I started this blog a little over a year ago, and like everything that I set my mind to, I forged forth, full steam ahead, putting all my passion and soul into. I planned it out. I made a little food photography studio in my dining room. I made a list of restaurants that I wanted to review, and recipes that I wanted to post. I’m a fairly good story teller, having kept journals since the age of 13 (back when we used an old-fashioned pen and pretty book to do it), and leading writing workshops in college. I am a decent photographer, even able to charge for my photography services and my artwork. I had a subject to discuss with which I had both knowledge and experience, as well as a passion for. It would seem I have all the necessary ingredients to write a successful blog.
So what happened?
It was a bright idea: gluten-free recipes, reviews of restaurants that offer gluten-free menus, and suggestions for gluten-free products. But as I delved into the gluten-free blogging community, I discovered that many people before and after me have also had this same bright idea. In fact there are so many bloggers in the gluten-free world with great advice to give, that it began to make my head spin. And then my idea for my humble blog snowballed into something much bigger.
I found some truly talented and amazing gluten-free chefs and food photographers. I started seeing recipes that I wanted to try myself. I wanted to organize them and save them for later. I heard of restaurants that I wanted to dine at in cities far away, thinking one day I may be visiting this place. How could I find that restaurant again? I wanted to keep informed of the latest research on gluten intolerance, and I didn’t want to miss out on any new gluten-free products to hit store shelves, since gluten-free no longer meant taste-free.
I searched and searched for a website that organized all this information and would let me personalize my experience. But I couldn’t find one. And I am a pretty good researcher. So what about the time-crunched working mom, or newly diagnosed gluten-intolerant novice cook? Where would they find the best sources of information about gluten-free options?
Well, since I could not find such a place, I decided to build one. Of course, one person alone cannot build a community. I just built the concept and hired a team to help me build the infrastructure. And that’s how Stuffed Pepper ™ was born.
All of my time in the past year has really been devoted to making this new community website happen. Only when I had some extra time between building Stuffed Pepper ™ and taking care of Luke (4) and Ava (2), would I get a chance to post to this blog. Which is why I have not written with frequency. It takes time to write up a recipe, to photograph it well and to tell the story behind it. It’s also why, when I have posted, it has usually been very succinct, and has not delved too deeply into my thoughts and my life.
I have quite simply, been strapped for time. And that’s ok. Stuffed Pepper is like my third child. And I’m still a new mom, not yet sleeping through the night. I apologize for neglecting you, my faithful readers. But I plan to make it up to you in time.
I still intend to blog here. But I’m not sure yet which direction the blog will take. I may post a recipe or a restaurant review from time to time. Or I might write about what it takes to be a community organizer and leader. I may share some of the latest research by our experts in the gluten-free community or leave some tips on how to photograph food. But it will be some time before I am able to blog with any regularity, and before I’ve found my new voice.
What kind of things you would like to read about here? Please comment and let me know! In the mean time, if you are looking for good gluten-free information, I hope you will join us at Stuffed Pepper™.
And if you are inspired to start your own blog (gluten-free or not), or improve yours in 2012, here are five tips on how to write a better blog. Right now, this is “do as I say, not as I do” advice. Maybe in the future, I will be able to show you examples, by following my own advice.
1) Focus on quality, not quantity
We live in a fast paced world, and the post that grabs your attention in the first two sentences is the one that you’re going to keep reading. It can be a compelling and heartfelt storytelling, or it can be informative and factual, but it shouldn’t be fluff, words just filling up a screen. It’s a waste of your time, and your reader’s. If you don’t have anything interesting to say, then wait until another day when inspiration strikes.
2) Update with regularity
That being said, do update your blog regularly. Decide early on how frequently you will be posting, and try to stick with that plan. If you lose steam, your readers will too. If you’re a good planner, then sit down and think out your blog topics a few weeks ahead of time. That way, you won’t be left with writer’s block, just when you’re starting to gain strides in readership.
3) Find your niche. I actually thought that being gluten-free, was niche enough! But in fact, there are gluten-free vegan recipe bloggers, gluten-free paleo recipe bloggers, gluten-free doctors with blogs, and bloggers who focus just on product reviews, or just restaurant reviews. There are bloggers who write about the lifestyle and politics of being gluten-free. Find what you’re great at (and often that’s what you’re passionate about, too) and write about that. It turns out that I’m great at organizing. It’s just the way my brain is wired. I organize information, people and things, all the time. Maybe it’s from learning botanical nomenclature in graduate school. Maybe it’s from my stint as a Research Associate at the National Academy of Sciences. Maybe I was just born this way. But now I’ve finally found my niche, and Stuffed Pepper ™ is the result of it. Organization doesn’t sound like a very sexy topic for a blog, but then again the Container Store has made a successful business off the same topic! So I may find something good to talk about in all this, just yet.
4) Use decent photos or use no photos. While not all types of blogs need photographs to accompany their subject matter, if you write about food, you should really consider learning how to take decent pictures of your recipes. Readers can’t visit your house and smell the cookies baking in your oven. They can’t see your dish in 3 dimensions, or hear the onions sizzling in the pan. Your photograph is the only way to entice them to read further. A great food photo can make your reader salivate before they’ve read the first word. But a poor quality food photo can actually be a turn off, especially if, in the case of people with gluten intolerance, food has been making you sick. I’m of the opinion that no photo is better than a bad one, especially when it comes to food.
If you write about things other than food, your photos should complement and illustrate your subject matter, not distract, overpower or undermine your message. It’s ok to leave some things up to the imagination of your readers.
Please also try to refrain from using stock photography on your blog (and I actually have stock photos for sale, so don’t hate me when I say this, photographers). If you are writing a blog post about the reliance of rice in the Philippines and want to use a stock photo of an actual rice vendor in the PI, that would work. But please don’t use a stock photo of a cupcake to illustrate your recipe, or stock photos with models in it to illustrate how your company has good customer service, or your medical advice has helped many a patient. I’ve seen the same model used for both types of illustrations (on websites, anyway)! Use a photo of your cupcake, or of an actual client/patient giving a testimonial. Or use none at all. Otherwise its so impersonal. Which leads us to the next point:
5) Be genuine
Mark Twain’s advice, “write about what you know” is still as relevant today is it was back in the days of pen and paper. If you don’t know enough about the subject that you’re talking about, people will see through that. You can google a subject all you want, but its not the same as firsthand experience. Not that you have to be an expert, but if you don’t have direct experience with your subject matter, how can you possibly describe it in a way that your reader can understand? When you know your subject, you will be able to find the right adjectives to describe it, and bring your readers closer to it. I would never have thought to use the word “sultry” to describe a Houston summer night, if I had never lived here. Nor would I be able to describe the bitter winds that slice through certain cross streets in Manhattan, if I had never visited there in winter.
Also, your voice should also be your own voice. Don’t try to mimic the voice of another blogger, just because you like their style, or because they’re famous. It’s ok to get inspiration from others, but there is only one you, and that’s the you that should be writing your blog. Think about your natural personality. Do you speak directly and matter-of-fact, never “beating around the bush”? Or do you sprinkle your every day moments with humor and song quotations? Maybe you are passionate and at times even emotional. Whatever your personality is in real life should be reflected in your writings, because people have come to read your blog, written by you.
What do you think about these suggestions? Do you have any to add? Thanks for listening, and Happy New Year! Stay tuned for my next post, how my 3 words for 2011 (inspired by Chris Brogan) help me get through the year, and what 3 words I choose for 2012.