Is Food Blogging Too Much Work?

by diannejacob on December 14, 2010

Last night I gave a 2-hour talk at 18 Reasons, a hip San Francisco space in the Mission District for D-I-Y types, on how to start a food blog. Some people did not seem to like the answers I gave to the question, “How do I get people to read my blog?”

They included:

  • Be an excellent storyteller
  • Be an excellent photographer
  • Create your own recipes that work; don’t  just copy other peoples’ recipes word for word
  • Find a group of like-minded bloggers and comment on their blogs, but say something more thoughtful than “Looks delicious
  • Post at least once a week and announce your posts on Twitter
  • Engage in blogging marathons to build interest and community.

I felt like a spoilsport. It all seems like so much work, someone responded. Why do you need to be a good photographer? Can’t you just change one or two things in a recipe and share it with people, for fun? What if I only want to blog for fun? Who cares if people want to reprint my recipes elsewhere?

Coming home to Oakland on BART, I pondered the question “How do I get people to read my blog?” and decided it’s a similar question to “How do I write a best-selling book?” There is no one good answer.

The blogs I showed them, by hard-working, talented locals Heidi Swanson, Elise Bauer, and Amy Sherman, appeared overwhelming. If I just want to do this for fun, I don’t need such a good blog, someone commented.  I don’t need to be that successful. I don’t need 100 comments.

That’s correct. You do not need to be that successful.

Should I have showed them mediocre blogs by hobbyists who post once a month for a few months, then disappear? There are lots of those.

Help me out here. Should hobbyists get a pass on quality because they want to have fun?

{ 88 comments }

Sam December 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I used to blog food. For fun. And it was hard work and it was fun and I enjoyed it anyway because I loved the creative aspect and the community. Somewhere along the way it changed to where most people I’d grown up blogging with either dropped out or switched gears and started to blog commercially. I started to be less comfortable with the community’s direction and gradually, over time, I decided to stop. I am glad I did it for a while anyway. I loved it. I hope to start another blog soon. It will be about things dear to my heart. It will not be a food blog. I hope, if I can find the time to make it as good as my vision for it is, that I will find the experience to be satisfying once again. It won’t be in an arena that lends itself well to commercialization and I hope I’ll be able to enjoy a bit of (less prolific) blogging again.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 8:25 am

Ben, I hope you’ll go back to food blogging and do it the way you want. Who cares what your friends are doing? Do it for your own satisfaction.

sam December 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Ben??? You must have had a long night, Dianne, it’s me, Sam, formerly of Becks & Posh. And I must beg to to differ with your reply slightly. I actually do care what my friends are doing. We started from nothing, together. If the focus of a community you are part of changes significantly, then it does affect the whole community. Even if you are pretty strong-minded, and certain about what you want to do, peer pressure is a powerful thing.
I did start and end my food blogging career entirely for my own satisfaction and that is why I stopped. I got a bit lost in the middle by trying to make my blog a useful resource for its readers. I will always fall prey to that line of thinking. All the friends I do care about rarely blog any more if at all. I am so grateful for the people this hobby gave me. And I will enjoy thinking about starting a very different new blog one day. Whether I do it or not will be any body’s guess.

Thank you for raising this subject.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Okay, I see your point. Peer pressure is definitely powerful. But ultimately you have to do what’s right for you, regardless of what your friends do. In your case you stopped, and now most of your friends have stopped too, so it all worked out.

Kristina December 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Once again, thanks for a thought provoking post Dianne. All of your points are valid but I can understand why some of the audience balked, especially if they’ve never had a blog before..

I’ve been giving this (the thought of “is it too hard?”) a lot of consideration myself lately. I have 2 blogs and a full time job and have been feeling a bit overwhelmed lately at keeping both blogs updated. Of course, when I started my food blog, it was just for “me.” Then it got a little more popular and now, I feel the pressure to maintain it as you outlined; post regularly, take great photos, use social media, and work hard on the writing and the recipes. But that takes something which is in short supply for those of us who work 40 hours a week at a job outside of blogging; time.

I don’t know if you did your class a disservice by showing those great blogs or not. They are certainly something to aspire to be, but perhaps we need a reality check. Do any of those bloggers hold down a full time job outside their blog or is their blog their job? For someone wanting to start a new blog, perhaps it would have been helpful to show what people can do even if they are not working on their blog 8 hours a day.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, especially when I put up a post I think is great and it gets very little response or my photo gets rejected by Foodgawker and yet I think it’s perfect. But then, I’ll get feedback or a comment that makes it all worth it. Right now I’m trying not to force myself to post just for the sake of posting, but rather, only do it if I feel motivated. If I lose the interest of some of my readers, so be it.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 8:37 am

Wow, Kristina. Two blogs and a full-time job. That is a lot!

I say, get used to the disappointments and the kudos, and try to stay in the middle and keep going. I used to date a VP of sales, who told me about that strategy. It’s about believing in your mission and deriving satisfaction from it, while trying to stretch yourself too.

Rosemary December 16, 2010 at 6:48 am

When I started my blog early this year, I did so because I love to write and I love to cook and wanted to parlay those two loves into writing for “real” publication. I was amazed to learn how many food blogs there are, of varying quality to be sure.

