Write What Readers Want, or Whatever You Like?

Apr 232013
 

Anthony Bourdain says he never tried to write for readers.

While paging through my copy of Kitchen Confidential recently, a quote from Anthony Bourdain struck me. Here it is, in an interview at the back of the book:

“I don’t get it. When I wrote Kitchen Confidential, my busines model was, ‘I Don’t Give a Shit,’ and I’m trying very hard to keep that as my operating business model. I never, ever think, what will they like, what do they expect, what should I do next.”

Now, I adore Bourdain’s writing. I could argue that he did give readers what they wanted: passionate, colorful stories written with fierceness and humor. Who wouldn’t like that?

But he was writing memoir, not “service writing.” That’s mostly what I do. It’s probably mostly what you do too. This type of writing tells readers how to do something, like how to cook, outfit a kitchen, choose produce, entertain, etc.

Ironically, Bourdain wrote cookbooks after this memoir. To be an effective recipe writer, don’t you have to know — as Bourdain put it — what people will like and what they expect?

To be good at service writing, you need to know your readers so you can customize your message. For as much as Bourdain pooh-poohs the notion of writing to readers, I believe he was writing to other cooks in Kitchen Confidential. He knew this audience intimately, because he was part of it. What he didn’t know is that others — people who love food, who love eating in restaurants — would enjoy his story just as much.

As a blogger, of course, you get to write whatever you like. The question is whether to:

Do you write a mix of all of the above, or do you feel strongly about going one way or the other? Did you start out writing whatever you like and now write more for your readers? Are you mostly writing for yourself and hoping your work resonates with others?

I stick with the top two approaches. I can’t write about something that doesn’t interest me, but on the other hand, I try not to pander to my readers. I’d love to know how you approach writing for your blog and why.

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  71 Responses to “Write What Readers Want, or Whatever You Like?”

  1. Like you, Dianne, I stick with the first two approaches – but lean more heavily towards the first. I write because it’s what I want to do and I write about what interests me – the fact that others seem to enjoy my words is icing on the cake. Of course, I tend to choose my words a little more carefully now so as not to offend others and work at how best to tackle anything controversial, but I can’t see any point in not being genuine. I think my readers value what I write because it is genuine and honest and I’m just being myself. At least I hope so.

    • Yes, that seems to be why most people start a blog. After a while you realize that people are actually reading it and that changes things a little. I like to think I’m being genuine and honest when choosing subjects that resonate for readers, as well as when it’s something that interests me. And in the best of both worlds, it’s both.

      • LOL, still waiting for readers – well, aside from the faithful few who show up every post!

        I don’t regret it, though. I like the structure of writing a blog, and I like the freedom of doing it for myself in my own way. I know I’m doing a good job because whenever I do manage to cut through the noise, my writing gets a positive response.

        • So you’re saying this isn’t an issue for you, eh Michele?

          Yes, blogs are all about doing it the way you want. But I find it helps to imagine my readers and to write to them, to know what they’re going through and to ask questions that interest them. Maybe my blog is different from yours.

          • I think any good writer has an audience in mind, though, right?

            I think what I meant is that I’m not writing to drive traffic, which is an entirely different thing than being thoughtful about your readers.

          • I’m not sure about that, Michele. Some people write just because they want to get something out.

  2. I have addressed this by creating a posting schedule that allows me to share recipes, reviews, personal essays, and how-to posts, with giveaways on Fridays. This mix works for me, because I can share my passion, respond to readers’ questions and interests, be myself, and also provide high-quality content that keeps me, and hopefully my readers, engaged. I love doing giveaways because it makes me happy to be a vehicle for other people to get cool stuff, which is why I do it.

    While it’s clear that dessert posts drive traffic, I know that I can’t do that 3 times a week because I have a vegan/gluten-free/sugar-free blog that is focused on healing through food. I do some healthy desserts. I use those posts to drive traffic to me via the food photo sites, hoping to catch a few new readers each time who will come back for healthy stuff.

    But at its heart, my blog is a place for me to teach others how to heal themselves through food and healthy lifestyle choices. So if I’m passionate about meditation, or taking a risk, I share that and people seem to respond.

