Thanks to a dedicated new section editor, the Wednesday food section of the Cincinnati Enquirer has been resurrected. Restaurant reviewer and food writer Polly Campbell and editor Amy Wilson are breathing new — and more important, local — life into this key lifestyle section. I’m so excited to be contributing ongoing articles to the section; features so far have covered how to make homemade butter, salad dressing 101, and a roundup of what’s in season locally in spring. Check out some of my recent columns (front pagers, no less)!
Writers truly geek out when their work is published — even more so when their work is presented in glorious, beautifully designed fashion. I’m lucky. I get to work with creative people who turn my words into really cool printed pieces.
For more than a year, I’ve been collaborating with the insanely talented people at Hybrid Design in San Francisco on a covetable quarterly publication that celebrates creativity, artistry and the maker culture. Mohawk Paper produces the Mohawk Maker Quarterly for its audience of printers, creators and designers. Here’s a look at Issue No. 7, which carries a theme of Character:
I’ve spent the past several months deep in biographies. I’ve read Beryl Markham’s “West With the Night” and Ernest Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” — but that’s not the kind of biography I’m talking about here.
Let’s discuss the Professional Biography, shall we?
As part of my event-marketing work for clients in the creative and food industries, I’ve edited/revised/rewritten hundreds of professional bios. Hundreds. And you know what? Most professional bios are awful.
If you work in any leadership capacity, in any market, you need a well-crafted biography. It gives prospective clients information on your expertise. It tells potential employees who they’ll be working for. It shares your bona fides with people who want to invite you to speak at professional events or write for industry publications.
Your bio lives in many places, in many formats. It’s the written version of the spiel you use to introduce yourself in a professional setting.
Why are so many bios impersonal, clinical, incomplete? (I suspect it’s because many people find it incredibly difficult to write about themselves.)
Here’s what a professional bio should — and should not — be.
It SHOULD be personal. A strong biography marries your professional credentials with your personal characteristics. It conveys your experience and credentials, yes — but it also hints at who you are as a person. It can include your non-work interests and passions (best placed at the end of the text). What are you like to work with? What are your values? What fuels your fire?
It SHOULD NOT be a resume. A potential employer needs to know your career history. A prospective collaborator or client needs to know your expertise. These are not the same thing. So many bios I’ve “fixed” are simply lists of past job titles. Instead, your bio should convey your skills and capabilities. What are you great at? Where do you shine? What’s your essential expertise?
It SHOULD be unique. Take your name out of your bio; could it describe at least one other person you know? That’s why the resume approach doesn’t work — a list of past positions makes you sound like everyone else in your market. What do prospects get in working with YOU that they don’t get from anyone else?
You need three versions of your professional biography: long form (for your website’s About page), mid-length (for speaking engagements and other external uses), short form (for social media).
In the spirit of full disclosure, here’s my professional biography.
Here’s one I wrote, for Enrich Creative principal Gretchen Schisla. Note that it describes Gretchen’s entrepreneurial spirit, connecting her with the type of client her firm thrives on working with.
And another, for NYC food photographer Evi Abeler. It references Evi’s childhood in Germany, setting the stage for her artistic vision. We recently worked together to update it.
Take a look at your bio. Maybe it’s due for a refresh? I can help you with that!
The Spring/Summer 2016 edition of the Cincinnati USA Official Visitors Guide shines a much-deserved spotlight on the city’s remarkable (and growing!) dining scene. For this feature package, I interviewed 5 leaders in dining, brewing and drinking around town. And the section included short stories on various aspects of local food, from connecting the dots between farm and table to Cincinnati’s brewing heritage, which dates to the 1800s. Check it out!
This issue of Edible Ohio Valley magazine celebrates the ways that food can bring people together, lift folks up and make the world a little bit better.
Plus, isn’t the cover gorgeous?
For quite awhile now, I’ve been contributing articles and recipes to Kroger’s My Magazine customer publication. It’s a fantastic collaboration with the team at 84.51°, the data and marketing agency that handles shopper communication for Kroger and its subsidiary brands. These guys really know what they’re doing, and it’s a blast to work with their creative team — the editor gives great direction and feedback, and the photo, food styling and design team make the words and recipes look mouthwatering. Take a look at some of our work together:
I love this new sell sheet that promotes my copywriting capabilities for food industry clients and publications — design courtesy of the talented Jill Lynn Design (who also created my website).