My writing is good (although I think I must labor too long on my posts) and my early photography was mediocre to poor. I’m spending more time reading and studying than posting these days, because I want to improve my blog. I very much want more readers, more comments. (Friends and family love it, and I love that they do, but I want strangers to think my stuff is good.) And I will continue to blog. I’m using the Christmas holiday to revamp. Your book, Dianne, is a big help.

I know I thought that this would be easier — and I believe that I will continue my blog because I enjoy it. But I want more and I’m willing to work at it to improve it. I just had no idea how competitive this world would be.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 8:40 am

You sound pretty ambitious, Rosemary. I hope you keep posting while you’re studying. Glad my book is helping you out.

Michelle @ Taste As You Go December 16, 2010 at 6:55 am

I’m so happy to have found this post because this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. When I started my food blog a little over two years ago, I intended to make blogging a hobby, a way to share my love for food and cooking with friends and family. Over time, I learned how to tweak my writing style, to improve my photographs, and to engage more with other bloggers because I felt overwhelmed by the “competition,” so to speak. Eventually, I learned to let go of the “competition.”

I constantly evolve my blog for personal gratification. Sure, I’d love to drive in more traffic and see more readers leave comments so I can get feedback, but those things aren’t fueling my motivation to better my product. I make changes to my blog because *I* want to see it succeed. Blogging isn’t the only thing I do. I work full-time. I volunteer within my community. I’m a runner. But I don’t let those other activities serve as excuses for not putting out the best content *I* can put out. If I constantly worry about what the other guy (or gal) is doing, I’m never going to enjoy it.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 8:42 am

Great attitude, Michelle. We can learn a lot from the competition, but constantly comparing is debilitating.

Claudia December 16, 2010 at 8:22 am

I have visited here again and again – the diversity of thought regarding food blogging – the why’s, the where’s and the reality of the work is one of the more informative conversations I have ever read/had/spoke. I suggest your print these thoughts and take them to your next class! I’m certainly sending this link around.

Is it too much work? It is sometimes – but as the saying goes, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 8:26 am

Yeah, and you might never make money at it either! But hey, we’re having fun.

Thanks Claudia, for passing this post around.

Claudia December 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Oh! The money thing. Yes, it’s a master. I write plays for youth for money (and love) and it is a thousand-fold harder than I thought it would be. As with all of you in the professional food writing biz, it’s always “fun” to to hear how easy your profession is- which goes with the assumption – how hard is it to write for kids? (How hard is it to write about food?).

I like Faith’s thoughts on “the audience.” Bingo – whether writing for kids or food-lovers – you need to identify and satisfy your audience. And then bring something to the feast.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 2:31 pm

You are right. Audience is key. And to write well about any subject, no matter whether plays or blogs, is hard.

Faith Adiele December 16, 2010 at 11:43 am

As one of the (very satisfied) participants from that night, I heard 2 conversations going on — one by those who were taken aback, as is every novice writer for a moment upon learning that yes, writing IS work; and one by those who wanted to get discovered, yesterday! Neither group expressed much interest in craft, but that could simply be a result of the title/focus (after all, I didn’t go because I wanted to learn how to write; I went because one, I wanted to meet you, and two, I wanted to learn more about this blogging thing that all the kids are talking about! ☺).

Your question reminds me of a delightful comment in a NYT Op-Ed by novelist Michael Cunningham that all food writers should steal and use as liberally as butter: “I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand — that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself.” Now, chances are, you and I might, but you get the gist…☺

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 11:50 am

Hey Faith, great to hear from you. You’ve written a pretty fair assessment of what went on.

It took me a while to get that quote, I’m sorry to say. Does it mean that he goes to a tremendous amount of effort every night, just for himself, and that is a bad thing? Sorry to be so dense.

One of the first things I said that night is that if people just want to write for themselves, they should write in a journal. Once they go public, they’re writing for others, and they have to think about what that means.

Cindy December 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I want to create a blog like those I love to follow. Good writing and incredible pictures are key.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Agree with you there, Cindy.

Jun Belen December 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm

You have made me depressed yet again, Dianne! Kidding aside, food blogging is indeed a lot of work. Should hobbyists get a pass on quality because they want to have fun? Sure, why not. If they write as a hobby then they shouldn’t be worried about blog traffic or the number of comments they get. If they write with a long-term goal in mind — for a cause, to be an expert, to establish a platform, to establish credibility — then they should be concerned about putting creative and outstanding content out there consistently. Either way, everyone should write because they enjoy doing it.

diannejacob December 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm

What a sensible comment, Jun. The problem is when people want it both ways: they want to do it as a hobby, but they want traffic and comments.