    By the way, adored Kitchen Confidential. :)

    • That’s quite a schedule, Stephanie! I don’t see how you can get bored with that kind of mix, and it sounds like some is for you and some is for readers. Re David’s point about dessert, he doesn’t pander by only blogging about what readers respond to most (desserts). That’s different from his cookbooks, which are all about indulgent desserts.

      Passion can bring people along, even if they’re not so interested in the subject, that’s for sure.

  3. I am pushing myself to diversify and write about much more than just food. My blog is a place for personal stories, food and culture…really what interests me because after all I write best about what I am interested in. I usually write on other topics or less strictly story and more thoughtful or controversial posts and reviews for Huffington Post. But I actually think my readers (and my “mentors” have told me, too) are interested in me writing about more non-food related topics, more life and culture. Funny thing, though, my political post After Newton is the one that went viral and got the most reaction. So I am heading further afield.

    • Probably that post went viral because it was connected to a news event, Jamie. Your blog is not like that. But I do agree that the posts that resonate more for me are stories, not just a recipe.

      I suppose it’s true that people write best about what interests them most, but I have read some very indulgent writing because…let’s face it, what interests us most is ourselves!

  4. I didn’t start my blog because there were a bunch of people clamouring for me to write something specific. I started it because I wanted to write but wanted people to be able to read what I wrote. If I didn’t care about feedback, I would have started a private journal that no one could see. I write about memories and about food. I hope fervently people enjoy it but I can’t say it is specifically written for that purpose. After all, how can one – even if they wanted to – please everyone all the time?

    • Certainly there’s no point trying to please everyone. That’s not why I write a blog.

      Re journal vs. blog, that’s a good point. Journals are written only for the writer, so there’s no need to please anyone else.

  5. I try to give them what they want, within reason. There are days I want to make a yeast bread or a decadent cake that will take a long time with lots of complicated steps…but those posts don’t do as well as cookies, brownies, and bars. And smoothies :) The simpler stuff that people can use and relate to in their daily lives when they’re pressed for time or may not want to embark on a big project are the recipes that do well. So I give them what they want, while sprinkling in 1-2 yeast recipes per month, 1 decadent cake per month, etc. Mix it up :) I am supporting my family and need to think about what’s realistic and will be prudent and what won’t. Great topic as always!

    • Thanks Averie. So like David, you know what your readers want, and you give them some of it, but not all. That makes sense to me. I suppose I would do better if I was always controversial, but then that would be predictable, not to mention exhausting!

      Nice that you’re realistic about it in a way that works for you.

  6. Having now a well-established food blog (reviews, essays and some recipes), I am feeling more relaxed about posting on other topics.

    Eventually, I suspect, a blog always becomes the ongoing story of those who produce it – in my case, that’s me and my son.

    So recently I’ve had no hesitation about posting on moving house, a costly bingle (more like a nudge!) with my neighbour’s car or going to NZ for my mum’s 80th birthday. The response has been good.

    It’s surprising, and a little weird when you think about it, but our regular followers really do feel connected with us and enjoy knowing what we’re up to.

    And such stories provide continuity when we’re “between reviews” and a broader context for those reviews.

    I’ve been a writer and journalist for more than three decades, but I’ve never before known such connected-ness with my readers. And that includes when I’ve worded on mass circulation newspapers.

    It’s sooooo cool!

    • Me too! It’s fantastic, isn’t it? In the old days, we hardly ever heard from readers unless there was a complaining letter to the editor.

      Re these new topics, I took a look, and you’re still writing about food within the one I read, so it works for me. But yes, it’s weird to write about your personal life in this way, when we were trained to write about everything except ourselves.

  7. I write about what interests me- stories, places, food, family…. but I do think of the readers and my privacy. This is reflected by what I leave out- I am careful when discussing politics or current events, I rarely write about my work, I don’t feel the need to add the gossipy bits of my life although I’m sure that would interest some readers. As far as recipes go -I try to keep it varied and interesting but I usually post what I like. I once restricted my blog to only Middle Eastern food but that didn’t work with my personality- I’m interested in everything!

    • That sounds reasonable, Sarah. I too am careful to stick to the topic and not get off on tangents I would like to discuss. It’s tempting, and when you have no editor, you have to have discipline. Gossip can come back to bite you, so I appreciate your desire to keep it out of your blog. Re being interested in “everything,” that is a freeing way to have a blog, but it also can be overwhelming, and your blog can lose focus.

