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Are you:

  • a food blogger who has been blogging for a while and feels stuck in a creative rut?

  • happy with your writing but feel your photography needs work - or vice versa?

  • tired of attending traditional format conferences where you are one of dozens of bloggers simply listening and taking notes ?

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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Writing My World, Then and Now

New year is always a time of partying and celebration with friends and family. But on a personal and professional level it is also a time of reflection and evaluation; of planning and regrouping; of refreshment and renewed inspiration. And it is in this reflective spirit that we have decided to ask each one of the four Plate to Page workshop presenters to look back at 2010 to tell us what they feel they have achieved; as well as forward at 2011 to share with us some of their goals for the coming year. Today we hear from Jamie, whose evocative writing and unique storytelling can be found at Life's a Feast as well as The Huffington Post. The other posts in the series are from Meeta of What's For Lunch, Honey? and Meeta K. Wolff Photography, Jeanne of CookSister! and Ilva of Lucullian Delights and Ilva Beretta Photography.

No one ever told us that being parents would be so difficult. Each day is a clash of emotions, the joy and the doubts, the pleasures and the worries, a constant questioning of oneself, never knowing, never being in the position to judge just how we are doing. Nights fraught with worry as we lie in bed, eyes riveted to the ceiling, images of disaster floating in the darkness keeping us awake until we jump up, peek our head around the corner and hear, once again, the gentle rhythm of their breathing or the faint click of the front door closing and, as we finally fade into sleep, we realize that at least for tonight they are once again safe.

My husband and I stand and watch in wonder and amazement the young men our two sons have turned out to be: smart, funny, vibrant, generous, and we ask ourselves if all the worry, all the pushing and the screaming, arms flailing, accusations flying, were worth it. We ask ourselves if our judging them against their classmates, our disappointment in their place on the grade curve, our berating them to dress correctly, study more, eat breakfast, work harder had any effect at all. And we ask ourselves if our trying so hard, expending so much negative energy in trying to mold them into what our or, worse, others’ expectations were of where they should be heading made any difference at all or alter the natural course of things? Did it bring them to a different place in the world than exactly where they find themselves today or change their destiny one iota? Did it offer anything at all to us except our own bouts of guilt and anger, our own doubts eating away inside ourselves?

And at the end of the day, we see two responsible, handsome, kind young men, two people appreciated and loved for who they are. We look back over the past year and see all that they have accomplished, one a brilliant student and businessman, the other giving his time and offering his heart in helping others. We understand that it was not ours to judge them, compare them against others, placing society’s expectations on their young shoulders, but rather the simple, every day act of nourishing them, both body and soul, working hard alongside of them, setting our own goals, our own visions together regardless of those around us, having confidence in them as individuals as well as in ourselves, setting an example through our own beliefs, our own values, that seems to have helped them find their rightful and right place in the world. And that is the true sign of success as a parent.

As I sat for days pondering this blog post, a few short paragraphs meant to swiftly glide through my accomplishments as a writer, all I have done these past twelve months and the projects, plans and dreams I have for 2011, I was finally struck by the parallel between being a parent and being a writer and blogger. Although the stakes are not at all the same, I do feel as if my blog and my career as a professional writer are my children, to be cared for and nourished, to be handled gently and thoughtfully, to be guided through life, infused with my own values and ideals and then to be sent out into the world, hopefully earning the respect of others, being loved and appreciated and finding their rightful and just place. This past year has indeed been wrought with worry and self-doubt. I have spent an inordinate amount of time beating my chest and pulling at my hair as I compare my stats or my pace, my “successes” against how others appear to be progressing, wondering over and over again what I am doing wrong or if I should be handling things differently. Yet, little by little, as I gain confidence in my work as a writer, as I find my own style, my own unique voice, as the exhilaration sweeps through my body as the words flow from brain to fingertips to paper just as I imagine them, with each encouraging word from someone I respect, I come to realize that comparing myself and my work to others is futile. I want to be my own voice and pave my own path, not let others dictate my blog design, my recipe choices, my writing style or my goals. As we have so often told our sons, just be yourself, work hard and honestly, follow and nurture your passions and believe in yourself and all will fall into place.

My style finally settled down and found its home in 2010. With a mixture of confidence and humility, I marched boldly into the year and decided that it was time to take risks both on my blog and beyond the blog. I have accepted that my blog Life's a Feast is unique in that, unlike most, it focuses neither on the recipe nor stunning food photography but rather on my stories, often long and winding and pulling the reader into a parallel world. Although I often doubt if it is what others expect from a food blog, I love what I do, I cherish my own space where I can express myself just as I feel and I have been blessed (a word I hate using but there you go) with a readership who respects my writing and who are touched by my words, inspired to add their own thoughts and stories at the end of each post. I honed my networking skills and reached out, not without some hesitation and self-questioning, and was offered the chance to write for the prestigious Huffington Post on their newly-created Food page. This experience offered me the opportunity and challenge to shift my writing away from the strictly personal, posts written as if for friends sitting around my kitchen table, to a wider audience less interested in hearing stories than food for thought.