Sara December 19, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Of all the comments on this post, Jun’s (and your answer) is the one I agreed with the most. I agree with Jun: I think hobbyists should get a pass on quality! However, I think the biggest problem for most (like for me in this period) arises when you are in the limbo between the beginning of your blogging adventure (I just started as a hobby) and the mature phase (I found my voice, I do it with a serious purpose, etc). In between there is a period of time where you still think you do is as a hobby but at the same time you have started to care about your blog and your readers, to practice and research a lot on how to take better photos, to make your writing more meaningful. This limbo period is very hard and until you decide whether you want to do a hobbyist forever or not I feel there are high chances you can have moments of discouragement when you feel “it’s too much work to just call it hobby”. I think for me the hardest question is “how do I decide (or what makes me decide) that it’s not just a hobby?”

diannejacob December 20, 2010 at 9:33 am

Good question. I don’t know that there’s any clear answer, other than you saying that it’s a professional blog. One of the definitions of a hobby is “an activity pursued in spare time for pleasure or relaxation.”

sara December 20, 2010 at 8:49 pm

ha! thanks for the definition, really….I think it will be a good starting point for my holiday reflections about my blog

Jean | Delightful Repast February 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Jun, I agree with Diane’s response to your comment. It is very sensible! And I enjoy your blog – those steamed pork buns look like something I need to make right away!

Jamie December 17, 2010 at 12:12 am

I showed my cynical side with the comment I left above, but here is what comes to my mind when reading your post: when people ask me about blogging and traffic the first thing I tell them is to figure out their goal. Hobby vs “professional” blogging (making money and building a business around the blog), yes, but there is also a third category where the ultimate goal lies somewhere outside of the blog with the blog as both a showcase of one’s work or talent and as a space where one can have fun, do what one wants and express oneself more personally. This goal will really dictates how much energy and time you devote to your blog as well as the direction of your networking time and focus. The second thing I then suggest is to figure out your strengths and weaknesses: are you a better recipe developer, writer or photographer? In my opinion, rare is the person who is great at all three. Or even two. This should dictate or guide the focus of the blog.

Both of these things, goal and focus, put the question of traffic in perspective. Those who only devote themselves to their blog, (blogging events, giveaways and visiting other blogs) should have much higher traffic than those whose blog is a steppingstone to something that lies beyond that blog, which is a paradox and a trap since high traffic to the blog often makes or breaks a submission or a proposal. I also feel that those whose first skill is writing also tend to find themselves in a more difficult position since most blog hoppers tend to be drawn to fabulous food photography or come looking for a recipe, whether creative or simple and homey. One person asked me about my traffic stats. I replied that numbers depended on one’s goal: personally, it only took one person reading and falling in love with my blog to offer me a gig on Huffington Post Food. Or to have my blog featured on one famous cookbook author’s website. Or to be noticed by…. Well, you get the point. On the other hand, my blog traffic does jump when I spend a day or two visiting other blogs.

Blogging has become so competitive as well as much more complicated these days than it was a few years ago and how to get people to read a blog is now a multi-edged sword. But you are right and it is always what I say as well, one must really love what one does, be passionate about it and always be natural. Writing for me is exhilarating, my blog is a playground that fills me with joy, even helping other bloggers and participating in the blogging community is great fun and extremely satisfying, and as my husband tells me every day, keep blogging, keep writing as long as you are having fun but the day it is no longer fun, the day it begins to feel like a boring office job, then stop.

Marcia December 17, 2010 at 8:21 am

This comment really resonated with me.

I find blogging to be fun. My current blog is three years old, though I had one for 6 months before that. I love it when people visit my blog and comment, but it’s also a curse. Because then I feel like I’m disappointing people if I don’t post.

My blog STARTED as an online cookbook. A list of my successes and failures in the kitchen, and a record of how I finally got that perfect roast chicken (Ina Garten’s with a few adjustments) or the perfect pizza for my oven (pre-bake at 340F for 15 min, add toppings, bake at 400F for 10 min).

As a mom with a full time job, I like to share a bit of myself. I like to give tips on how to save money on groceries, how to cook simply and frugally. And some of my posts in these areas are quite good.

But I’m not a writer. Some blogs I read are FABULOUS and I love to read them. I’m an engineer, my last writing class was in high school in the late 80’s, and my goal with my writing is to make it “not painful” for people to read. I never intend for my blog to be a moneymaker. I’d rather build legos with my kid than blog every day. And if I don’t have anything useful to say on a given day or week, I try to keep quiet.

That said, I do try to improve my blog now and then. I see certain things that others do, like lists of their best posts, categorizing their favorite recipes, etc. And I think I will work on those to make my blog more user-friendly. But I’m not giving up my day job.

Marcia December 17, 2010 at 8:23 am

I’d also like to add that there are a lot of people out there with blogs similar to mine – frugal cooking, simple cooking, saving money on food. If I find one that is awesome (and that sells e-books for example), I will go out of my way to highly recommend them. And no, I don’t get part of the proceeds. I figure if you are visiting my blog to save money on food, I’ll pass you on to the experts.

diannejacob December 17, 2010 at 10:00 am

Yes, those are well-worn topics, it’s true.

Do you put them on your blogroll? That’s one way of telling people who you like to read.

diannejacob December 17, 2010 at 9:59 am

Very practical, Marcia. You seem like a pretty good writer to me. I wouldn’t put yourself down.

I love this line of yours: If I don’t have anything useful to say on a given day or week, I try to keep quiet. It makes me me laugh.