  8. This is where using the stats on my blog comes in. I also have a loose schedule for posting but last week my camera broke and I dashed off a short topical post about grocery budgeting. The response was big. I wouldn’t have known how big unless I checked the stats. Once I realised it was popular, then the feedback in the comments reinforced my decision to keep on blogging about the topic during the week.
    Yes cakes & desserts are always big draws but like most I can’t blog about them all the time because that’s not what my blog is about & I need to watch my calorie intake!

    • Oh yes, I suppose if you were blogging about desserts you would have to eat them too! That could be dangerous.

      Good point about checking stats. Also, sometimes you just don’t know which posts will be a hit. My top ranked post about whether food blogging is too much work is also something I dashed off, in my case, in a moment of frustration.

  9. I started my blog before anybody dreamt about blogs having an audience much beyond your immediate family and personal friends. I wrote partly as an open journal, partly to record recipes, and most of all, because I have always adored the act of writing. Not a lot has changed over 9 years. I still write primarily because I love it and there is somethign tremendously satisfying about starting with an empty screen and hitting the publish button on a written piece with beautiful photos a few hours later. But I would be lying if I said I don’t care who reads my blog. Of course I do – every blogger does, if they are honest! On that basis, I continue to publish at least one recipe per week because I know that this is what most of my readers want (more so than my restaurant reviews or my travel posts). But on the other hand, whereas those chasing traffic often cut to the chase and write very little other than the recipe itself so as to hold readers’ attention, I still choose to ignore all SEO advice and start each recipe with a story that is usually only very tangentially related to the recipe. I always link the two up in the end, but I take the scenic route to get there. Sometimes, readers complain that they don’t want to hear my waffling, they just want the recipe. I tell them politely that my blog might not be the place for them. :) The joy for me is in the storytelling, and if I restrict myself from doing that I restrict my own enjoyment – which I am not prepared to do.

    • Do food bloggers feel they must include recipes to lure in readers? I suspect that is the case with you, but doing so doesn’t really turn you on. My sense is that many bloggers would be afraid to take recipes out of the mix, even though blogging about recipes can be so time consuming, between the recipe development, photography and writing. One recipe a week sounds like a good compromise.

      There is so much more to write about that is also worthy. But it takes longer to build that kind of traffic, when most people are doing searches for something to cook or bake and then come across you serendipitously.

      You are sticking to your guns as a storyteller, Jeanne, and I appreciate that, particularly that you tell your readers who complain that the blog might not be right for them. More power to you.

  10. I love Bourdain! I guess I am doing a bit of all based on current events, what I like cooking and what people ask. My blog focuses on Turkish cuisine.So I tried to make the things I love in the cuisine, and also try to put the recipes for people who have gone to visit Turkey and probably came back with certain foods in mind. Sometimes people email and ask for recipes of some, so I also add those the the posts.
    I love writing about non-food stuff as well. I give also cultural aspects of Turkish life, so I do have some non-food related posts, such as henna night. And Middle East politics never ceases to give me opportunities to speak about something going on there. I choose my words carefully but try to get my point across in terms of what I feel in the face of current events or centuries long restlessness.
    One thing I do not do is to create posts specific to the recipes with regards to holidays such as July 4th, Memorial Day , Labor Day etc. I just have not found a way to combine with the blog’s theme. But I do post the specific foods for Turkish or Islam holidays as it is related to the blog.
    I don’t know if I am doing it wrong or right, but I go with my gut on what to cook each week. I can not do three desserts in a week, because we end up eating it :)

    • I like that you are writing about what interests you most — Turkish cuisine and culture — but you are also aware of readers who visit Turkey and want recipes. Posting on Turkish or Islamic holidays seems right too, instead of typical American ones. I suppose that since July 4 is all about grilling, you could post on kebabs. (Not that you need another reason to write about them — they seem so overexposed compared to all the other Turkish foods.) Not sure what you would do for other holidays, so I understand completely!

