Sometimes When You Lose, You Win: On Competitive Food Blogging

My raison d’être of becoming a blogger almost three years ago was simple: I needed a place to tell stories about food and what I knew about the restaurant business. My blog wasn’t created to change the world. It was built to describe it.

Because my goal for this website wasn’t to become The World’s Most Popular Food Blogger, or make millions off of advertising, there have been a lots of things I don’t do. I don’t use a computer program to tell me how to search engine optimize my posts for key words. I don’t write about topics I think will gain me advertisers’ dollars or corporate clients. I don’t go to blogging dinners just to get free meals. What I do is write. I write about things that fascinate me and make me want to learn more. I celebrate the underdogs. I enjoy the company of passionate people. I participate in this blogging world in order to participate in a virtual salon on food and expression.

I do, however, come from a background of acting and doing improvisational comedy. My training in saying YES to every challenge I’m faced with makes it very hard to to ignore the voice I have inside me that demands I do things that are well beyond my comfort zone. This internal voice—the quiet champion’s whisper that said it was a good idea to quit my job as a screenwriter and take up blogging—often asks me to do things that scare the hell out of me. Things like auditioning for food shows, speak at conferences, network with big time food bloggers, go after big dreams, and enter myself into food blogging competitions, like Project Food Blog.

In choosing to enter the Project Food Blog competition—an ten week competition to see who would be the Next Food Blogging Star and something that I’ve been writing about for the past month—I decided to take a chance on myself because it would push me to be the best I could be under unusual circumstances. I knew the competition would be a difficult and full of impossible deadlines, odd tests of skill, trials of character, and tests of stamina. I learned there was a certain amount of campaigning involved, and while I tried to ignore the feeling of competing in a popularity contest—I enjoyed discovering the voices of other food lovers and writers.

As the competition continued and I made it through each round, I found my confidence soar. Despite long hours at my restaurant job, I was able to meet difficult writing deadlines and post stories that made me excited. I watched with amazement as my friends and family voted me through round after round, despite their clear bewilderment on how to navigate the confusing links at Food Buzz.

I had made it! I had accomplished the deadlines! People really liked my post! They really like me! And then—after receiving a Twitter message that told me I had made it through to round five–I learned I had failed to make it through to round five.

I felt the wind taken out of my sails. I failed at competitive blogging.

Over the weekend I grappled with pangs of defeat, emptiness and disappointment. I felt like a teenage girl who thought she was going to the prom and never got the invite from the boy she liked…And then–when I saw I was being just as silly as a teenage girl–I got over myself.  I brushed off the dust of disappointment and dented pride and saw the diamonds left behind from my Project Food Blog experience.

I had found new writers and bloggers I admired (Jun-Blog, Z Tasty Life, The Cilantropist, The Cuisinerd, and The Lunch Box Project) to help fill up my well with beautiful inspiration. (If you haven’t already cast your vote for this round of Project Food Blog, these blogs will not disappoint!) Thanks to the challenges of Project Food Blog, I have a much fuller world of inspiration to draw from.

Thanks to you for reading and continued support. It’s nice to have someone to write for. Whether or not I win the prize.

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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.

37 Comments

  1. October 20
    Reply

    I feel like I have come home to a place I recognize. You write like you live, with full force honesty. Brava. GREG

  2. October 20
    Reply

    You know what, I totally admire all of you who put yourself out there with that project. It took a lot of courage and I was amazed at the hard work involved!
    You are loved by many, even though you aren’t officially the next food blog star. You’ll always be a star in my book :)

  3. October 20
    Reply

    you will ALWAYS be MY winner. always.

  4. October 20
    Reply

    So much fantastic and real and honest and raw info here! I love your perspective!

  5. October 20
    Reply

    I was sad to see you didn’t make it to the next round, I’ve really enjoyed your posts. While I am enjoying the competition and how it’s pushing me to be better and try new things, I’m sick of the campaigning and how it’s taken over my weekends. Although I am happy to have discovered other great food bloggers, like yourself, because of it. You’ve got a new follower!

