Friday, January 15, 2010

The Right To Write

Credibility happens to be a ten letter word. It is also the life-blood for any kind of writer. Traditionally, getting a magazine article or book published gave you credibility. Whether you are buying the New York Times or Cosmo, you know that the editors and publishers of these nationally available printed materials have spent many years in their respective careers reviewing the good, the bad, and the ugly. They have invested the time and effort to build up the necessary skill and experience to know a good writer from bad.

Enter the world of the weblog, or blog for short. For the first time ever, a writer can not only write what he or she wants, but can publish their work as well to a global audience. Suddenly, what was once a stogid, well-entrenched system for disseminating ideas has become a grassroots movement for freedom of expression. As always, this is a double-edged sword. To publish a work that you also wrote requires that you be author, editor, and publisher. Fail at any one of these and you lose credibility. I can't count the number of times I have come across an interesting article on the web, only to find that the prose is so riddled with spelling mistakes, missing punctuation, and poor grammar that it becomes too painful to read.

The mechanics of successful writing aside, the entire point of a blog is to express a unique point of view. As you have no doubt already noticed, gentle reader, my point of view happens to be about food. Whether I'm eating it, making it, or talking about it, that will be what I am writing in my blog. But, as one longtime friend put it, what gives me the right to write about it? Why is my opinion more valuable, say, than Aunt Sally or your neighbor, Joe? Why should anyone believe what I have to say about anything?

The simple answer is that my opinion isn't more important than others. I put my pants on one leg at a time in the morning, just like everyone else. I don't own special magical cutlery that I use at mealtime to allow the vast array of flavors to be available to my taste buds alone. I don't have piles of cash available to me to travel the world eating at only the best restaurants and drinking only the most expensive wines. But then again, I don't think writing about my 50th experience at Alinea in Chicago or Per Se in New York would excite either me or you.

The biggest difference between myself and Aunt Sally is that I made the decision to have an outlet for my voice. If your Aunt Sally is like mine, she definitely has some strongly held beliefs. But if her ideas aren't out there in cyberspace to be read by others, does it matter? To be a tad bit cliche, if you write it (and hopefully write it well), they will (eventually) come. I didn't really believe this myself until I started monitoring my own blog's statistics. I naively assumed that if two people left a comment on a blog post, that only two people had actually read it. The truth of the matter is that for every comment you get, perhaps fifty or one hundred people have actually read the posting.

Okay, fine, so I have a voice and now I can express it because I took the time to register with Blogger, put some words in a box, and then hit 'Publish'. Big deal. What gives what I write credibility? Two concepts immediately jump into my head. Consistency is the first concept. Connecting with readers is the other. If I didn't apply the same consistent set of rules and expectations to every food experience I have, I couldn't be fair and as objective as possible. That I expect my $6 hamburger to be seasoned and cooked properly is no different to me than the $35 filet mignon I order at a fancy shmancy restaurant (that would be the technical foodie term, by the way). As I have come to learn over the years, really good food does not have a price point. I've had great $6 hamburgers and lousy $35 steaks.

I'll be the first one to acknowledge that being consistent is a great personal barometer to ensure that my writing stays on the straight and narrow. Without connecting to readers, however, I might as well take this little dog and pony show offline and just start keeping a diary. Once I realized I HAD readers, and returning readers to boot, I have to honest, it did change the way I thought about writing. It wasn't that I started to believe that I needed to pander needlessly to the whims of the everyday blog reader. Instead, I decided to start asking myself one simple question, "If I was reading about a restaurant for the first time, would this bit of knowledge be something I would want to know ahead of time?"

In my particular case, I also enjoy the freedom to express my opinions using mixed media. In addition to the words that I write, I post photos (almost all of which are taken by me), videos, and links to help tell my story. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I can write paragraph after paragraph about how sloppy the plate looks, but if I show just one photo demonstrating my point, I can instantly convey my thought to the reader. I've often thought how challenging it would be to write nothing but prose when trying to describe an entire food experience. On the plus side, I suppose my entries would be a heck of a lot shorter.

For me, credibility is about earning your trust. Trust isn't just about blind faith. I would never ask for blind faith; I don't have that myself for anyone else. Earning your trust means that you believe I am employing critical thinking skills when I give an opinion and that I've done my due diligence to collect as many facts as I can before rendering my opinion. One of the most thrilling aspects of writing on a publicly accessible blog is that putting myself out there for review demands that I now have accountability. If I make an error, I can expect to be challenged. I have been called on it in the past and will no doubt be called on it again.

At the end of the day, what you are left with is something more valuable than just my contribution. While clearly my job is to start the conversation, interacting with readers through comments and emails is where real value is established. While it's always nice to hear that others have had similar experiences to mine, I also firmly feel that people who challenge my assertions are valuable to the discussion as well. Even I don't take myself so seriously that I ask you to believe that the words that appear on my blog have been uttered by a booming voice that came from a cloud at the top of a mountain.

From talking with friends, family members, and readers out there on the Internet, I get the impression that a lot of people feel that they could never write a blog. They look at me and see how large the blog has gotten to be in just over a year. Frankly, sometimes I can't believe how successful the blog has become in just one year. But, if like me, you are passionate about the subject matter, you'll find your voice and the desire to share it. A blog just ends up being a convenient outlet.

So, at the end of the day, what gives me the right to write? As it turns out, all of us have the right to write. It's just a fact of life that only some of us choose to do so. I'd love to hear what you think about the importance of credibility in bloggers, me specifically or bloggers in general.


Joe Harvey said...

I read your blog for one reason. Your passion about the subject matter is evident, and that makes your blog enjoyable to read. The fact that it also is grammatically correct, has great pics, is dynamic and is local to me is an added bonus. If your passion stays, I stay. Nice job!

Mahala said...

@Joe Harvey - I could not have said it better!

Rachel said...

You have a passion. You choose to write about it as honestly as you can. Where's the snobbery in that? Do you insult others who don't share your love of fine cuisine? Do you treat others who don't have your abilities as lesser people? Do you refuse to eat anything but the absolute best, and condemn anything else? I think "no" on all counts. Doing any of those would make you a snob, and I don't think you are.
I know someone, who shall remain nameless, who openly mocks and degrades anyone who drinks white wine because she "knows" it's only for the unrefined hoi polloi who are too poor or stupid to know as well as she does what's good. That is a snob.
You aren't.
Keep up the good work! :-)

Tino said...

Thanks everyone for your kind words. In an odd sort of irony, the original friend who inspired me to write this essay will probably never see the end result of his accusations. Que sera, sera.

MikeV @ DadCooksDinner said...

"What gives me the right to write?"

Darn it, YOU do. Who has the right to tell you that you do not? As long as you are using "your intelligence, guided by your experience", to quote Rex Stout, then you are doing the right thing.

Besides, we're writing about food here. Food is a personal experience; tastes differ, and what I like may not match what you like. That doesn't make me right, and you wrong. We're both right!

And, maybe I'm reading too much into this, but it seems like you might need friends who are a little more supportive?

BONNIE K said...

I'll add my voice to agreeing with Joe Harvey. You write very well and I happen to share your enthusiasm for your subject matter. I love the whole concept of blogs.

Tino said...

@MikeV: I hear exactly what you are saying. This particular friend pre-dates the blog by nearly two decades, so I've just gotten to the point where I no longer discuss it with him.

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