I recently wrapped up work on a campaign for Meijer called Healthy Living News: I contributed content about wellness, healthy foods and lifestyle tips to this in-store consumer magazine. Working with the creative team at IN Marketing Services, we created four bimonthly publications of about 20 pages each. Take a look!
Recently, I was having a “you can do it” sort of conversation with a client who’s stuck in the long, thankless-until-it’s-published slog of writing a book, when she asked me about my writing process. The answer I gave her was probably unhelpful: I tend to wait until inspiration strikes, at which point the piece pours from my fingertips almost fully formed.
No inspiration? No writing.
(At which point, I should acknowledge that it’s been monthsandmonths since I’ve published a post here on my professional website. See ‘inspiration’ above.)
But what if deadlines loom and there’s simply no time to wait for the muse to arrive? Lynda’s question about process got me thinking more introspectively about mine. So for her, and for any of you who struggle (don’t we all?) with writing, here are a few of my practices that might be helpful to you.
Consider the nature of the project. Personal essay-ish pieces, like these posts or ones for my recipe website, or my editor’s notes for Edible Ohio Valley, do require inspiration. Often, I’ll noodle on ideas while I’m doing something completely unrelated: My Edible editor’s notes are unfailingly written in my head while I’m out walking Peroni. Recipe ideas jolt when I’m eating something delicious at a restaurant or browsing cookbooks or magazines. With more technical writing, information is more critical than inspiration. Research and interviewing are the prompts I need to get started. See below.
Just open a blank document. I know: The prospect of facing a blank page is daunting, no matter what you’re creating. But I find that opening a blank document, and saving it — making the project real, giving it a name, a purpose — often gets me over the hump.
Start collecting inputs. In that newly opened document, I’ll stash snippets of online research material, interview questions, Wikipedia content, interesting quotes or insights I’ve gathered. For example, I’m currently writing a newsletter for a client on a marketing-related topic, one that I’m familiar with but not expert in. So I started by doing several Google searches and gathering ideas, images and information (being sure to save my sources so I can later either quote or cite the originals). Soon, I had pages of reference material to work with.
Organize the inputs. It’s easy to see patterns in the inputs: a theme for the piece, or common elements that can be grouped together. For example, I’ll cut and paste quotes from extensive interview notes in a linear fashion. Once I’ve organized the inputs, I have the skeleton of the piece.
Fill in the blanks. With that skeleton in place, I’ll add transitions between ideas, fill in supplemental information or explanation, make sure the content flows logically and add a conclusion that helps the reader understand the concept or creates a call to action.
This newsletter is itself a case study in process:
Inspiration > Blank document > Ideas > Organize > Fill in.
Some days, we all stare at that blank page/canvas/screen and think, “I. Can’t. Even.” But then we can.
“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” — Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
I have spent this summer refilling from the springs.
I have always been a reader; but the kid who devoured books one after another has, as an adult, found it difficult to consistently make time for reading. This summer has been different. I’ve moved from book to book, putting one down only to pick up another. I’ve felt almost hungry to read. It’s like eating Mexican Seven Layer Dip: I just. Cannot. Stop.
First, it was David McCullough’s “The Greater Journey,” a hefty nonfiction book about American writers, artists and physicians who flocked to Paris between roughly 1830 and 1900. These expats sought to perfect their crafts in what they saw as the most vital, creative life-giving city in the world.
When I finished it, I felt the need to stay in Paris, and to read about the next generation of writers and artists who went there in first two decades of the 20th century: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Anderson, Picasso, the group that Gertrude Stein called “The Lost Generation.”
So I picked up “The Paris Wife,” Paula McClain’s fictional account of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway’s courtship and marriage and early life in Paris. And then, of course, I had to read Hemingway’s memoir of that same time, “A Moveable Feast” — a gorgeously written, heartbreaking book. Forty-some years later — after he and Hadley had divorced (and he’d married three other women in succession), after he’d undergone horrific electroshock therapy treatments for depression that had sapped his memory — Hemingway received two steamer trunks of letters, notebooks and old clothing that he’d left at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris in the 1920s. He stitched together those old writings and fragmented memories into “A Moveable Feast.”
The book is more than reflection on a marriage; it captures conversations among writers about the craft of writing. I’ve underlined passage after passage that inspire me — and maybe you, too, no matter what your creative discipline:
On keeping momentum in your work — “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.”
On the struggle to begin, to face the blank page — “But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going … I would stand and look out over the roofs of paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.”
On the need to seek out other writing as inspiration and respite from our own work — “When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written, to keep my mind from going on with the story I was working on.”
So, as the summer winds down, what are you doing to refill from the springs?