true, but think of how you reacted to the people who read their work. Most of the time, you probably enjoyed what they wrote and were entertained by them standing up and reading. And if you didn’t like it, you certainly didn’t say so. So perhaps this idea of criticism is in our heads.

      I had a lovely time in St. Louis, thanks. I had no idea what a pretty town it is and had an excellent meal at FarmHous.

  30. Hi Dianne
    Great post touching on a very important subject – speaking in public.

    The fear of speaking in public has nothing to do with being an introvert. Speaking in public is practically the number one fear that people have.

    I coach people, including writers, on how to speak in public and on video (important when making book trailers). I have also coached teachers, actresses and others who ‘speak in public’ as part of their job but standing up to speak in front of an audience who are listening intently to your every word is another skill altogether and it scares most people.

    Nerves are good when used to give you energy, enthusiasm and passion for your deivery, not when they debilitate you.

    To control nerves, imagine you are havng a conversation with a friend and not the whole audience. Preparation and practise are also important.

    And if you want to improve your public speaking skills in a fun, friendly environment, join Toastmasters International at http://www.toastmasters.org. There are thousands of clubs all over the world. I have been a member for 8 years.

    The ability to speak in public is a wonderful skill to have and is necessary in all many different situations and is worth pursuing.

    Sorry for the long post, Dianne, you can tell I’m passionate about this subject!

    • Yes, I can tell! But I love long comments, so no reason to apologize.

      These are good points. It certainly is a common fear to speak in public, regardless of whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. Conversing with a friend is a good strategy. Maybe I will suggest that next time I ask students to read out loud. They can’t prepare or practice because I have sprung it on them. And I have heard many people say that Toastmasters is an excellent way to become a proficient speaker.

  31. Just off the plane from Alaska earlier this afternoon, after 8 days off-line, my first thought was, ” I have a deadline for Dianne this Friday.” Nonetheless, there is absolutely nothing intimidating about you, Dianne, and we “own” our anxiety levels as to how sharply we criticize our own writing.

    • Welcome back, Liz!

      Very true. We are our own worst critics. There is nothing people say in response that can touch what we think in private about our work.

  32. Maybe we are writers because we are not speakers? I adore teaching and speaking, sharing my knowledge and experience, but am extremely nervous (read: terrified) of speaking in front of a large group. I get nervous reading my own work because I am afraid of the immediate reaction: what I think sounds wonderful written all of a sudden sounds (to me) not so good when reading it in front of others. I start to see tiny errors that I am afraid will be blaring to others. That is just plain fear and self-consciousness of baring my soul, especially as most of my writing is so personal. In our own workshops, most of our students/participants have a very hard time reading their work out loud the first session and we often have to push them. They really ease up when they get a great, supportive response from the other participants and when they realize that the others are just as nervous and also feel less than talented. It is the overall support that makes them comfortable. By the end of the first day or the second they have all relaxed and participate (read their own work) freely. I think we are all uncomfortable baring our soul to others when we aren’t sure of how they view us and how they will react.

    • That is true for me as well, Jamie. I like what I wrote until I read it, when I suddenly see it is full of flaws. But these are our own internal reactions, and not based on the reaction of the crowd. I didn’t hear a single negative comment that day in St. Louis. They were all going on silently, in our own heads.

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