  11. I find that input from readers is extremely helpful and inspiring; obviously I end up writing what I want to in the end, but also realize that those two things are not always mutually exclusive. I can glean so much inspiration from my readers, and I love the dialogue that comes from that!

    • Exactly! Sometimes I’ll write a post based on issues that come up in the reader comments. Like you, I always find inspiration.

  12. Dianne
    I think I finding the balance between the first two choices would be something both the writer and their readers could live with. I do my best to stay away from any topic that’s controversial.

    Dennis

    • True, but controversial topics are wonderful for traffic and comments. I love to heat things up, but not all the time, of course. A steady diet would be exhausting.

  13. As I just started a few weeks ago, it is hard to know what is going to happen and how I will feel about it in the future. I basically write about what interests me, I don’t think I could write otherwise. My blog is so much more than about food, it is a lot about my travels and what I experienced during 19 years of expat life. There is more focus on Mexico since this is where I live at the moment. There are also and there will be in the future, posts about my past travels and life in the Middle East and my own country, Portugal. Food and travel are intertwined for me. However, I’m not just writing a food or travel guide, it is essential for me to transmit the spirit of the places I’ve been and my personal feelings about them. I don’t know how well I will fare with US readers but in general I’m hoping there will be people who will be interested and passionate about the same things.

    • Your blog content sounds intriguing, Maria. I hope your it sustains you, with all these wonderful travel topics. Transmitting the spirit of the place is essential to both travel and food writers, and I wish you success.

  14. Great conversations, here! It is certainly interesting to learn why others blog . My reasons have changed only a bit since I launched 1.5 years ago.
    My intention is to be a resource for those who eat like I do. If their religious beliefs are what drive these habits or not is irrelevant to me. So I now focus more on being a helpful resource for like-minded eaters (vegetarian, vegans, healthy eaters seeking more veg, or those who seek to honor the kosher rules the way I do). I have begun to steer clear of entries that don’t provide a take-away (ie: check out this resto, here’s a great product with a backstory worth knowing about, consider reading this book). If I imagine that my readers will learn something helpful from my posts, it helps me to narrow down content choices.

    • So, you are very reader focused, Liz. I imagine that providing valuable information and helpful resources is what motivates you. We are similar in that way. Focusing on posts with a takeaway message sounds practical, but you must have a lot of discipline to enforce it.

  15. Mine is a niche blog (seafood). I write more for the reader and the topic. Although now that I’m comfortable with my schedule (1-2 posts per week), I sprinkle a few silly stories in-still seafood related, but it breaks things up-for me and the few readers I have. :)

    • Silly stories are fun and can help you bond with readers. I like the idea of sprinkling them in along with the practical stuff and recipes, Maureen.

  16. I think different approaches work for different people. Personally I write for what my readers want. How do I know what they want? I ask them, I analyze what works well for me. Only about 20% of the time I write about a recipe that I am interested in. My site is a niche site, and when I go too far off of that path people complain. Ultimately my blog is for them and it is much less about self expression for me.

    Great topic!

    • Wow. You are very focused on giving readers what they want. Do you get enough self-expression out of it? Sometimes I think about writing another blog that is essay based, on whatever subjects I like. Do you ever have those thoughts? I bet you do, and then you get back to work.

  17. I think it’s safe to say that we like to write what we’re most passionate about. But I think it’s unrealistic to completely ignore what people want. After all, you can write about what you love all you want but if you’re trying to get people to pay attention to you’97i.e., come to your blog, give you writing assignments, etc.’97you have to offer what people want to read. Hopefully, you can find a middle ground between those two things.

    The good news is that no matter what you’re passionate about, there are other people out there who love the same things. So, chances are that unless you write about something completely off the radar, you can find an audience somewhere, somehow.

    • I’m interested in what you said about getting writing assignments, Roberta. So few magazines want personal essays, but that is the regular content of blogs. I suppose if you’re an amazing recipe writer, there is always work doing that for publications. But most people aren’t going to write magazine-style features in their blogs, even though doing so might result in assignments. It’s one of the main reasons to write a blog — to write about whatever you want, free of the shackles of what editors want! Okay, enough about that. I’m off on a tangent here.

      Let me come back to what you said. Middle ground is a good thing, I agree, and it works in this situation. And yes, people outside my field are always amazed that I could have a blog and business dedicated to writing about food. But there are passionate people here, and I have an audience that loves the subject, so it works. Lucky me!

