Voice and Blogging

Friday, September 25, 2009

This Saturday I'm at BlogHer Food 09 on the panel about voice and identity with Dianne, Ree, and Susan. I highly doubt we'll be able to get to everything we want to as it's a subject that we could spend days on. I wrote this little post up to give the topic a bit more depth and definition and open a little more dialogue about it. Please feel free to leave any ideas or contributions to the topic in the comments. ~Garrett

Voice is a difficult topic to pin down when when we're talking about blogging. It's not something you can mimic or try on like a suit. Voice is organic, unique to each blog and its producer. In the overcrowded world of food blogging your voice is your signature dish - each photo, recipe, post, and review represents you.

The basic rule to voice is what we've been taught since we were little: to be yourself.

It's astonishing just how hard that is. How do you convey who you are and your point of view in a way that's reflective and gives your readers a sense that they're sitting down with a real person? Translating this to paper (or in this case the screen) is no easy task.

I recently had dinner with a friend at a nearby sushi joint so we could play catch-up. As we traded stories about life, careers, and love over not-so-impressive bowls of miso soup I started to tell him about the panel. I asked permission to be self indulgent for a moment - I ask the same of you right now as well - and queried if he could describe what my blog voice was like. I had never sought out an outside opinion about my voice but I figured it was a sensible way to find out.

He sat for a moment pondering my question and finally said, "I can tell it's you when I read your blog. I mean, the way you write and the way you talk are different, but I can tell it's the same person. Your inflection, humor, and descriptions when telling stories are different than anyone else I know. You have a dry sarcasm and your words have a rhythm. I've heard and read plenty of your bitchy rants too to know when it's you who is complaining. Even if I were to just hear someone read your posts out loud, I would be able to tell it's you."

And there it was - my voice laid out to me. I asked a few other friends the same question, and while the answers varied certain traits were consistent. This little demo shows that your voice is your calling card. If you're not sure what it says, ask someone who reads your blog regularly. It may be a bit awkward but it's informative and something you should know.

Now, the difference between voice on your blog and voice in a conversation is that one requires more forethought. You don't ponder for a half hour how you'll reply when someone inquires about your day. Yet for a blog post we have to plan what we're going to say; in other words what our voice will be for each post.

How are you putting forethought into your blog post? Well, if you plan to talk about a recipe you have to consider a dozen things. What is in season? What is your cooking style? How do you want to photograph it? Why are you choosing this recipe? How do you want to introduce it? Why do you want to blog about this recipe? How will you write the recipe? Each decision is part of what will make up your voice.

After doing this for many posts you begin to demonstrate a certain individual style, this style is your voice, the voice of your blog. Your voice then becomes representative of your identity, or who you are as an individual outside of the blog. You then are the selling point of your blog through your identity, voice, and style.

The only way to develop your voice is to just keep blogging away. Write a lot, challenge yourself, find niches that you excel in, and keep your focus narrow. Your voice will grow and gain strength and, eventually, your confidence will grow making voice all the louder.

Tips for Finding Your Voice

Write Every Day: Every writing coach, English teacher, blogger, and writer will tell you that. Remember that you don't have to post everything you write. I know I have many posts that never saw the light of day, but did give me good ideas for future ones.

Stop and Consider: Ask yourself what the purpose of your post is? Think if there is a story or lesson somewhere in your recipe, or why you're using a particular photograph. A moment of reflection can make good posts great.

Get used to "I": The scary part where you have to reveal yourself to your readers. Remember that your voice is valid and has a right to be heard. A unique voice is what draws people into a blog. The prettiest pictures and the best recipes don't mean much unless they have an identity behind them. Writing coach William Zinser says, "writing is an egotistical act. Get used to it." This seems especially true to food blogging where you and your interactions with food are the main event.

Experiment: No one finds their voice overnight. It takes practice. Drafts. Time. Risk of failure. Try out different writing methods. Mimic your favorite authors and try to write in their style, see what works for you and what doesn't. The traits that work for you you'll absorb and adapt to your own. Try new posting formats, writing a book review, conducting an interview, or take new kinds of pictures. You may stumble into something you like.

