Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eat Write Retreat! and Where to Go From Here

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!

14 comments :

  1. ((hugs)) Here's a comment on your blog then for you. I loved meeting you and am so happy this was so inspiring for you. I feel the same way. I feel re-energized and really, funnily, I feel loved. Such a supporting and amazing community.

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  2. Oh Thanks Kimmy!! Was great to meet you too! It really was a great experience!

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  3. Hi Wendy. Christine (cheese1227) here. For some reason this site is not letting me comment as me!) I sooo wanted to go to that conference for all the same reasons you state. But life -- and not totally independent children -- got a bit in the way. I have not been as successful as you in blocking out the deafening din of keeping up with the Jones of the food writing world. Got any tricks on how to do that, either from the conference or just from being even a bit more comfortable in your blog skin than I am?

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  4. Hi Christine! I was lucky that although my husband worked all weekend, my older son was able to chauffeur my daughter. He was a good sport. As to the din, this is how I feel today. Hope I'll still feel this way in a couple of weeks. Though it's easy for someone like Shauna to say that you just stick with what you love, despite her success, it's still true. One thing I saw on twitter today is to write your post and recipes as you like and then tweak a little in editing to get some better google hits. I guess that is perfectly compatible with idealism? Let's talk further - see you Sunday!

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  5. From one who heard and admired your voice at the conference, it is thrilling to hear your renewed commitment. You have a wonderful story of family, food and friends to share, and I count myself lucky to be an observer (and maybe sometimes fellow traveler)on your journey.

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  6. Kim - you are so sweet and supportive! I look forward to joining you wherever you take your blog in the near future.

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  7. This is a lovely post and I am happy to have the opportunity to follow you and look forward to so much more!

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  8. Maris - thanks so much for your comment. I love what you're doing with your blog - maybe we cn exchange some ideas!

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  9. Wendy - hope to stay in touch! I think I am going to make it down there for Fancy Food in July, so maybe we and a few other EWR DC folks can meet up.

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  10. Wendy, I'm sorry we didn't get more time to chat at the conference. You can bet I'll be following your blog, though. :)
    I'm glad to hear you didn't let the talk of SEO and numbers scare you off... it's supposed to be about doing what you love, first and foremost. I've decided that as soon as blogging feels like a chore or a competition, it'll be time for me to move on.
    (PS - I just spotted your recipe for deconstructed manti, which I am going to have to make later this week... I LOVE manti but I hate all the work involved, so your recipe is a godsend!)

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  11. Kathy - Looking forward to July!

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  12. Isabelle - I do love this and I can tell from your blog that you do as well. It's so nice to be in contact with others who get excited about food and great ingredients! Hope you like the manti - if you've no issues with butter, try Melissa Clark's original version which is amazing. Sadly, it's not how I can eat anymore.

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  13. Hi Wendy, I really enjoyed meeting you too. I only wish we had more time to chat at EWR since I know we had a lot in common in how we view the food world. I hope you are well and are inspired to continue your writing. ...Bonnie

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  14. Bonnie - let's schedule that lunch!!

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