  18. This raised some interesting questions for me. I really had to think about why I write about the recipes I do. When I really got down to it, it is to document the family favorites or created recipes to later publish for the family. They are always asking for a recipe and it would be cool if I cool if I just handed them a book with what they always ask for. It just happens that others seem to enjoy my offering as well. Just my thoughts. :-)

    • That is why many people start blogs, Susan. It’s a perfectly legitimate reason. I’ll be interested to see whether you stay with this theme or branch out into other topics as you continue.

  19. Hi Dianne!
    I believe he knows how to market himself and he knows what will sell. He says he doesn’t care? Is he so influential that he has no fear of certain consequences? He appears a bit like a drama queen at times (I hope he isn’t reading this ^.^) but don’t misunderstand me, he is daring in his writing and that’s what I enjoy. He discovers and he is honest and without his writing the food world would be certainly boring.

    I write a mix of all the three above, at least I try. I can’t just always write what others want to read, sometimes a story needs to be added. I like to read blogs too which can present a variety of topics and approaches. A food story needs to be either exciting, inspiring or educational.

    Frequently it happens that I want to build in some real but maybe provocative stories (food and non food related), stories that can not be posted online. I get the urge very often, due to the crazy things we experience here but then I leave it. After all I don’t want to stir up trouble. I leave that to Bourdain. :)

    • Maybe he knows how to market himself now, but when he wrote Kitchen Confidential, he wasn’t well known. He’d written a few novels, but that was it. You certainly can never accuse Bourdain of being boring! Maybe his last few books have been predictable in their content, based on traveling around the world and eating weird stuff, but the writing was still great.

      Hmm. I’m curious about what you want to write about that “cannot be posted online.” Seems like every topic can be posted online these days. But if you value your privacy, I can’t blame you for that. I made some mistakes early on where I did not value someone else’s privacy and took on a controversial subject. I won’t do that again.

  20. Like Jeanne I started a blog long before blogs became what they are today. I wanted to catalog recipes that our family and friends loved; that was it, so I have older recipes that are just that, a recipe, nothing more.

    As my blog has matured I’ve changed due to the engagement of readers and do write snippets with each recipe but I remain convicted to doing now what I did when I started…sharing the foods we love. My blog is more a journal of my cooking experiences so I never publish anything that is strictly done to garner readership. That being said…I have a nice readership base so it’s evident that what I do appeals to them. If I were to start doing sweets every day to attract more readers I believe I would also lose some of those I have so it seems to me there is a space for all types.

    I plan to start some new blogs and the cookie one will most definitely be more aligned with pleasing readers who are looking for a catalog of cookies. Different strokes for different folks and in my case even for different blogs!

    • Yes, that is a popular theme for many food bloggers. Still you keep to it and it has worked for you, Barbara.

      As for the new blog, so you do intend to write more about sweets! Well, who can resist cookies? I hope it works out well.

  21. Hello Dianne, thank you for another interesting topic.

    I write because I’m a writer and cook at heart, and I love sharing what I feel are cracker recipes. Before blogs existed, I wrote a weekly newspaper cookery column and, over a decade, had built up a lovely following, where folks would often write in, sharing recipes and food stories. The same thing happened with a weekly radio segment that I appeared in for a few years.

    As a (relatively new) blogger, it’s delicious being my own editor. The theme of my blog (and previously my column) is recipes for all seasons with a focus on fresh produce. More than just the presentation of a recipe, my posts are short essays about food and cooking, a little bit of history, trivia and useful information,interwoven with snippets about my parents and our migrant heritage. I’m keen to record some of my family’s history, so that when I die people will know that ‘my family and I wuz here’. I also mention a little about what’s going on in my life: sickness, joy, memories, love, loss, travel, change, fun. My blog isn’t written as a journal, nor is it self indulgent, I think. But I do keep it human and don’t really touch on overly controversial topics (that’s just not me). Oh, and I always ask my readers to share their thoughts and stories and recipes on the topic.

    So, in summary, I write for both myself and for my readers. It’s lovely to receive emails and comments from my readership in return. There’s genuine growing connection which comes about as people are drawn together through similar passions, life experiences and mindsets.