Claudia December 18, 2010 at 5:46 am

Well-said. You touch on the myriad of reasons one blogs and puts “expectations” into perspective. A blog is indeed a playground. And even on the playground, one wanted to “do well.” I like the sentiment at the end.

diannejacob December 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm

It is kind of a playground, isn’t it? Still, I expect people want to do their best.

Grant December 17, 2010 at 3:49 am

No one should get a pass for doing shoddy work just because they’re doing it for fun. Did you ask anyone why they were there if they’re only doing it for fun and don’t care about attracting readers? Blogs (any creative endeavor for that matter) are so much work, why not do it right and do it as well as you can? What I’ve found (after teaching at a community college for ten years) is that a lot of people take classes and attend lectures because they want validation more than any serious desire to learn. Sometimes you can reach and inspire them, but sometimes you can’t, especially those who accept mediocrity as their end product. There are so many factors that go into whether something is popular or not. The only thing you can control is the quality of your work. Why not aspire to be among the best rather than just slightly better than bad? “Good enough” usually isn’t.

diannejacob December 17, 2010 at 9:55 am

Because becoming really good at something is a serious investment. Sometimes people come to a class to see what’s involved, and then decide it’s too much work, or maybe they don’t feel as strongly about it as they thought. I’ve been there too. Nothing wrong with that. I have learned that only a few people in my classes will succeed, and that about fits the national average.

Elwyn December 21, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Validation seems to be the motivating factor for many people in many areas of life (how many women on your street are taking painting and sculpture classes?). The vacuous responses posted by readers to blogs demonstrates this often – comments like “way to go girl” add nothing to the dialogue and appear to be posted just to be heard. Interestingly, comments on this blog are usually considered and relevant to the subject, I think this tells us something about the quality of the content of your writing, Dianne.

Time is a limited commodity. I admire excellence and enthusiasm in life. If a blog’s content and, to a lesser extent, style is mediocre (what we Australians would call half-arsed), I do not waste my valuable time reading it.

diannejacob December 21, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Well, thank you very much Elywn. Wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s valuable time, including my own.

Karen December 17, 2010 at 7:47 am

Dianne –
I hope you do realize that just reading the comments above is an education in itself! I have spent more than an hour here visiting each of the commenters blogs. What a variety of perspectives! The best part of all is that I can take from this and improve my attempts in the game. I value all the things that you teach us here and in your book – and I look forward to taking your lessons and trying my best to put them into practice. It is FUN, it is hard work, it is an addiction! Do what you love, don’t sweat the little stuff, keep your sense of humor, and the bottom line …. try to be better tomorrow at what you do than you were yesterday. Today? Enjoy the moment and spread the cheer!

diannejacob December 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

Thank you Karen. Yes, people are complaining to me that they are spending too much time reading these comments. Okay, come back later then. They are SO worth the time.

Kim at Life as a Foodie December 17, 2010 at 10:15 am

Fun or serious, everyone should take enough pride in what they are posting to the public to put out a quality post. Sure there will be days where your posts are boring, trite, uninteresting, or just plain bad. That [usually] can’t be helped considering we all have our bad days.

But I personally feel if you’re writing a blog a regular basis (2-3 times a week minimum) then you should have the courtesy to write well. There is no excuse for setting the bar low and expecting a free pass even if you are simply a hobbyist. My food/life blog is more hobby than serious but I refuse to write poorly because of it. I take my work seriously even if I don’t foresee it becoming a serious endeavor (read: earn money or become very popular in the blogosphere) any time soon.

Just my two cents.

diannejacob December 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm

From your standpoint, even if it’s a hobby, you take pride in it, take it seriously, and post often. I like your two cents. I guess it depends on how many other hobbies you have and how serious you take those. Could interfere with sleeping.

Kim at Life as a Foodie December 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Eh. Sleep is overrated. I’m reading your book and getting ideas on improving my writing as well as making my blog better. Also looking at taking you up on some of the book suggestions you wrote about and some writers.

Who needs sleep when there’s learning to be done? Wait, one can’t learn properly when sleep deprived and consuming mass quantities of coffee is not ideal. Hmm. I suppose I’ll have to re-think this sleep thing.

Mariko December 17, 2010 at 11:32 am

Interestingly enough, I may have a way to do that. I would love to have you on the island. You’ll be hearing from me soon.

Nader Khouri December 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Dianne,
You definitely weren’t being a spoilsport. I wasn’t there, but maybe your presentation was too advanced for the crowd. Sounds like many in the audience wanted to learn blogging as a hobby. But, nevertheless, I think you helped them understand the difference between blogging for fun and serious blogging. Maybe they didn’t know the difference before. Maybe the name of your next talk can be, “The Difference Between a Professional Blog and a Hobby Blog”. Wow, now that I said that, I should do a talk along the same lines for hobbyists and professional photographers. 🙂

diannejacob December 17, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I’ve been thinking about that. I’m not sure there is a lot of difference. Since there’s almost zero chance of making a living income with a blog, then what differentiates a professional blogger from a rabidly enthusiastic — and talented — amateur. Perhaps the answer is: not much.

Barbara Hunter December 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Dianne,

Thanks for your comments and perspectives on this topic, as well as the comments from your readers.

