Recipe for writing success

Every genre requires its own style of writing. A big part of food writing is sharing recipes, which have to be written in a specific style.

Recipes can be broken into two parts: the ingredients list and the preparation method.

Ingredients must be listed in the order they’re used in the recipe, and should be specific. For example, don’t just say “sugar.” Specify if it should be granulated, brown, or confectioner’s sugar.

When it comes to the preparation method, be sure to include cooking times for every step. It’s not necessary to write in complete sentences; instead, be concise. Finish with storing instructions.


Clichés not your cup of tea?

Food writing has been around for several decades. One can only use the same descriptions a certain number of times. After that, readers have seen it all, and it’s not guaranteed that they’ll come back to read more.

A huge challenge in food writing is describing the food without being cliché or pretentious. The blog “Eat Your Words” has a list of clichés to stay away from:

  • It melted in my mouth
  • Bursting with flavor
  • Cooked to perfection
  • Goodness (as in, creamy goodness, salty goodness)

The same post also has a list of things that writers should do. They stress the importance of editing, writing in the same tense, and breaking text into short paragraphs.

Clichés should generally stay out of all writing, but I think food writing is especially prone to them. Regardless, there is no style of writing that doesn’t benefit from proofreading.


Standardizing food writing

One of the greatest things about style is that every writer has his or her unique sound. However, in publishing, there has to be some kind of authority that ensures a certain level of uniformity. For food writing, there wasn’t much beyond the standards of each specific publication, until 2011, when the AP Stylebook introduced a Food Guidelines section.

This Food Guidelines section includes everything from new food terms to how to write and format a recipe.

It sounds great initially, but just looking over a brief section, I see some potential problems. The AP Stylebook Food Guidelines section defines adobo sauce as “A spicy red sauce made from chilies, herbs and vinegar that is common to Mexican cooking.” But what about outside of Mexican cooking? In Filipino cuisine, adobo is made with soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and garlic.

I think that food writing may vary too much by region to allow for a unified, standard guide. But at the same time, a guide book that sets out rules for writing recipes may be extremely beneficial for food writers from all disciplines. What do you think?


Students (do, do not, may) benefit from reading this

One element of style that is often manipulated but rarely talked about is modality. According to NAPLAN 2012, “Modal verbs give the reader information about the degree of obligation or certainty involved in the action.” Utilizing modality is a way of expressing ideas with certain amounts of confidence.

Changing the modal verb can change the meaning of a sentence completely. For example:

She can stay late after school.

She should stay late after school.

She has to stay later after school.

As the modal verbs get stronger, the urgency with which the subject stays after school becomes stronger.

Modality is especially important in writing persuasive texts, but knowing how to use it is an important skill to have, regardless of what genre you’re writing.



How to Stay Inspired

One thing that I find particularly challenging about blogging is not just thinking of story ideas, but thinking of things that haven’t been written about before. How can I write about tacos without being trite? How can I make my post so interesting that people well-versed in taco-making will still want to read it?

Domenica Marchetti writes about this in her blog post “Looking for Inspiration? Open Your Eyes…and Get to Work”. She gives her own perspective, and that of three other writers, on how to stay inspired.

Some ways that the writers listed are to never stop researching, write for yourself as much as you write for your audience, relish in small moments that inspire you, and ask yourself what the world needs to read about.

One piece of advice that stood out to me was from author Nancy Baggett, who said to remember that anything can be unique and gave the example of baking shortbread. It only has a few simple ingredients, but the way you prepare it is still unique to every baker. These nuances make for interesting reading and new perspectives.

The Other Side of the Publishing House

In previous posts, I’ve talked about how diverse food writer Ruth Reichl is: she’s been a restaurant reviewer, magazine editor, and author. In 2010, she added to her resume and in addition to getting published, she became part of the publishing community. Reichl became editor-at-large at Random House, the publishing house that also published her books.

Her duties at Random House included acquiring books and working with writers. Reichl’s diverse abilities made her perfect for the job, and Random House Publishing Group editor-in-chief Susan Kamil illustrated this by saying, “In this one person there is a remarkable convergence of talent: Ruth is a brilliant storyteller and narrative writer, as well as an editor with the passion, knowledge, and intuitive understanding of what food lovers want to know.”


Focusing on the authenticity of foreign food

In my last post, I talked about Ruth Reichl’s fiction-writing process. However, fiction only makes up a tiny portion of her career; for most of it, she wrote nonfiction pieces about food. As a restaurant reviewer, she did something that I haven’t seen any other food writers talk about: she tested the authenticity of foreign food.

In an interview with Creative Nonfiction, Reichl says, “When I was writing about Korean food, I’d never been to Korea—and I’ve still never been—but I found Korean people to go to restaurants with me so I could find out what the rules of that food were and translate that for an audience.” She often met people who were familiar with the cuisine and could testify about what was authentic and what wasn’t. In the same interview, she says she went to Thailand to learn about what the food in Thai restaurants should taste like.

I think this dedication to her work, and especially her commitment to research into her topic, is part of what sets Reichl apart from other food writers. Journalism is mostly reporting with a little bit of writing and Reichl’s dedication to her reporting is part of what earned her 6 James Beard Awards and the recognition she gets today.

Writing as a 9-to-5 job?

In an interview with Allen Salkin for New Books in Food, food writer Ruth Reichl talks about (among other things) her writing process. Most people expect writers to keep irregular hours– after all, that’s one of the perks of the job. But when writing fiction (her latest work), Reichl works from 9 to 5 every day, writing in an isolated shed downhill from her house.

She has a specific environment in which she can stay focused and uninterrupted, and says that she tries to model her environment on the MacDowell colony, a retreat for artists. The MacDowell colony provides artists of all mediums a studio and living space (along with meals and other amenities) in order to nourish their creativity and support the creation of art.

This writing process is extremely different from the one she had during her restaurant critiquing days, but as her novel is her most recently published material and her current project, I chose to focus on the writing process for that.

You can listen to the interview here:


A “Taste!” of real life in fiction

In the attached interview, food writer Ruth Reichl talks about how she drew experience from her time as editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine for her debut novel, Delicious! She mentions the Gourmet test kitchen, where one chef would yell, “Taste!” and eight other chefs would rush to the table to try his creation. It’s details like this, that readers don’t know about but find interesting, that make novels engaging. Reichl draws details like this from her life and uses them in her work, giving her books a personal and unique voice.

Career moves that scare you

In the following interview, Ruth Reichl, who I’m talking about in my writer profile, talks about her experience as editor of the food magazine Gourmet and about her experience writing novels. Journalism and fiction are very different, and Reichl gives insight- which comes from her personal experience- into both. What I think is really great about Reichl is that she’s not always been successful. She’s had failures, but it doesn’t stop her from being persistent, and that’s a really important quality to have as a writer looking to get published.