I want to talk to you about one of my favorite blogs, Dinner: A Love Story. Jenny Rosenstrach has kept a diary of everything she’s eaten for dinner since 1998. The result of which is a trove (a trove!) of simple and delicious recipes, organized by the chronology of Jenny’s dinner table — what she ate as a newlywed, a new parent, and a bonafide, established parent. Her blog is beautiful. Her straight-up writing and her devotion to family dinner, inspire me to cook even though I don’t have my own family yet. Her idea is simply that cooking for the people you love isn’t an annoyance — it can be a pleasure.
So obviously, she is brilliant and I try to commit to memory everything she says. Not just about food, but about blogging too. Here are Jenny’s common sense rules for blogging, my favorite excerpted here:
Lesson 1: Shorter Isn’t Necessarily Better. Better is Better
My crash-course in blogging lasted about two weeks. I had just lost my job at Cookie, the parenting magazine where I was editing features, and a website called to see if I could help out launching a few blogs on their lifestyle vertical. I was feeling a little lost — not to mention there was not one more corner of the house to organize, which seemed to be my way of dealing with my sudden daily aimlessness — so I said yes and pretty soon was on the 8:43 commuter train again, headed to a downtown office where the staffers seemed to check every box for website start-up. (Skull caps: Check; Bright Eyes station playing on Pandora: Check; Enrollment in artisanal, fetish-y food project: Check.) Everything happens faster online (first lesson) so my supervisor did not waste anytime laying down a few crucial rules about blogging to his seemingly prehistoric new freelancer. Don’t write in long paragraphs. Don’t write long at all. Online readers like quick hits. They like lists and bullet points whenever possible! Say things that will start a conversation in the comment field. (Or better yet, incite a riot in the comment field!) Tweet everything! Post everything on facebook! And my favorite, which I think about every single day: Remember: Producing content is 10% of the job; Promoting it is 90%. Ay yi yi.
For week one I just followed orders and repeated to myself “Don’t be old.” But by week two, I was done. Here’s the thing. My supervisor was right about every single thing above. If you want more visitors (and any blogger who tells you he or she doesn’t is lying) you can get there more readily by following all of his rules. But you could also assume a certain amount of intelligence from your reader and write the way you want to write, the way most readers want you to write, that is, honestly. The masses might not come right away, but if you take time to write something that is pure and resonant and comes with no behind-the-scenes agenda, people will respond. And you will respond to their response. I remember early on in my DALS life when my ambitions were a little grander, I called my VC friend Roger in Palo Alto for a counseling session on building the “business.” He gave me the best piece of advice — or at least the best piece of advice that I felt most comfortable with. Don’t think about anything but the content for the first year. You need to earn the trust of readers and you need to distinguish yourself. The only way to do that is by paying close attention to what you are producing every day. Roger flip-flopped the formula for me and set me back on the path I knew so well from magazines, and that had never really led me wrong before: 90% of your time should be spent thinking about content, fresh new ideas, and presenting those ideas from a fresh perspective. Your perspective. Everything else? 10%.
Do you agree? What are your rules for blogging? I’d love to hear about them, and which blogs you turn to for inspiration.
P.S. I just tried out this recipe for dinner. Perfect for summer. I could eat this everyday.