I was published this year in Foodista’s Best of the Blogs Cookbook, featuring my emotional story about my dear old dad, Man in the Moon, as well as two recipes. My review of Joan Nathan’s wonderful cookbook was republished in its entirety on her own website!

After having spoken at Food Blogger Connect in both 2009 and 2010 on the topic Writing Style/Finding Your Voice, I joined up with Jeanne, Ilva and Meeta, three great friends and tremendous talents, to create the From Plate to Page Workshop, delighted to be able to share our vision, passion and experience with other food bloggers. I am so proud to say that bloggers now turn to me for advice on writing, which is the true sign of respect and recognition for all my hard work and passion, and I greatly appreciate it. I have also recently been requested to speak at one other food blogger conference and have been proposed as a speaker at a third, neither of which is in Europe. I feel that I have finally come into my own as a writer and am making a name for myself.

And as for 2011, I have several projects that have already been set in motion as we speak, submissions awaiting a response, proposals and plans being worked on. Although it is really too early to speak of any one of them, each and every one is a sign of the confidence I now have in myself. I am satisfied that I have worked long and hard to bring my writing to a level that I feel is worthy of being called professional. My husband and I recently discussed our plans, his own, mine and ours together and we came to one conclusion: this is the year that we will make it happen. All of it.

What have I learned in 2010 and try to put into practice every single day?
Patience: I have given myself the time to hone my skills. I have worked hard to understand myself, my true passions and my strengths. I have learned the art of networking; there is a fine line between assertive and aggressive and crossing over that line there is always the risk of burning bridges. I believe that if I am truly talented, I will be noticed without being loud.
Confidence: I strive to have confidence in myself and my talents. I have come to measure myself only against myself; to compare my goals only to my own.
Humility: I never assume that I am the best. I also understand that although many love my style, many will not; it is all a matter of taste. I have come to accept that no matter how good and talented I believe myself to be, there is always room for improvement, growth, change.
Individuality: While I allow others to inspire me I refuse to copy anyone’s style. I seek out my strengths and nurture them. I have learned to trust myself and my instincts and to follow them, while gratefully accepting guidance, advice and encouragement from those whom I respect.

My wish for each and every one of you is to gather all the treasures around you, no matter how small, look for the best inside of you and put them together to create something that is all yours, something exceptional! I so look forward to continuing this discussion, these reflections all throughout 2011 with you and am thrilled to have the chance to do just that at our two From Plate to Page workshops scheduled for this year. I'm already packing my bags for the first one being held in May in Weimar, I am so excited about it!

Just a word on food photography: although my words paint a pretty picture, tell a story, create an emotional, often sentimental space, the same style does not work for my photography. I dress my images as I dress myself: bold and stark, dark against utter white, sharp and focused. This is what reflects my own personal style and personality best. I could attempt to copy other bloggers’ styles, I have sat at the knee of the best of them (Ilva, Meeta, Jeanne) but in the search to find my own style, my own voice, I have found what works best for me not only in my writing but my photography as well.


Ah Jamie, such sage advice! Your writing is like YOU condensed on paper and that's what good writing should be. It's been a pleasure working (and fooling around!) with you in 2010 and I look forward to more of the same in 2011!

You always say I inspire you - but you have no idea how you have touched my world. Your words and stories make me "come out" and share my inner secret passion too. Writing has always been something I loved doing and you give me the confidence to share it with the world. Thank you!

I look forward to 2011 with you by my side!

Oh, you two! I think when someone has found friends with whom one shares so much passion, the same vision, the same desire to create and express oneself, in whom one has such total and complete confidence and respect, we just tend to push and pull, inspire and find our own confidence and that is what has happened with the four of us. 2010 found us growing and evolving mainly because we have each found what we needed to dig down and discover the best of ourselves.

Inspiring - I can only hope to continue honing my skills as well to create a voice that will continue drawing in readers. It's been a pleasure to get to know you through your blog this year and I look forward to what you have in store in 2011!

Have you always been a writer?

Wonder write up and it is so great to see you got such well deserved recognition. Your voice now that you found it, not sure you ever lost it, only gets more powerful and that is why your blog is a joy to read!

Jamie in your words you inspire and arouse us to look inside ourselves. I am reading this over and over again. Thank you.

Jamie, Ilva, Jeanne and Meeta - all your essays have given me pleasure the past few weeks. Congratulations to you all, for all you have achieved and all that is ahead of you this year. You inspire me to reach for the stars.