    • Oh this sounds lovely, Lizzy. If only you could get paid for it as you were for your newspaper column. Those were the days, eh? But then, you probably didn’t have quite the freedom you do now to write about your personal life.

      • True, true, Dianne. Those were the days. And at least with my blog, there is no editor who cuts short a beautiful piece (in the most inappropriate place!) in order to squeeze some advertising space. ; ) Love that you respond to your readers.

        • That’s true. But also, editors make writers’ work so beautiful that they can become finalists for writing awards, so it’s not all bad.

  22. Your post really made me think about why I am writing what I do, staying true to oneself while also thinking about how readers may respond. I had a dilemma a couple of weeks ago when I wanted to include a picture of a pig’s head sitting in a steel tray waiting to be chopped up. It was a scene I had witnessed in a butchery in Paris and I wanted to illustrate the text. I worried that readers may be put off by the picture or even upset by it. Eventually I included it. Later that week I noticed that David Lebovitz warned his readers about a butchery photograph which seems a reasonable way to solve the dilemma.

    My other blog is a foodie’s guide to lowering cholesterol which is very much based on my own journey on this road My readers seem to enjoy the recipes most as it enables them to put healthy eating into practice.They also enjoy my stories about how hard it can be to lower one’s cholesterol while living with and cooking for three hungry men. Which then leaves the informative/scientific stuff which is drier and which is necessary to write about but not that much fun to write or to read!

    • Yes, I saw that post by David and he was probably right to put a warning, although the photo was quite tame. Maybe you were worried that if you put that pig head on your blog you’d attract all kinds of animal rights people.

      Sounds like you have worked out a good combination of storytelling and recipes on your healthy heart blog, and the travel one is more for fun, with photos.

  23. I try to write to and for my target reader, thanks to you, and have noticed that when I write a post that isn’t “me”, somehow that gets conveyed to my readers and I receive a lukewarm response from folks.

    • Thanks Liz! I get lukewarm responses to posts sometimes too. I still think it’s my voice in the post, but maybe it could be stronger, or maybe the subject doesn’t resonate. There is no real way to know. If you are convinced it’s because you’re not “you,” I guess it’s possible. But there are other reasons too.

  24. I write my blog because i like to write and I like to write about food. I have a decent readership but honestly I don’t take it super seriously (though I am dedicated to it) and I don’t take ads so I do not care too much about the pageviews. I mostly write about what I want to write about (or, take photos of) and occasionally will write about something a reader has requested. I love having readers and I truly value them, but the main point of my blog for me has always been as a creative outlet and for fun. Maybe that doesn’t make me a ‘proper’ blogger but it works for me and really, the blogs I love the most are written by people who write well and who, yes, are ‘true to themselves’ without worrying about page views/etc. (wait – are there any of us that are really like this?! :))

  25. Hi Dianne,
    I really enjoyed this post and reading everyone’s responses. Thank you!

    I have a gluten free and allergy friendly food blog, but I also suffer from multiple autoimmune diseases, so my posts are a combination of allergy friendly recipes and my physical and emotional journey battling disease. But then there’s also snippets of motherhood, homeschool, our crazy lab named Thor, and Alaska… I guess I’m a little all over the place. :)
    Megan

    • As long as you keep the focus on food mostly, you’re probably okay. Plus, your readers probably can relate to your battles with disease, and your posts may strike an emotional chord with them. So it’s all good, potentially.

  26. This is very interesting Dianne! I have been lately thinking about the same thing. When I started my blog, it was mostly my personal memoir – places that I’m travelling to and the food experiences that I am having. And my readers seem to have joined me in my journey. But lately, I have been trying to think what my readers would love to read, shall I write posts which are designed for the some occasion etc. I think it has to be a mix of both really (but so far I’ve been writing my own way). I’ve also been studying the search words the readers use in my blog and have been noting down the most frequent ones – an indication perhaps of the readers’ expectation of my blog.

    • Okay, so now you have the readers’ expectation and you have to decide how much attention to pay to that. I suppose you have created the expectation of which content you will provide, so you shouldn’t be opposed to writing more. It’s just fascinating to find these things out.

