Food Writing Session with Dianne Jacob at Food Blogger Camp

When I found out Dianne Jacob (the queen of food writing) would be teaching a session at the Food Blogger Camp in Ixtapa, I expected to learn to write about fancy food like the Mexican stone crab claws we had for dinner on Friday.  I had no idea that she would completely open my eyes to the world of writing…

through a simple box of Corn Pops!  During her session I began to realize that I actually haven’t been thinking of myself as a food writer.  I enjoy writing, and I try to pay careful attention to grammar, spelling and punctuation, but I never really go back through my post to see if I can add metaphors or other things she suggested.  My eyes were really opened through her sensuous writing exercise.

Dianne’s husband Owen passed around small boxes of corn pops (which he apparently had for breakfast) and we each poured some into our hand.  Once we tasted them we wrote about them until she told us to stop (about 15 minutes).  Then she taught us some more techniques and we went back to that paragraph and took another 5 minutes to edit what we wrote.  Here’s my story about the experience:

The cartoon corn pops on the box smiled  garishly up at me, and the foil bag inside was so tightly sealed I felt it was protecting a great treasure I had to work to obtain.  I poured the light as air kernels of cereal  into my hand and began to smell hints of corn and honey that my tongue was begging to taste.  As I bit into my first corn pop my teeth recoiled in horror at the honey coated piece of Styrofoam assaulting them.  Certain they must be mistaken, I eat another and another, until the crunching in my mouth overpowers every sound in the room.  I felt I’d been conned, rather than mining for treasure, my tongue is digging around my teeth trying to erase ever last trace of the sickening cereal.

I think everyone but me actually loved the Corn Pops.  I had a box in my bag at the beach because I wanted to photograph it for my post, and David Lebovitz got surprisingly excited.  Apparently he was having a strong craving for my honey coated Styrofoam.  But this post is about Dianne’s session, not corn pops, so here’s some of my favorite tips she gave:

-In food writing use all the senses.  Food writers tend to focus on how things taste and forget about the other senses.

-Slow motion: Break apart what you experience by using all the senses.  It’s like watching a movie in slow motion.  Break each section of the food apart, top crust, bottom crust, fruit.

-Show not tell.  Instead of spelling out sense you’re sharing an experience.  Stephanie was quiet is a tell.  Stephanie was hunched over her computer and never answered from the front row is a show.

-Make your reader part of the story, and trust they’ll react to the food the same way you will.  Select and edit ruthlessly, use specific words, not delicious, yummy, terrible, etc.

-Avoid cliches at all costs.

-Be SPARING with your adjectives.  Don’t use a bunch in a row.

-You can put your personal reaction or the reaction of someone else in the story.  You can use memory to connect the food to your past.

-The word “is” is a very weak word.  Try writing 6 paragraphs without the word is.

If you ever get a chance to learn from Dianne, I highly recommend it.  I’m adding her book to my shopping cart, I learned so much from her in a 15 minute chat, I know my writing world will be changed by how much she can fit into a book!  Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction and More

Now I’m off to start editing the 3 hours of video I recorded!  I already miss everyone so much, but I’m so glad to be home with my husband.


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15 Responses to “Food Writing Session with Dianne Jacob at Food Blogger Camp”

  1. Fran
    January 18, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Thank you for summarizing Dianne’s presentation in detail. I loved the session as well and am now paying more attention to metaphor and simile as well!

    Now, if I could just live at Club Med and have my new-found friends with me all would be right with the world. :)

  2. Megan
    January 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

    Great post! I’m definitely going to be looking at her book. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. lauren
    January 18, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

    Wow! It sounds like you learned a lot at the camp. I’ll try to incorporate some of the tips you learned in my blog!

  4. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction
    January 18, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    Great tips… Thanks for sharing all of this knowledge with us. I think my writing can definitely use some work!

  5. Katerina
    January 19, 2010 at 9:26 am #

    I am highly enjoying your posts! Thanks so much for sharing with those of us that were not lucky enough to be there.

    I will not use cliches, I will not use cliches.

  6. Dianne Jacob
    January 21, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    Hi Diana,
    Thank you so much for this write-up. You captured the spirit of the class beautifully, and I love your sense of humor. Many people think they are funny, but few can get it across in writing.

    I hope we stay in touch.

    • diana
      January 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      That’s such a wonderful compliment Dianne, thank you so much.

  7. David
    January 21, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    Hey! No intimate pictures of me making out with corn pops on the beach. Can’t the two of us get a little privacy??

    ; )

    • diana
      January 21, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

      Don’t show Romain this photo!

  8. Stephanie - Wasabimon
    January 21, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    Hey lady, this was a great post. I was too shy to read mine out loud that day. How funny – I’m not usually shy!

    • diana
      January 21, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

      You shy?! I’m so shocked :)

  9. Jenn
    January 22, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    Great post! Ha I remember my 5th grade English teacher telling us the “show, don’t tell” guideline about writing… It is so important. I really need to work more on remembering these rules when I am writing. Sounds like it was a fabulous workshop, wish I could’ve been there!

  10. Holly
    April 9, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    Thank you for the post and the book suggestion! I know that I need to work on my writting and while the show not tell is not news it’s one of those things I need to hear over and over again.

  11. Jennifer (Savor)
    September 7, 2010 at 2:16 am #

    Hope to get there this year – have they announced the local yet?

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  1. Sensuous Writing with Corn Pops - August 9, 2011

    […] And for a student’s eye-view of this class, see this post by Dianasaur Dishes. […]

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