Food Writing’s Almost Always on the Menu – Phyllis Ring

Back when I didn’t know where my first magazine sale would come from, a friend who was an established writer offered me a story assignment that a personal crisis was going to prevent her from completing. Her generosity opened the door to the nearly endless publication possibilities of food writing.

Once I’d set up the interview, I immersed myself in every bit of information my friend had accumulated about her source. Though I knew nothing about the soft-drink bottling business, the proud local owner was more than happy to educate me about the company his family has run for three generations, and provide an insider’s view of the business.

This taught me that while writing what you know is good, writing about something you’re interested to learn more about often works just as well. Like a large number of readers, I’m certainly interested in most things food, which may be why it’s a topic that finds its way onto the story list of such a wide range of publications. Even the smallest local newspaper devotes some editorial space to it, especially when any holidays are on the calendar.

That bottling-company owner really like to tell a story and was, blessedly, a source of some terrific quotes. Though I was nervous about the assignment, he made my job extra easy. When it came time to write the piece, the rapid turnaround of newspaper work forced me to do what’s never failed me since: Keep the writing succinct and within requested word count; make it clear and accurate; and keep the tone conversational, even friendly, as though I was sharing the information in a visit at the local bakery. (My very next assignment, as it turned out).

With that short deadline, I used another approach that’s become standard practice for me. Upon arriving home, I immediately drafted whatever I could remember from the interview, looking for places where things linked naturally, or transitions were obvious. While those sample tastes of birch beer and black raspberry soda were still in my taste buds’ memory, I found words for them.

Hundreds of articles later, I seldom include much more than what I capture in these ìfirst thoughtsî, even when faced with tapes of complex interviews. This is where I usually discover the lead, if I haven’t already heard it during the interview, and often intuit how the story will wrap.

After I submitted that story, the editor came right back to me with a list of possible food- and cooking-related assignments. Eventually, with some more food-writing clips in hand, I was able to pitch and sell stories to better-paying regional and national magazines.

Food’s a topic that most everyone likes to talk about, and read about, and for writers looking for ways to garner assignments, particularly if you’re willing to start with smaller publications, it’s often the perfect appetizer for many main-course assignments to come.

<I>Phyllis Ring’s articles have appeared in Organic Producer and Yankee. Her collection of essays, Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details is available at Amazon.com and at <A HREF=”http://www.phyllisring.com”>http://www.phyllisring.com</A>.</I>

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