Blogs are funny things, especially when you’re just starting out. You have this space on the web where you can write about whatever you want (well, within certain limits of course but as long as you don’t harm yourself and anyone else in the process then you’re fine) and be whatever you want for that matter. A few days ago a lovely reader asked me for some advice on starting a blog and this got me thinking about how I started out. She didn’t want to know about the technical details as such, even though I think you need to know the basic stuff beforehand. What she was interested in is how to get going and how to get the message across. I gave her a few things to think about, which I listed below. I’ve been thinking about writing a few words on this but never got round to doing it. I guess the time has finally come.
I’m going to start with the obvious, but I feel that this should make the list. You need to love the topic you want to write about. I have many interests and for me it was a tie between two things. If that happens, don’t worry too much. Write a list of pros and cons or just pick the least expensive one.
You need all the encouragement you can get. If there’s no one to give you this, let me be the first. Go ahead, conquer your fear and write. While some of your friends and family will show enthusiasm, others will not understand what you’re on about and some will be negative. Think about what you want to do and just go with it. Like anything in life, ignore anyone who puts you down. This also goes for any hater comments that you might get later on. Thank goodness you can moderate those and delete them as you go along. And surround yourself with positive people. It’s so important.
Don’t do it for the money. Don’t, because you will not see a penny, at least for the first few years. You will get a few little jobs through the blog. There are few pro-bloggers out there, but it’s not the norm. And if there’s no money involved, you will get rewarded in other ways – better ways in my opinion. Sometimes you will be invited to events which will help you to make friends and build contacts. And that’s good, trust me. So avoid searching for ‘how to make money on your blog’ and the likes because these searches will only make you miserable.
Be yourself. Always. It’s also good though to research other blogs and see how you can make yours look better. Better as in: not better than others, but better than what you have now. Compete with yourself, and don’t compare yourself with other people. That will also make you miserable.
Look for ways to learn. Register for a basic blogging class. I didn’t do this at first and now I know how much I missed. You will learn a lot and you will be amazed at how many ideas you will be able to explore. The best thing about this is that you will have someone to guide you and to answer your questions. And you will be able to see a major difference. With this I say, allow yourself to make mistakes. Only then your learning experience be complete.
Write a good About page. There’s no need to get personal here but at least you must give an idea why you’re blogging. I cannot count the number of blogs I’ve stumbled upon without one, or worse, when you can find one but the author forgot to include his/her name! Sorry but this is a rookie mistake. When I reverse my role and become the reader I find that I need to know your name. Some bloggers sign off their every post with an initial, but that in itself is not enough. Again: I *need to know* what to call you.
Use as many social media platforms as you can and feel comfortable with. Start with Facebook and Twitter. (Yes, Twitter because it’s not as scary as you think! I never understood why so few people use it in Malta. The world doesn’t stop with Facebook. It’s a bit more wider than you think.) You can build your online presence slowly and gradually. Pinterest is great for ideas, Bloglovin’ will arguably get you more followers and right now Instagram is all the rage. You can read up on how to use these and take your time. You’re not going to learn them in a jiffy but I promise you, you’ll get there.
The next one is one of the most important ones so here it is: Don’t give up! Try to publish as consistently as you can. I started by posting one blog post a week. That, for me, is the minimum, especially when you’re at the start of your blogging adventure. Whenever I find the time in between the admin work at C&T and the tweaking stuff which takes a lot sometimes, I always try to squeeze in one more post per week. But I don’t pressure myself to do that. If I have the time I post. If not, I try for the next week. And allow yourself to take breaks. In July I just stopped for a couple of weeks after my nana’s passing. I just wanted time to breathe and grieve quietly. It’s OK to do that sometimes. So just allow it to happen when you need.
I’m sure there are other points to explore but I think these are good basics. I keep getting questions about how I started out and I did write about it, though I didn’t go into too much detail. I still get asked about it, and as of late the question has been popping up in my message box more often than any other kitchen query. So here it is. The idea for a food blog started with my husband. For those who don’t know him, J is an academic in Computing with a research interest in security. A little more than five years ago I opened a Facebook account and started to upload food snapshots on my wall. J pointed out the terms of service and what rights I was giving Facebook by doing that, so he suggested a blog as an alternative. I could still publish the photos on the blog, keeping more control on the images with the added bonus of writing and recipes and my thoughts in detail. So he set it up for me and years later I’m still here. Coming up with a name was tough and I kind of rushed into it, but I was impatient – I mean, I didn’t want to remain nameless forever. I came up with it thanks to one of Lorraine Pascale’s recipes: a chorizo and thyme fougasse published in her first book Baking Made Easy. That’s my little story for you!