  27. Hi Dianne,

    Thanks for your recent thoughtful post on this matter. Although I enjoy all your posts, this one provoked some more introspection about where my blog is headed. I’m not great at photography (would like to be one day), but I am good at writing and researching. In fact, having a blog has made me become even more scrupulous about crediting sources and citing accurate information–even more than when I was working on a PhD. It has also become important to me to reveal some personal political leanings since they are so entwined with the choices I make around food (i.e., government regulation of “bad” foods, regulations against raw dairy products, the commercial meat-packing industry, genetically-modified foods, commodification of cooking skill, etc.) and also to reveal personal food/lifestyle choices by telling the often-amusing stories of what my husband chooses to eat vs. what I refuse to bring into our house. Snobbery and hyperbole, perhaps, but important material for others who struggle with similar issues nonetheless. Do people read my posts? Yes, a small number, and they will comment. Since I live in a small town, it is not unusual for some of my readers to stop me in the grocery store and tell me that they just read my most recent post and that they laughed, got angry, got motivated, decided to change their diet….etc. That is gratifying, but I also realize I am not reaching a large readership.

    Do I want to reach more people? Isn’t that why people start blogs? Maybe it’s OK I’m not right now since my blog is still young and I am still figuring out the format! Anyway, all of this is to say that in addition to writing about what is important and relevant to me, I have also written posts at the requests of my readership to address their needs as well. Things like basic seasoning and cooking guides, which at one time, we all learned from our elders or from cookbooks!

    I will consider myself as having arrived when I get my first negative comment or get slammed publicly for one of my more “radical” posts about GMO foods (which, interestingly, happened privately on my blog recently). I think it’s important to get people to think, and to be the catalyst for action and change. Perhaps that’s what I can do best.

    Keep writing, and I’ll keep sharing your ideas with my food-blogging community!

    • How awesome to receive this long comment! Thank you. I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive to grow an audience while you’re figuring out what your blog is about. Many big bloggers have done this. But there’s also nothing wrong with using it to figure out what you want to write about, what connects with your readers, and what you’re good at. It sounds like you are getting there. BTW, I would like to call you by name but I don’t see it in this comment, nor on your blog. I suppose you wish to stay mysterious.

  28. Dianne, I’m skewed towards the first objective, but manage to temper it a tad with the second. In reading this piece and the responses, what aligned with me was yours and Jamie’s discussion. I like the story aspect of a post as I believe it’s important; enough so that the recipes I share typically serve the story. Additionally, if I’m not organically interested in the subject, it doesn’t get off the ground.

    • Indeed, I can’t get it together either if my heart’s not in it. I’m better at trusting my intuition as I’ve aged. Re the stories, you will get the readers who want that and make time to read them. The people searching for a good banana bread recipe may not stay.

  29. Hi Dianne. Gosh it’s sometimes tricky to balance the two. For me two years on, it’s firstly what my readers are looking for, and as long as I am interested and ideally also passionate about the subject, then I will write about it. As it happens, the two are often intertwined. Google Analytics can be addictive for analysing posts’ traffic! When I first started blogging it was the other way round, but soon realised that if I wanted readers to return I should put myself in their shoes first. A thought-provoking post Dianne thank you :)

    • You are one of the few who puts readers first, Samantha. How do you use Google Analytics to figure out what to write about?

  30. It’s funny. I wrote a post last week about a similar topic. I was at a local business function and some guy wanted to know what my metrics were and “who was the one woman I was writing for”. After reading this post maybe my reply was wrong. I told him I wrote for my friend, the one who’s reading my blog right now. He thought I was nuts. “You’ll never make money that way,” he said as he walked off.

    I began with a wikipedia type boring blog and when I put myself in it, my blog started to move.

    I’ll read this again. I don’t enjoy writing about things I’m not interested in. There’s never any sparkle in it.

    • Indeed. And I see nothing wrong with writing to your friend. And it’s almost impossible to make money directly from blogs anyway. So there!

  31. What a great discussion, Dianne!

    I feel I have more helpful/interesting/useful content to offer if I stick to what I know and what I love. For me, that is Middle Eastern food and culture, written from the perspective of a first-gen Arab-American living in Australia.

