One of the most enjoyable jobs, for sure, but also a fulfilling one when done mindfully and with purpose

As the cliche goes: “Find a job that you love, and you will never have to work in your life.” Writing is something that I did not know I was good at until one of my political science professors— one who at one point threatened to flunk me— invited me to join an essay writing contest during the Christmas holidays. I had to beg off since we would be out of town, and I would not have been able to give it the focus it deserved, but it did give me the direction I needed. I decided not to go to law school, much to my father’s dismay and confusion (he bribed me with my own apartment if I went to law school, to which I replied “don’t waste your money, Dad”). I have decided I wanted to be a food writer.

I learned that it was something I cannot rush— I had to earn my chops. A friend encouraged me to start a food blog, which is what got my restaurant reviews and food stories out there. In 2008, digital platforms were on the rise, and an editor discovered my blog and asked me if I wanted to be a contributor. That was the beginning of my professional career as a writer, which led me to a short stint as the managing editor of a food magazine, and now while enjoying family life while I work from home as a freelance writer contributing to various titles and providing content for food-related websites.

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How did I do it? As with any endeavour, it takes a lot of patience and humility. I do not consider myself competitive— I am only in contention with myself, and I challenge myself to keep getting better at what I do. I believe in the merits of hard work and putting in the time, and I feel that my efforts have been rewarded so far. To those who share similar passions, I say just go for it. As the Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus said: “If you want to be a writer, write.” That is the only way to get the ball rolling. And once you do, here are a few reminders that might come in handy on your journey.

1. Read. A lot.

I read for fun, to be inspired, and to learn from those who came before me. From childhood, I have discovered the joys of reading and preferred the silence of the library over horsing around during recess. We always had a selection of daily broadsheets at home, and magazines (from the local gossip rags to international fashion bibles) always came with the groceries. When I am writing and suddenly feeling stuck (which will happen more often than you expect), reading somebody else’s good work is the lubricant that gets my creative juices flowing.

2. Learn as much as you can about your subject.

In this case, the subject is food, and this really does give you the license to eat for “journalistic purposes.” Taste will always be subjective, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but do make sure that whether your judgment is positive or negative, it is an informed one. While the tasting of food might seem like the only activity required to describe them well, knowing how to cook does give one an edge as it not only gives you a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes but also a greater appreciation for the final product.

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3. Be authentic.

Find a style, and by saying “finding” it, I meant it will come to you. A newbie will often try on different hats and test-drive a variety of personas, and we have all been there as we sought that perfect balance of credibility and saleability. However, nothing fits as well as your own skin. Are you poetic with a flair for the theatrical? Or do you appreciate directness and prefer to tell a more uncluttered story? Both ways, when done with clarity and sincerity, can produce compelling work. Trust that your authentic self is the perfect vessel for your thoughts and ideas and that your people will naturally gravitate towards you, whoever and wherever they may be.

4. Always deliver publishable work.

I do not claim to have masterful grammar, and I am eternally grateful for spell check, but when I click “send” on my email, that attachment contains something that I will not be ashamed to be printed or posted without polishing from my editors. Some errors might still fall through the cracks, but editors always know when a writer is sending their first draft or their fifth. Having been on the other side, I know that the extra effort is greatly appreciated. 

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5. Integrity and professionalism go a long way

Submit on time— always. And when you cannot, give your editor a heads-up at least a couple of days before the deadline. When working for different titles, discretion is always appreciated as print is planned months ahead, and digital is highly time-sensitive. Respect your NDAs and everything on your contract. Honest and mindfully written articles are not only a reflection of your work ethics but a sign of respect to your readers, who always deserve your best. Always remember: being the best food writer is meaningless if nobody wants to work with you.

 

6. Choose kindness....Or not.

The mean, scary food writer was never an image that really appealed to me and is not something I ever aspired to become. The late legends I looked up to were not like that. Personally, I am all too aware of the people behind these businesses for me to eloquently condemn them or make fun of their faults for the sake of shares, or worse, to prove my legitimacy. I opt to celebrate their strengths, and when I come across something that can be improved, it is done in private and with the people who can actually do something about it. However, that is just me. Your style, and your personal journey as a food writer, is entirely up to you. Words these days are so easily weaponised, a good and responsible writer knows how to use them well and, hopefully, to do some good.

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