I also highly suggest that every blogger pick up a copy of On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser, and Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob.

You can find another great post about describing your voice on Dianne's blog.


  1. Unfortunately, my writing sucks. So blogging takes a lot of time and effort...I was always good at math, no good at writing. I only continue because I love food and love reading other blogs. So I try to relate food experiences as best I can.
    Now you, you are blunt and very honest- sometimes too honest. This probably brings in more readers and comments. You write well and I always read your posts from start to finish. What better comment can I make than that?
    We all like feedback and it's really difficult to get started blogging- comments are hard to come by. There are so many of us. It takes time, a lot of reading other blogs (and commenting) and effort to make your own blog intersting to others as well as yourself.
    It always amazes me that my own friends locally don't comment. I'm pretty sure they read it...but have no way to be certain.

  2. Barbara - Have you read the first posts on this blog? They're awful. Just keep at it and write to please yourself first and foremost. As for being certain or not if your friends read it, just ask them. =)

  3. Love this Garrett - so true about writing everyday!! Can't wait to meet you at the conference this weekend!

  4. Garrett,

    Sage advice.

    As for you, what terrific validation that your friend would know it was you if someone else read your work. That's a bingo!

    Look forward to meeting you in person tomorrow. Thanks for recommending my book!

  5. Fabulous and timely!

    For the record, you have a fantastic voice. Any chance you'll put it all in hard print some day and give us a book?

  6. I've always enjoyed your writing and found it authentic.

    For the longest time I felt like my years writing instructional and training materials in someone else's voice had taken my own voice away, but I'm slowly finding it. It's only taken 3-1/2 years of blogging.

    Looking forward to meeting you tomorrow!

  7. Liana - I really hope to someday! :)

  8. What a great post, Garrett. I'm a rank beginner in the world of blogging, and putting myself "out there" goes against my naturally reticent personality. But I love my profession and blogging is a way to share it with others and give my desserts a life beyond the table. I'm keeping a copy of your post next to the computer for inspiration and motivation. Thanks!

  9. Great post, Garrett. Good food for thought, not just for beginning bloggers.

  10. Thank you for your thoughts. I am new to blogging and have found it awkward so far, but that is why I started: to challenge myself creatively and find a writing style that is my own. This was a good pep talk!

  11. As you say, people who know you personally can recognize you in your written words. That's why voice is so important to a blogger, it's the main thing readers have to identify you. If you gave me anonymous posts from some of my favorite bloggers, I'd be able to know who wrote which simply by the style.
    I have two folders in my RSS feeds: Food Favorites and Other Food. Food Favorites have voice, they write in a way that makes them real to me. Other Food has some good pictures or recipes, but I rarely bother with the words.

    I love Zinsser's book, by the way, and thanks for the Will Write For Food recommendation!

  12. I wish I'd been able to be in SF for the conference so thanks for posting this.

    You said, "Get used to 'I'"

    I think I have the opposite problem. How do you move away from starting every sentice with "I"?
    It's hard to step back and I don't want it to always be about me.

  13. Garrett,

    What a lovely and insightful post.

    It was a pleasure to meet you at Blogher last weekend.


  14. Thanks for this post! It's so true that this topic is relevant to everyone, not just beginner bloggers. I've had my blog for a couple years and I still look at what I write sometimes and think, "Who is this?" I also have a very self-critical nature, so that doesn't help. I hope I'll find a voice I'm truly comfortable with someday.

  15. Great post! Your blog is one of my favorites and it is because of your voice. As a matter of fact, I often enjoy your posts that don't include cooking more than the posts that include food because when you write what is on your mind, you have the most to say.

    You just made me realize a lesson for me in what I just said to you. The posts on my blog that are outside of my comfort zone (reporting on nutrition or other factoids) are the clunkiest posts I write. Hmmmm... have to think about that...

  16. As a person that struggles to write, I really appreciate your advice.

    On a completely unrelated note - you're adorable.

  17. Mech Jen - Aww, why thank you! *blush*


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