    It may sound ridiculously niche, but I’ve met a fantastic community of first-generation “kids” like me, fellow Middle Easterners, expats in general, and many others so wonderfully interested in Arabic food, by writing about what I know.

    I started off writing recipes of all kinds. Over time I realised, by re-reading comments, that many of my readers were particularly interested in Middle Eastern food. I thought about the direction I wanted to take, and felt that pursuing this one area meant I could share positive elements of my culture often not represented in the media, expose myself to different ethnic groups within the Arab world, and also cater to an interest expressed by readers.

    So, I suppose it’s a combined approach! I feel fortunate that my interests align with my readers. I feel if I wrote exclusively about cakes, I may have a larger readership long term (who wouldn’t!) but I’m happy with the direction I’ve chosen.

    • I love this story, Yasmeen, how you learned from readers that they wanted more about your heritage and family foods. There are lots of blogs about cake, but your life as an Arab-American living in Australia is something that can be written only by you.

  32. Dianne, first, thank you so much for this thought-provoking question! It made me think a lot. And also, I have been learning so much just by reading the responses of the other readers. It’s so insightful.

    On my side, I’m a professional who does a lot of scientific writing in my 9 to 5 job and I face this question on everyday basis: should I write for other scientists that are interested in the topic and who will cite my paper in their future papers, or I’d write about my philosophical position and reasoning regarding a scientific topic regardless whether other scientists find it controversal? This is a hard choice, as in my field the work of writing scientists is often measured by means of the number of citations by other authors that a publication generates. So, to me this question translates into ‘Do I want to get the recognition and the indisputable evidence for it, being the high number of citations of my work? Or shall I go ahead and choose a topic or express my personal opinion on something in a paper that very few other scientists will dare to cite despite the fact that they might have deeply agreed with my reasoning?” Sad to admit, the majority of fellows in my circle are leaning towards the first strategy. The motivation being, we all are in a business model that we comply to and we have to treat it as such, if our goal is to succeed in it. This being said, we do have a few very successful leaders who are at the top of the career ladder and who could afford to no longer care about citation numbers and attractiveness of their work to other authors. A closer look at those few individuals revealed however that the majority of their publication record that generates citations are papers used to achieve the first goal (writing about what the readers want). Once a critical number of citations is generated by means of this kind of papers, it looks like ‘safe’ to start being yourself and disclosing your philosophical reasoning about your favorite topics. However, my colleagues and I are relatively young folk who still have career steps to make and readers and other authors to please, so that we grow to the next level (due to the citations our work generates). And if we would like to be considered for promotion (based on citations among other performance indicators), then we should remain pragmatic and write about what readers want.

    Now, reading through the responses to this question, it seems to me that those food bloggers who have a strong commitment to a business model and make a living out of it (maybe even the blog is their only way to make a living) tend to stick to listening to their readers. That would be a no-brainer, if a blog is a business model to someone. In contrast, those bloggers who would write their blogs even if very few friends read them, are more seriously concerned about how to find a balance, or even about what ‘a balance’ in their case means. Which make me think that how you answer the question depends on whether the blog is key to your business model or not.

    I’m a cook at heart and world traveler and do plan setting up my own blog where I’d like to find a healthy balance between these two goals. Unfortunately, my 9 to 5 profession fails to give me the freedom to express my creativity in the way that I would call ‘the true myself’. I would not say I will stop listening to my readers completely, but would do my writing by using more of my own voice and story-telling style. But I would not consider blogging as my only way to make a living.

    • M, what a long response, and so thoughtful. Thank you.

      Perhaps you are right, that people who want to make a living from blogging are more concerned about their readers than in expressing themselves however they wish. The latter falls more into the category of blogging as creative expression. But maybe “make a living” isn’t the right term exactly, since that’s so difficult with blogging!

      Thanks for outlining how your scientific community operates, especially how you’ve found that colleagues who make it to the top are more interested in expressing their opinions. Probably they feel more confident about it, that they have “made it” so now it’s time because more people will listen. Some of that applies in blogging, but mostly it’s hobbyists like yourselves who love cooking, food shopping, traveling and eating, and who want to express that love to anyone who will listen. Most food bloggers fall into this category. I hope you start your blog soon so you can experience it for yourself.

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