Wow, Jamie this is the first time I actually READ your post and now I have to head over to your post to read some more of your stories! There was something that really touched me in this post and what a great writer you are!

@Lost In Cheeseland: Lindsey, Thank you so very much! And no, I've not always been a writer (although ALWAYS a great, passionate reader)! I've long wanted to be but when I tried it was difficult and stressful and I thought that if I was really a "writer" there was no way that it should be that hard! I thought I didn't have the gene or the talent. Now I realize that one needs inspiration and focus, a reason to write. I also realize that it is indeed hard work, like being a painter, a chef, a singer. It is a craft/art/skill to be honed like any other. And the joy and exhilaration when you arrive, each time I write, is so worth it!

@Prerna/IndianSimmer: I am so glad that you did finally read my writing and I am thrilled that you enjoyed it so much! I am truly flattered!

@Barbara: Dearheart, you are such a wonderful person and your support has always meant so very much to me! You inspire me to push myself and to reach for everything that I desire! xo

@Soma: Thank YOU! I think the four of us here find no greater pleasure that helping others find their paths, inspiring them to push themselves and work harder.

@OysterCulture: Thank you so much and it has been a great joy getting to know you!

Jamie, I have a sister, and we are best friends. But we are very different. I have not met you IRL, but I feel incredibly connected to you, through your writing and the way you express your thoughts.
2011 has arrived to Nantes 9 hours before it reached Southern California. AS I recall, we did not celebrate the fete together:) But my husband and I decided the same thing: it is all going to happen this year.
If I continue writing this comment, it's going to turn into a book. I am choked up, but at the same time inspired and encouraged. We have so much in common that my mind is reeling. I am speechless and overwhelmed.
I know that you will forgive my sentimentality:)

Just from our conversations and from reading your blog entries, I know that you are a wonderful, caring mother. No doubts in my mind.

I'm so happy to have "met" you this past year and I hope that one day we can meet in person.

A note on food photography: First, your pictures do what they're supposed to... they show the food, styled beautifully. The pictures aren't out of focus or blown out or composed poorly. They may be simple, but they are still gorgeous.

Oh Jamie this write up is inspiring. To be honest, I have not read each and every post of yours ever since we met (on twitter) but when I have time to I make sure I read one post in peace and in one breath and I often come back with a lot of appreciation for writing and new knowledge! Many points in this post made think. I'm one among the blogger's trying to find my own niche, because neither am I'm spectacular photographer nor a great writer.All I know is the food :) and I need to start getting comfortable in what I know. Thanks xoxo. A long way for you to go, we all know it. Best of luck

Jamie, you are an inspiration to me..I get motivated every time I read your posts & articles! I'm really hoping & praying that I can meet you in Italy and learn the art of writing from such a talented writer like yourself! All of the Best in 2011!

You know you inspire me! I need to hear more about these non Europe food conferences you're speaking at.

my dear Jamie, i'm going to try and leave a comment that isn't a book but so appreciate your words here. hard work, slow, small steps towards a goal and thru that finding your gift(s), is what it's about. sharing what we've learned, being open to new experiences and stretching ourselves is good; comparing ourselves to others serves no one. i am so excited to see what happens for you and the others in 2011!! see? age gives us wisdom, Jamie - bring it on girlfriend!

Thank you all for the incredible words and know that I am touched and inspired! Your encouragement is what keeps me going and pushes me to work harder at what I love the best. The world of blogging speeds by at a desperate pace and those of us who look for more, who have a creative passion and who want to achieve something other than simply high stats need to encourage each other, support each other through every challenge and keep each other firmly planted on the ground while helping encouraging each other to reach for the stars!

Jamie, thank you for your inspiring words - just what I needed as I begin what is potentially a challenging semester of teaching. My students are often like my children, and sharing what you've learned as a parent confirms my own philosophy of teaching. Cheers to lifelong learning!

@Professor Smith: Thank you so much for your comment and kind words! I think that when we are truly passionate about something that comes from inside, something we care about and nurture, we always think of it as a child. We made mistakes as parents but when we sit down think about what we did wrong and what we did right, we understand how we can apply that to any creative adventure. Patience and care, nurturing and trust... and something great is born. Right? We are all so looking forward to meeting you in May! And I'm sure your students love you!

" unlike most, it focuses neither ... a readership who respects my writing and who are touched by my words, inspired to add their own thoughts and stories at the end of each post." This is exactly how I feel about my own blog - for me, it's the stories and the words that matter ... This piece made nice reading. Best of luck with all your goals this year!

What a wonderful piece of writing, dear Jamie, you are truly an inspiration.

All the best in all your new ventures.


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