I have been a professional writer (journalism, marketing) for 30 years. I find blogging to be infinitely more challenging than any job I’ve ever had.

But so much more fun and much more rewarding (although not financially–yet). One of my biggest challenges is that in my profession, I had to be detached from the subject–now, with blogging, I talk about my innermost feelings and experiences as they relate to food, and that’s exciting and liberating but not always comfortable. So, maybe I am writing a food memoir and each blog post is a chapter.

At present, I only have a phone camera so my photography is not up to par, and although I have been baking since age 14, I never really cooked much until the last couple of years. Therefore, the idea of “creating” recipes terrifies me, to be honest!

Eventually, I’d like to derive some income from blogging but I have a lot of steps to take before that happens. No. 1, get a camera. No. 2, start giving myself deadlines because I am used to them being imposed by someone else. And so on.

So, at this point I would have to say I am a “hobby” blogger with goals. I find blogging to be an amazing way to connect with others who have similar interests, but it is off putting to come across a blog with no posts for months. Yet, you never know what is going on in someone’s live. And in my own case, I have started several blogs, then evolved as to my areas of interest.

It’s the holidays–free passes for everyone!

diannejacob December 17, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Hah ha. I don’t know if I’ll take you up on that free pass. Probably not.

I too, am a professional writer and find recipe development scary. I have done it but I’d prefer to leave it to others who are much better at it. It is a different set of skills.

Re blog posts being a chapter of a memoir each: it’s going to be a very short book then!

Also, sorry to say, no income will result from getting a camera and giving yourself deadlines. “And so on” may be the key. It’s a long way off. Trust me on this one, for I have been there.

Ricki December 17, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I’m not sure why blogging should be seen as different from any other creative endeavor. . . if I want to sing, do I need pipes like Barbra Streisand for my singing to be permitted? (and believe me, except for the knock knees, I bear no resemblance to Barbra Streisand). I read some blogs that were begun simply so the person could have a record of recipes they’ve been making. As you said, Dianne, it’s a long shot for even a superior writer, photographer and recipe developer to really make a living at blogging, so on one level, we are all hobbyists doing this. Of course I realize that I’m technically writing for other people on my blog, but the core of what I write is for me. When I begin to think too much about stats, what readers want, how to increase ranking, etc, I stop enjoying it. Then it really is a job.

diannejacob December 18, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Yeah, it can seem overwhelming, can’t it? I agree, we are all basically hobbyists having fun and trying to figure out what it means.

Debby December 18, 2010 at 10:14 am

Dianne,

I was at the class and found it both helpful and intimidating. I left questioning how I will ever be as good as some of those bloggers that were at the class, much less Amy Sherman. Learning a new skill can be daunting and while I don’t expect to EVER hit a home run, land a triple axel, or be David Lebovitz, I’m not, as someone commented above, aiming for mediocrity. I’m not sure if I have a great, or even good food blog in me, but I know people love my turkey meatballs and they are thrilled at the English toffee I’m handing out as holiday treats this week. I want to blog to share that feeling with others and feel part of a like-minded community.

Some of the commenters here seem to have such disdain for us newbies it makes me wonder if they never cracked an egg and had shell in the bowl.

diannejacob December 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Ha! Good for you Debby. There’s something about the Internet that makes some people more judgmental. They all had to start somewhere, and it was that passion that you’re talking about that got them going.

Christine @ CookTheStory December 18, 2010 at 12:07 pm

First, thank you for this fantastic website and for your book “Will Write for Food” (an early Christmas present to myself). I’m a new blogger and I’m new to exposing my food-writing to the world (or rather, to the five or so people who read it) but I am not new to cooking, developing recipes or to writing. I agree that blogging can be very time-consuming but I know I love it because I don’t notice the time whipping by. What I’ve found most extraordinary is how many of my few cherished minutes I use editing and refining what I’ve written. All those little scribbles and Word Docs seemed pretty darned good to me until I started airing them out. I am an aspiring food-writer just starting out and so all the writing and editing is useful practice for me. But I also see how a hobbyist, no matter how infrequently they post or how unseriously they take it, can improve their own recipes, their writing and the relationship between the two. I wish I’d started posting years ago back when I had even less time than I do now. How much better off I, my cooking and my writing would be!

diannejacob December 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Oh no, Christine. Editing takes time. You are better off now, when you can let it sit and make it as tightly-written and clear as possible.

Christine @ CookTheStory December 18, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I hadn’t thought of that. Blogging now while I have more time to edit is definitely better than having posted items that were half-baked. And yet, figuring out when a post is ready for THE PUBLISH BUTTON has made me a better writer and a better recipe developer. Had I been “publishing” as an infrequent hobbyist years ago, it would have been just as hard to click that button and my writing and my recipes would have improved as a result.

