The Hero's Journey, Through Food Blogging (Part one)

hero alone

“The hero’s journey always begins with the call.” –Jospeh Campbell

Joseph Campbell, author of The Heroes Journey, called this significant shift, the “inciting incident” within a character’s story. This event in a real person’s life is called a turning point. Or in Oprah-parlance, the “Aha Moment”. For some people the call is to leave a certain social situation. Get a new job. Start a new life. For me, it was starting this food blog.

Any great story begins with a single, significant event–a special power is discovered, an accident occurs, a dare is initiated, a large some of money is won or needed, a move to a new town begins, someone dies, someone is born, a planet is discovered. But once the hero is given the call, they are plunged into a new and unfamiliar world that will change them forever.

I’m not the only one that’s been irrevocably changed by blogging. Just ask Molly of Orangette, Jaden of Steamy Kitchen, Elise of Simply Recipes, or Shauna from Gluten Free Girl how this online art form has made them the heroes of their own life stories.

ACT I: THE INCITING INCIDENT

My inciting incident happened two years ago this week when I decided to start this blog.  Like any hero crossing the threshold into a whole new life, I had no idea what was in store for me. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

If you have a new blog or are thinking of starting one, this is the time to dive in fearlessly and embrace your own heroic journey of self-discovery. With a little bit of planning and a lot of faith in yourself, the journey to creating a successful blog (whatever that means to you) is just a few acts away.

the first threshold

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD

In the mythic structure of story telling, the first act of any archetypal story is when the hero “Crosses the first threshold.” This is the moment, or an act of will, in which the hero commits whole heartedly to the adventure.

At the beginning of Food Woolf, I dove into blogging with my eyes wide open and my head full of questions. I learned on the fly. I floundered with the technology. I spent hours researching the how-to’s of blogging, snapped pictures of everything I ate, explored cookbooks, and devoured books written by food-loving writers.

Perhaps in hindsight, it might have been better for the health of my blog to have done a bit more research. But at the time I had the fire of inspiration fueling me and sites like The Food Blog Alliance didn’t exist yet, and I had no clear guidelines helping me to understand which blogging platform would be best for my goals. Lucky for first time bloggers, the Food Blog Alliance has a thorough checklist of start up costs, platform requirements, and costs for upgrades and many other useful resources that can lead you in the right direction.

THE HERO’S FIRST CHALLENGE: DEFINING ONE’S SELF IN THEIR NEW WORLD

Food Woolf started simply two years ago. It lacked a real focus. Though I was prepared to write every day, I just didn’t know what I wanted to talk about. Stories of food politics, sexy produce, Los Angeles food events, and restaurant stories flooded my writing mind. I had no idea where to start. I thrashed around on the page and struggled with my voice. I was fearless in my pursuit of knowledge (a good thing) but I needed to figure out what I was doing, where I was going, and—ultimately–what was at stake.

Borrowing something that I learned in film school, I realized I needed to come up with a one line pitch for what my website was. From day one, I always knew the words literary food blog were important. But what made my literary food blog different was something that took me a very long time to figure out.

Coming up with a one-line pitch of what your website is, is a great way to figure out how to focus your voice. That one liner for your blog may take a while to come up with–it may even change over time–but once you have a clear theme, you will have a specific focus through which you can channel your ideas onto the page.

UNKNOWN WORLD

I was happy learning. I did, however, feel supremely alone in this new world. Though I read many bloggers, I knew none of them in real life. My food blogging relationships were based solely on reading and note dropping.

Like any first act hero, I was alone in a new world without any guides. I felt like Luke in Star Wars—just after he realizes his real father was something called a Jedi Master and he stares at the stars and wonders how he’ll ever navigate his way into the big world out there.

TESTS, ALLIES, AND MENTORS

Alone and unsure in my new world of blogging, I began to fear I was wasting valuable time. Friends and loved ones questioned my motivation to put aside my screenwriting for blogging. How was I going to make a living with this? Where was this journey leading me?

It was in the middle of a busy shift of waiting tables at the Pizzeria, when I spotted a former manager of the restaurant walk through the door. Her long blonde hair, wide smile, and tiny frame immediately registered on my visual radar as I spun through the room with a stack of plates. Spitfire Leah—a twenty-something poet, former publishing assistant, turned restaurant professional, turned food writer—was in the house.

I stopped in my tracks. There was something electric in the air.

That’s when it hit me. Leah was the one person in Los Angeles that I knew had a food blog. Suddenly, my mind swam with declaratives: She is the one person in LA that would understand me! We could be writing buddies! We could inspire each other! We talk about blogs!

I hauled ass across the dining room before I missed my once in a lifetime opportunity to reach out to a kindred spirit. “We’ve got to talk,” I said before zipping back to a table of hungry teenagers. Leah disappeared, and a few days later, once Leah and I finally got to talking, things started falling into place.

photo courtesy of White on Rice.com
photo courtesy of White on Rice.com

FINDING AN ALLY

After the domain name of your site is purchased, the hosting site has been paid for, and the digital camera is powered up, the most valuable gift a beginning blogger can give to themselves is investing in finding a food blogging ally. Perhaps you forge a friendship  at a food blogging conference or a class. In every major city there are plenty of food blogging groups to be found where culinary-dorks and hungry bloggers like you are just itching to get together to swap stories over a meal.

Once Leah and I connected, we enjoyed bouncing ideas off each other and got inspired. We talked through writing issues. We cooked together. We giggled as we egged each other on to snap more food porn. We explored new dishes and tried new restaurants. We got each other out of some tight spots. We emboldened each other. Most importantly, we made each other feel safe in the choices we were making as artists.

I had an idea I had been kicking around for years and asked Leah if she’d be interested on working on it with me. I pitched her my idea over lunch. She beamed. “Yes,” she said. “Let’s become writing partners.”

To be continued…

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Brooke Burton nominated for best food writing

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

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