A guest post by Sarah Burchard
Barbecue sauce turned me into a writer. After 12 years of working in restaurant kitchens, I entered the world of entrepreneurship, launching a line of barbecue sauces and spice blends with a partner. At the same time, I started writing about food on the side with my blog about barbecue, taking notes wherever I went.
After seven fruitful years, I closed up shop and headed to Hawaii to pursue new dreams. While building a new career here and working on it full-time, I’m still writing about food on the side. I’ve learned how to stay productive, even when doing so seems a little overwhelming.
Here’s what I’ve learned about staying productive while writing about food on the side:
1. Create a routine you can stick to.
For an Instagram project called The Year of Ingredients, I introduced a new Hawaiian ingredient every day for a year, and explained how to cook with it. The project established a daily writing routine. I sourced and photographed ingredients throughout the week.
Here’s how I made it stick: I made a public promise that every day there would be something new to learn. To not let anyone (or myself) down, I had to deliver no matter what.
2. Write down all your ideas for stories or posts.
My calendar looks horrifying. Having more than one job means there is twice as much to remember. So I keep a running list of all the stories I want to write, restaurants I want to check out and farm tours I want to take. Each week I schedule them to make sure they actually happen.
On Post-it notes, I scribble down article ideas and reminders of foods I want to research and test. These get slapped onto the board hanging right above my desk and eventually make their way into my calendar. It’s insurance against forgetfulness.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, often talks about how ideas work. Her thought is that if you say no to an idea when it comes, or don’t act on it quickly enough, you run the risk of it giving up on you and moving on to someone else.
3. Pick just one project at a time.
Multi-tasking may be a crucial skill in the kitchen, but with food writing on the side, it is better to do one thing at a time.
To keep from over-scheduling, focus on one project or article and don’t start a new one until you finish. The more writing projects you have going at once, the longer each one will take.
4. Embrace the new.
To keep creating good content, you have to keep yourself inspired. Plan field trips for research, subscribe to food magazines and go out to eat. The more you immerse yourself in the food scene, the more you will find to write about.
Whenever I feel myself drifting, I turn on an episode of Parts Unknown or Chef’s Table. I can barely get through an episode before I break out my laptop to research recipes and dishes that are new to me. Once I start down that path, a recipe or article follows.
Push yourself to find new ingredients you have not worked with before. I keep a notepad and pen handy and take photos when I am cooking.
5. Slow down to harness your thoughts.
A daily meditation practice is the secret to my productivity. Meditation creates the space I need to become fully present. When I’m stuck on an article, I stop and meditate. When I need to make an important decision, I close my eyes and sit still. Slowing down helps me witness my thoughts without clinging to them.
At first, writing about food on the side when you have a full-time job can feel overwhelming. But high productivity hinges on your ability to create an effective system and stick to it. When strategies like these five above come into alignment, you will do both jobs well.
Whenever I get frustrated and feel like there’s too much on my plate, I remember why I started food writing on the side in the first place. The creativity, passion for local ingredients, and love of the process inspired me to add more responsibilities. After more than a dozen years, I find it’s still worth the extra effort.
* * *
Sarah Burchard is a former San Francisco chef turned freelance writer, marketer and event planner. She writes about local food and wellness at The Healthy Locavore and Yoga Unplugged. Sarah hosts regular farmers market tours and farm-to-table events in Honolulu, where she now lives. Find her on social media @healthylocavore or at firstname.lastname@example.org.