Trish December 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Thanks for the post. I’m learning just by reading comments alone. Lately, I’ve been struggling quite a bit with time vs. quality regarding blogging. I think I would rather blog less often with higher quality posts than more often with less quality. But I understand there are trade-offs. Still trying to figure it all out…

diannejacob December 18, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I’ll be writing on that subject soon, Trish, as it has come up here several times. Stay tuned…

Karen December 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Dianne –
I have been thinking about this for a few days now, and the one thought that just keeps surfacing is that perhaps we are being a bit snooty here. Not all published works are at the level of a master like Shakespeare, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make money or get read. Not all blog readers are masters of the language, phrase, or craft of writing. Not all blog readers are looking for great literature. There are those readers who are just looking for a blog that hits home with them, that shares something in common, or that teaches them something even if it is at the kindergarten level rather than the doctoral dissertation. Some of us here are beginning to sound a little “superior” and I’m not sure that this is what they intended. To be included in the ranks of food blogger one only has to blog about some aspect of food. Since there seems to be no clear definition of “professional food blogger” I think we would all do well to be more kind and inclusive rather than off-putting and superior. And if we all did live up to the seemingly impossible levels of achievement that some bloggers believe we should reach, none would be any more special than the next. Maybe we should all just be happy that we are doing what we are doing. Some of us hope to improve and we will surely work hard to do that — for whatever reason drives our ambition. Not everyone can be “great.” Until someone actually defines what a great blog is and the blogging community accepts that definition, those who aspire to greatness will have to just take aim at their dreams and shoot for the moon.

diannejacob December 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

Very sensible, Karen. I have also been thinking of what defines a professional versus a hobbyist and the lines are not clear at all. Certainly we all had to start somewhere and there’s no reason to be ungracious.

Johnna Gale December 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

I finally started taking my blog seriously three months ago. It’s also a platform for a culinary based business. Should I take content and quality seriously, YES! Do I want people to find my website and hire me? Yes. Is it work? Yes. Was I hobbyist before last summer? Yes.
Has your blog and book helped me? Absolutely!
Thank you for taking your work seriously. It helps those of us who need some guidance. Something I learned in college, writing is work, and re-writing, and writing again. Write every day and you can get kind of good at it. I’m lucky to have an Editor that lives in the house, and edits my blog (sometimes).But the more I write, the more confidence I have.

diannejacob December 20, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Funny how that works, eh Johnna? You are on the right path, and you have goals, which I like!

Nancy Baggett December 20, 2010 at 8:38 pm

As you may know I generally post recipes that I’ve created and tested myself. Since I’ve always had to create recipes for my cookbooks, I was in the habit and didn’t see any reason to use a lot of other people’s recipes when I blogged. Still, I do occasionally spotlight recipes of other authors that I think are really tasty and successful. But I’m surprised that you suggest that posting your own recipes is a key to generating a lot of traffic for a blog. It seems to me that many successful bloggers who have lots of traffic feature other people’s recipes. In addition, it doesn’t seem to me that readers really notice or care who created the recipe as long as it works. So, I’m wondering why you mention this as an important aspect.

diannejacob December 21, 2010 at 9:54 am

There’s nothing wrong with featuring other people’s recipes occasionally. But adapting a recipe troubles me when it’s the main thing that a blogger does, week after week.

It’s true that readers probably don’t care. For me, it is an issue of professionalism.

Sharon December 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm

As someone who has become addicted to blogging for the creative outlet it has given me, I agree completely with the comment that describes the whole thing as a journey. I began because I was inspired by reading and admiring the work of others, with no aspirations other than to see if I could do it. Having seen the quality of what’s out there, and the number of people jumping in every day, I have no illusions that my effort would be anything other than a personal project, perhaps to be enjoyed by my close friends and family. Did that mean I didn’t take it seriously? No, not at all. Just the opposite…I found myself enjoying the craft of writing a good post enormously, and it was easy because I felt I was having an intimate (albeit one-sided) conversation with people who knew me well. Why would I impose anything other than a high quality blog on them? Or on myself, for that matter? After all, this thing was living in the world, and even if only one person other than me ever read it, I wanted what they read to be worth their time and mine. Now, well over a year later, I am still talking to my friends in my head, and it’s a pleasant surprise to hear from a stranger once in a while and realize that this has grown beyond where I started. Is it gratifying? Heck yeah! Do I check my stats and wonder sometimes about who these people are, and if I can reach more of them? Yep. And I do try to support other bloggers I enjoy by letting them know that this stranger enjoys what they do. But regardless of whether the audience grows, I’ll still be sitting here crafting each post with the idea of sharing something of myself with those that I care about. And what better hobby can one have than that?

diannejacob December 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm

That sounds pretty good, Sharon. I admire that you are trying to be as professional as possible, even though it’s a hobby.

Sharon December 23, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Exactly! Thanks, Dianne, for the comment and your blog. Super helpful.

diannejacob December 24, 2010 at 9:40 am

You are most welcome, Sharon. Thanks for commenting.

Liz December 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Your post raises a dilemma only because it’s tying together two different issues. If you’re blogging just for fun, then sure, post whatever you want, however you want.

If you actually want people to read your blog, that’s something else. Your family/close friends — the people with whom you would be sharing your recipes in any case — will always be your readers, but you need to offer more in order to draw people who have no personal commitment to you.

diannejacob December 27, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Yes, I agree. Or at least keep the blog private if it’s just for your own amusement.