  6. October 20
    Reply

    I’m with Matt!! You’ll always be my winner :) xoxo

  7. October 20
    Reply

    I’m glad to hear that while you didn’t win, the experience was a positive one for you. In general I find sponsored contests turn bloggers into social media spammers (vote for me! vote for me!) and encourage them to compete against each other in a way that is anything but positive. There are many great food blogs, I’m saddened that contests and “celebrity culture” has infected the food blogging world because the results are generally more discouraging than encouraging.

    • Food Woolf
      October 20
      Reply

      @Amy,
      Thanks for that note. Unfortunately for all of us in the food blogging world, I think you’re right. It’s that politicking stuff that I really dislike. Nice to have you come by and drop off these lovely words! Thank you!

  8. When I found out I hadn’t made it past round three, I felt both like the prom girl you describe above, and a bit like a runaway bride – free in the nick of time! I’m glad I entered, and just as glad to be done with it. And, like you, I’ve discovered wonderful new voices, gotten great feedback from readers, and really enjoyed myself along the way. Your voice is unique and fresh, your perspective even more so. And your readers recognize that and worship you for it. xoxoxoxo

    • Food Woolf
      October 20
      Reply

      @Erika – In Erika’s Kitchen, Giggle. I love that runaway bride feeling, too. I do feel like I have my life back! I’m excited to have my time back so I can write about what I want to write about, WHEN I want to write about it. Here’s to making it through all of PFB!

  9. October 20
    Reply

    I read your posts no matter what. No fair weather readers here! You kick ass doing just what you do.

  10. October 20
    Reply

    Ditto!! You are a rockstar in my book! it took a lot just to put yourself out there and I think you are an amazing blogger!! i’m glad to know you and i can’t wait for Foodbuzz! :)

  11. October 20
    Reply

    I like this post. It serves as a reminder for us to simply keep on doing what it most of us set out to do in the first place– tell the stories we want to tell and, hopefully, meet some wonderful people along the way.

    Like you, my friend.

    Good show.

  12. October 20
    Reply

    You are a winner in my book!

  13. Brooke, I agree with all of the commenters ahead of me here. I am SO proud of you for even entering that contest, let alone advancing thorough all those rounds. Such a tough challenge that you took on. Putting ourselves out there daily in such a vast huge, public space is scary….but oh so ballsy & worth it. You caught the wave, rode it and then elegantly jumped off your board. Well done in my book :) Love you girl!

  14. To strive, “fail,” consider, regroup, and then truly succeed on one’s own terms, as you have so admirably described here, is life in a nutshell for a thinking person. This is a beautiful, insightful post that I thank you for sharing with your readers, including this new one.

  15. You just ooze class, Brooke. I felt the same way after I didn’t make it in the last round — there were some “Shoulda coulda wouldas” (I should have written a post about how to throw the perfect dinner party!) but then I stepped back, realized that the reason I joined up in the first place was to breathe a little fresh air into my blogging, which I did, and that if I was happy with my posts (which I was) I could keep my head high. It was fun to “meet” some new bloggers, and really, I’m just happy I don’t have to do a video.

  16. Leah
    October 20
    Reply

    You don’t need to win a contest to be a star. You shine brighter than anyone I know. Keep shedding light. XO.

  17. congrats on making it as far as you did! i’m used to hearing no all the time as an actor, but getting that first rejection (i didn’t make it past round 1) kinda stung!

  18. October 20
    Reply

    I loved reading this post! I know how you feel. . .

  19. October 20
    Reply

    you are a winner in my books! i adore you, and acquiring the “next food blog star” title or not, you are my number one food blogger, friend, mentor and now (I say proudly) daughter (yes, to your request of me being your “mommy”)!!

  20. October 21
    Reply

    I was so surprised and pleased when you introduced yourself to me at Blogger Prom. I wanted to offer the same vote of support when you took on the Project Food Blog Challenge, but I was honestly blown away by your fresh perspective on writing about food… you’ve earned a fan in me!
    I was disappointed to see you not make the next round, but then again, I know trying to fit into a mold for these types of competitions can stifle creativity too.. I’m looking forward to reading more from you where the inspiration comes

  21. October 21
    Reply

    oops! Hit submit too early!