When I told my friends about my blog, many were very encouraging. I knew that there were many other food blogs out there. Some were extremely good, and some not so much. But I wasn’t ready to put any pressure upon myself. I just wanted to cook and write about it, that’s all. I just wanted to be good at this food blogging thing, and yes, I have reached a stage where I can say, heck yes, I am a food blogger. I repeat this phrase so many times during the day sometimes just to make myself really believe it. And if anyone asks me what I do, that’s going to be my answer. I couldn’t understand the taboo behind all of this until I came across an article by food blogger extraordinaire Ed Smith. If you want to know what a professional food blogger is, then check out this masterpiece. I love to learn from people like him. (There are, of course, other fantastic bloggers out there. I try to keep my blogroll page as up-to-date as I can, not only for my readers, but also for yours truly. Whenever I have the chance I visit, browse and most of all, I learn.) What he says about food blogging hit me like a bullet: ‘I kept quiet about this little hobby for a long time. Embarrassed, probably, about colleagues and friends finding out I was a “food blogger”; it’s a term I felt was spat, rather than spoken. Negative feelings were and still are based on an assumption that restaurant bloggers are all about blagging and freebies and intrusive photo-taking. There’s never smoke without fire, but for me at least, a visit to a restaurant is first and foremost about eating good food with friends.’
I read this the other day and it really struck a chord. I think I’m done apologizing. I am not a restaurant critic and thank goodness for that. I never want to be one. I visit places and write reviews once in a while but only if I like the place. I paid the bill at the last place I’ve been. And when I’m out with J and with friends, I rarely, if ever take out my camera. Sometimes I don’t even bother to take my SLR! I don’t see the need to shove a camera in someone’s food just to publish it. I just don’t see the point of annoying fellow friends and diners. Granted, there are some people who do that but not all of them are bloggers. Some may not be but you still can see them doing it. OK. I’m done. Rant over.
So what about cookbooks, you say? I collect them. That’s no secret. Anyone who comes to my home knows that, even though I’ve stopped buying any lately. What seems ironic to me is that someone who didn’t know how to cook at all and never used an oven before she had to (a.k.a me) has grown to love it so much. I still can’t get my head around it. And perhaps I shouldn’t even try. What I know is that my love for collecting them eventually grew. I looked into how book reviews are done and consequently went into it myself. I started to review cookbooks quite regularly during the past few years, and to this day readers often ask me what to buy and what to start their own collection with. They are also popular when friends and family come over to visit. I use my cookbooks. I cook the recipes – sometimes I leave the recipes as they are, but many times I change a couple of ingredients, either because of necessity (i.e. I don’t have something readily to hand) or just because I fancy it. So I have to disagree with Prue Leith’s recent statements. There is value in the recipes. The only thing that I can take away from her comment is that nowadays people’s interaction with cookbooks has changed over the years. Why? Because thank goodness people have learnt how to be creative cooks. Hopefully by now we have learnt how to fry an egg or how to roast a chicken. And if we still need to learn we can do it with flair. There is value in the paper. And this is coming from someone who runs a blog. (Can I emphasise that enough?!)
People tell me that nowadays there’s no need for cookbooks – the internet has you covered for ideas and tips. Part of this is true, I won’t argue with that. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog! But in life we don’t need most of the stuff we already own! We still like things and it so happens that I love books. My study is my favourite room in the house, hand in hand with my kitchen. It’s a cozy nook. I’ve always wanted to have one of those quintessential English libraries. Such fantastic rooms! Ours needs some more work, love and care. It’s finally getting there though and that makes me very happy! J and his dad are doing a fantastic job and the next step is my new desk, which will be ready soon. I digress, as I often do but if you are also a lover of books, you know what I mean.
This is my longest post to date, but I still hope you will someday find it useful. Enjoy and browse C&T for as long as you like.
(This is *not* a sponsored post.)