Veronica Gantley December 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I think that it is a labor of love, blogging. I have a stats application on my site, and I still have not figured out what works. Taste is subjective. I have entered many recipe contests thinking, this one will win! Many times the one I submitted at a whim wins. It is hard to say what people like. I keep throwing things out there to see what works. I borrow recipes only if I think they are good. I always give credit, if not, it is like plagarism. Except for the recipes that are so old you dont know where they came from. Those are fair game, and one of the most visited pages for me. “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I love that quote and it sums it up for me. Its like a baby, you learn to crawl first, then walk, then run. No one knows everything going in. Some pick up on it quicker than others. Give them a chance, not everyone starts out as great writers, they become one. Its nice to see them evolve. Some of us don’t have a $3,000.00 camera or a photography degree. We make do and are better for it.

Shefaly December 29, 2010 at 10:19 pm

First of all, I’d come any day to one of your talks if I lived where you live. I agree with many of the commentors above (though I’m always late on these discussions!). As a new blogger, I completely agree–it’s a lot of work! If I had read your post before blogging, I still would have started blogging. Now that I’m reading it after a few months of blogging (and not blogging often enough, I know), you’ve summed it up! I had no idea that I would really have to know how to take a pic and now am passionate about food photography! Just one more thing on my hobby list. And still I don’t have a voice or audience in mind, so the blog is far from where I want it to be.

As a mom of 2 little kids who barely go to preschool, it’s hard finding time for perfecting blogging and perfecting cooking classes. Sometimes, I just don’t know where this hobby or dare I say “career” is going. And I most likely feel like this because I’m in that limbo phase that one other person referred to!

Thanks again, for your website and book always bring me back to my passion, regardless of the other responsibilities in my life.

diannejacob December 30, 2010 at 8:25 am

Shefaly, you’re doing a great job for where you are in your budding career. You’re trying to improve. So am I.

Please don’t worry about perfection. None of us is ever going to get there.

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines December 31, 2010 at 8:34 am

So glad to have found your post! I started my blog as a hobby, but after putting in so much time, you begin to wonder. I’ve starting blogging less, so I can take some time to figure out where I want to go with it. I had a steep learning curve with the photos especially, and they aren’t even where I’d like them to be. So looking forward to reading more on the subject. Happy New Years!
-Gina-

diannejacob December 31, 2010 at 11:15 am

Oh yes, I feel like I’m still in the steep learning curve part, so I know what you mean. Good that you are slowing down a little and taking time to figure out what’s next.

Angie C January 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Wow, I’ve been reading all these comments and it just reafirms my perception that food blogging is so competitive. I started my food blog in August 2010 because on my previous blog(which I started in March 2010) I started featuring more and more recipes and food related topics. I did it because I love food and cooking. And I realized that I found my niche: food. Even though it is a hobby (I have a completely different career in the military), I wanted to share with my readers the joys I find in cooking. My blog is about three generations of Puerto Rican women and how the family recipes have evolved or how I bring something new to our notebook of recipes. But the truth is that I started the blog as much for fun as for sharing, therefore I want to make sure that other readers find it appealing. One of the biggest misconceptions that people have is that when you look at the blogs you love, you see all this amazing photography, and it can be intimidating and some think you need like a high speed super camera. Ot the writing seems to be like out of Gourmet magazine article. So it can seem daunting, and yes intimidating. I think once you start finding your route, you can decide how hard you want to work on your blog, what look you want, etc. But at some point the blogger has to decide what is more important traffic or the look of a blog, because let’s be honest, we all navigate towards the great looking blogs.

diannejacob January 1, 2011 at 6:18 pm

It certainly can be overwhelming. I always feel like I could be doing so much more, too. I don’t know if you go through that.

The photography on your blog looks terrific, Angie. It’s not just about a blog that looks appealing, though. You need content that grabs people, and a theme people can relate to.

Meal Plan Mom (Brenda) January 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Dianne, I just found your blog today and have spent far too much time here reading. Great stuff and this post is so true too! I’ve been blogging almost three years and started it as an extension of the workshops I was doing at the time. Now find myself at the point where I need to decide where I want my blog to really take me…whether that is more of the same or into other mediums. Whew! It’s never simple. Thanks for all the great info.!

diannejacob January 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Welcome Brenda. I hope you’ll come back. I’m sure there will be more to say on this subject.

sarah, simply cooked January 31, 2011 at 7:58 am

Dianne, I wanted to let you know that our Kitchen Reader group read your book this month and posted reviews. I found your advice instantly useful and encouraging. Thanks.

diannejacob January 31, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Thanks Sarah, for writing such a thorough review. I appreciate it.

Charmaine March 30, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I am interviewing for a job that includes as one of it’s many functions designing and maintaining a dynamic on line presence: facebook, blog, twitter, etc. Let’s say it is a K-12 school site with weekly events and a major garden project. It is a 20 hour a week job.
Honestly now, how many hours does it take to maintain an engaged – especially for a school age audience- on line presence?

diannejacob March 30, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Hey, if you can do it in 20 hours a week, more power to you.