    What I was saying was that I’m looking forward to reading more when the inspiration comes naturally, because that’s when your writing really shines!

  22. October 21
    Reply

    You are definitely winner in MY book! I have the same unfortunate drive to compete and really have to fight it in my blogging. Even once I determined exactly what the focus of my blog is and decided not to do a post or competition that didn’t meet that focus, I still struggled with remembering my goal. I signed up for project food blog and then realized right before it started that it would simply distract me from what was really important. I’m so glad I didn’t do it, but I’m really glad that you learned so much through the process. I voted for you each week because I truly think you’ve got the whole package! Love you friend.

  23. October 21
    Reply

    You don’t need to be a winner. Being a winner doesn’t mean anything, really. Being a hero does.
    You’re a hero to us and to many others, that’s what matters.
    xo

  24. October 22
    Reply

    I think you won — you got the prize of self-confidence and satisfaction. In the end, it’s about making yourself happy and finding the diamond at the end is a big win!

    You ARE a winner!

    • Food Woolf
      October 23
      Reply

      @Fran, Thanks for you words. They certainly made me feel like a winner! :) Thank you for your support and friendship on these pages. Best,
      B

  25. October 22
    Reply

    I have worried a little what this competition changes in my blogging self, but mostly I think it has been awesome because i have some new blogs I love and I have learned a lot about technique. Whether that will actually help me become a better blogger, well….
    I never planned on winning, not because I’m pessimistic, just because I know I haven’t totally found my niche, my space, my audience. I’m just liking the challenge and I hope I can continue finding ways to challenge myself and a community to write for.
    I am glad I found you!

  26. I could name the dozens of recipe contests I actually entered (when time and kids permitted) and I didn’t win squat. I didn’t enter FoodBuzz’s competition because I just didn’t have the time and I doubted I’d get very far! You did great! It takes a lot to put yourself out there, in an uncomfortable place, an unfamiliar place. Sometimes just taking a risk means you won. Keep up the good work and your provocative articles!

  27. Brooke:
    You were (scratch that! ARE) one of my favorites on pfb… I was really sad to see you go and could not quite understand how that happened. Keep doing what you do best: being yourself, writing wonderful posts, taking amazing photos.
    Being the under-dog that I am (not big on competitive blogging, JUST started tweeting in the last days and am getting a sense of how overwhelming that can be), I can completely subscribe to your words.
    On the other hand, it has been very special to meet new friends and similar minds like you in the process, and learn more about my blogging “voice” as I grow my audience, post after post.
    BTW, for one of the recipes in my next challenge I was loosely inspired by your Banh Mi Recipe (post coming soon), and will mention you.
    One of your loyal readers,
    Amelia

    • Food Woolf
      October 23
      Reply

      @Amelia from Z Tasty Life, What a thoughtful and heartfelt note! I’m humbled by your words. Thank you for rooting for me and supporting my writing.

      I’m so happy to hear you were inspired by one of my recipes! Can’t wait to read (and see) your version of it!
      Best,
      Brooke

  28. The Cuisinerd
    October 25
    Reply

    Thank you so much for your support! I couldn’t agree more how wonderful it has been to learn about other fabulous food blogs (like yours!) during this competition.

    Cheers!

  29. October 26
    Reply

    I loved reading this post. It moved me a lot! I was out after round #3 and yes, of course, I felt disappointment and sadness, like you said. But I also felt I “met” a number of bloggers I did not know before and that now are part of my daily routine. And I’m very grateful for that!

  30. An honest opinion is always welcome with me! You will see soon, the best part is the new people you have met! Congrats on going so far!
    -Gina-

  31. Dear girl!
    After what you’ve accomplished in the last couple of years, and the great presentation you gave on The Write Taste -do not worry about the odd disaapointment – you are amazing! Great to see you again, and thanks for all the insipiration!!!
    Best, always

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