Earlier this spring, I heard about a new food blogging conference right here in DC, called Eat Write Retreat! Note: the exclamation point is part of the name. I've got no recollection of where I first saw the link to their website, but I did, and the schedule of presenters and activities made it clear that it would be a great conference for me to attend.
But, as is typical for me, I spent weeks wavering over whether to enroll. The expense wasn't outrageous, but enough to make me really ponder whether this would be worth it for me. After all, I have a small blog, only a couple of dozen followers and another few dozen regular readers. I occasionally get comments, often via email or Facebook rather than on the blog itself, as most of my readers seem more comfortable navigating in those media. The ones I love are about the recipes - the ones that tell me that I am achieving my goal, in some small way, of helping people make it easier to cook at home. For me, it's always been about the recipes, the writing, and the hope that what I put out there helps someone. I'm working on the photos.
I would not have even considered a larger conference but this one seemed warm and friendly and most of all, small. So why hesitate? I guess I waffled on the conference because I temporarily lost sight of my goals and my vision. I started to equate success of the blog with growth and popularity and worried that without a larger following, my little blog wasn't worthy of more public scrutiny. And maybe I still worry about that even after attending Eat Write Retreat! and hearing from other bloggers about klout scores and followers, discussing SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and even more shockingly, starting to Tweet. But mostly, I'm glad I attended because this conference has helped me to find my voice again.
When I say "voice" I don't mean it only in the writer's sense of the word. I truly mean my ability to articulate to people, verbally as well as in writing, why I do this, and what my blog is really about. Because at its essence, it's an exploration for me as well as a conduit to bring what I find to others and hopefully, help them as well. And most of all, it honors my sister who always supported my cooking and was all over social media before it was even a term. So, via this conference, I realized that I do this because I have to. Because some force impels me into new stores and markets, compels me to read yet another cookbook or food magazine, come up with some new ideas and takes my hand and causes me to write about it all probably more than anyone cares to read.
Now, sitting at home trying to digest all that I learned, felt, absorbed, thought this past weekend, a little distance allows me to appreciate why this conference was so helpful to me. Sure, there was some amount of adrenaline in the room coursing as a result of the sheer star power aligned with the event. But most importantly, the presenters shared their humanity with us. These are all food lovers who pursued a path they love, not to chase success, but to do what felt real for them. Yes, there was a session about the practicalities of blogging and PR, marketing and those sorts of business-side issues, all aspects of this world that still feel foreign to me. Regardless, I left with a strong sense of self and a new found focus to persist at this even if I only reach a few people. If friends continue to tell me that their kids love my muesli, or chicken, or were moved, even a little, by my passion about sustainability and healthy food then it doesn't matter that I am not a viral sensation and that I had to use Google to find out what a klout score is.
So, many thanks to all the presenters for sharing their expertise and perspectives with us and especially to the bloggers who shared so freely of themselves and their journeys. Casey and Robin, you put together such amazing panels, great sponsors and such a fabulous community of support - can't wait until next year!