Toni (Boulder Locavore) April 5, 2011 at 7:49 am

Am I going ‘old school,’ Dianne, to question whatever happened to ‘do your very best’ and ‘what you put into something affects the outcome/opportunity in the end’? Granted on the latter there are more subjective elements that come into play (writing capability, subject interest to a reading audience, etc) but if you go into something wanting to assert a mediocre effort, you would expect a mediocre reception from a reading audience. There are too many food bloggers doing great, inspired work to presume you can succeed without concerted effort in my opinion. Sadly I think this is a function of our work culture today. I feel it is obvious when reading/looking at someone’s blog when effort is being made, and the person has a passion, drive and/or ‘heart’ for what they are doing and that is compelling to a reader. It is to me as a reader at least.

On the photography, food is a very sensual medium and a reader does ‘eat with their eyes first’. A great photograph can even draw someone into a recipe the reader might not be inclined to review. Not everyone has an interest in photography or an aptitude for it but trying to best capture your food I think goes a long way to attract interest.

Food blogging IS alot of work and time. When I started my blog I naively thought ‘if I write it, they will come’ and quickly realized in addition to blogging I needed to find ways for people to find me! As with any job or chosen past time, one needs to weigh their goals for their blog and the time they spend on it with whether it is worth it to them. It’s a very personal choice but I firmly believe you can rarely achieve a higher gain than the effort you are willing to put into it.

diannejacob April 5, 2011 at 10:15 am

Well said, Toni. Maybe I think that because I’m old school. I guess if people don’t want to “do their very best,” they don’t have to.

Anna Kreimer March 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Hello, Diane,

Thank you! I got your book and have started a blog! It is fun! I cook for my kids anyway, now I document it and share from my experience. I have a hard time with taking ownership over recipes. Everyone cooks chicken soup. Everyone makes mac and cheese…

I am glad I don’t wait till I have perfect text or perfect pictures. Otherwise there will be no posts at all.

Thank you, Dianne!

diannejacob March 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

How wonderful that you started a blog, Anna. I hope my book was helpful. And it’s great that you didn’t wait until your photos and text were perfect. We all know what happens if we wait for that…nothing!

Ashish Negi May 14, 2012 at 5:23 am

Food blogging could be a tedious task, but you need to enjoy doing it. Most bloggers dream big and many get there. However, I must say that every like that one gets on a post is like a huge victory. One should blog for fun. If one is too concerned about the stats right from the beginning, it’ll be too much pain. I started blogging a couple of weeks back and decided to post 1-2 recipes every week. Have posted 5 recipes till now, not a very impressive number I know :D. But what I want my blog to be, is a repository of recipes from Asia that people will enjoy cooking. So another tool that works best for me is “ReBlog”. I reblog some good asian recipes that I come across and share them with the world. I have maintained my own recipe index in a separate page. Thanks to this wonderful website by Dianne that keeps inspiring authors to build a platform before they jump on the boat 🙂

diannejacob May 14, 2012 at 7:53 am

Ashish, congratulations on your new blog. You are right that you should not focus on the numbers at this point. Just enjoy the process. Be careful about reposting other peoples’ recipes, however. See my posts on that subject. Best of luck.

La Torontoise September 19, 2012 at 4:28 am

Dianne, I’m a loyal reader of your blog and your book (recommending it to other food-minded friends who are interested in reading, writing and blogging about food). Professionally, my job is to teach master students on innovative online business models and social media technologies. In my classes, I often show existing online businesses as examples. Of course, not all of my students will become business owners, however my mandate as a teacher is to inform them on trends, standards of excelence, and ‘best practices’ as ideas that are proven to work. I would never show mediocre examples. People learn from excellent work of others, and being a hobbyist does not imply a commitment to mediocrity. For these reasons, I would not suggest you use mediocre blogs in your class, unless you would like to let your listeners feel the difference and compare and contrast different blogs for themselves.

I think, for hobbyists the process is more important than the final effect itself (it’s through the process that we experience our hobby as fun; we engage in doing something and it puts us in a the state of ‘flow’, and that’s when we forget about anything else and focus deeply on what is happening in the moment ). So, your hobbyists are likely to prefer doing things at their own pace and would not commit to one-post-weekly kind of a schedule, simply because this interferes with the way they experience blogging as fun.

Hairil Sukaime October 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I’m pretty sure most of us (myself included) suffer from a mental block at one point or another. While most may be discouraged, others take their time and focus to publish a proper blog entry, no matter how long it takes. Personally, I have numerous drafts on my blog’s dashboard that are waiting to be published with most of them comprising of short sentences or one-liners in bullet form.

Though we can never surely know what goes on in someone else’s lives, some hobbyists should be given a chance and/or extra time as their namesake already suggests that they only blog for the fun of it or during their free time. But if a certain blog or page stays stagnant for far too long, then it would probably be best to stop checking back.

I certainly hope that I can keep going strong with mine. Focus, focus, focus.

diannejacob October 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

Hobbyists have to start somewhere, I agree. Some have built a hobby blog into a big career, and others are content to have it be a fun part of their lives. There is no right answer. I think it’s whatever you want to do.

However, as you say, if someone hardly ever posts or has terrible photos and bad writing, they shouldn’t be surprised to have low readership. That’s just how it goes and it would be unrealistic to think otherwise.

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