I’ve been watching the Big Summer Potluck from the sidelines of social media for a couple years now. I would see the hashtag crop up every summer and my curiosity would lead me to snoop around on Instagram and Twitter to see what it is all about. This conference appealed to me much more so than other big American conferences such as BlogHer Food. I don’t think I could handle the sheer number of attendees and mad scrambles to find a seat at the different workshops. It is simply, not for me.
You see, I’m pretty shy. I’ve always been that way. I may put on a brave face and smile and start conversations with strangers now, but it is hard for me. After attending a party or going out for dinner with a group of friends, I need time to decompress as I over-evaluate everything that I said for fear of having sounded stupid or bitchy. I was always the quiet one in my house. My older sister had a large group of friends who would always be over and I would end up kicked out of the tv room because they wanted to watch MuchMusic (Canadian MTV – before we had Canadian MTV). I would stay in my room and read from the stack of books, that my librarian mother would keep me in plentiful supply of, while I taped songs off the radio.
I may still be tempted to stay home and quietly blog on my own and look in at the party through social media the same way I would hang out in my room while my sister would have a house full of friends over, but I’m ready to join the party now.
There were some people at the Big Harvest Potluck that were looking to re-connect with old friends over the weekend and didn’t really seem interested in opening their circle which is understandable considering there is only so much time to catch up over the course of a jam-packed weekend. There were times when my good friend, Jenny and I drifted away from one another as we tried to mingle. I sometimes found myself alone that first evening as I quietly observed the different groups of people. This was a familiar and comfortable perspective for me as it allowed me to regroup and once again build myself up to go talk with someone new.
At the end of the first night I had met a handful of new people but still had the vague sense of being an outsider. By the end of the second day though, this feeling had dissipated. I could feel it start to evaporate as I listened to the workshops. I felt connected to what each speaker was saying as I began to realize that I am in the right place.
I wrote down two key points made by Cheryl Sternman Rule in her morning session. The first is: hone your craft before your brand. This seems to be the zeitgeist of blogging right now as there is somewhat of a backlash against bloggers just out to make money come hell or high water. Readers are getting sick and tired of sponsored posts that are just advertorials without even an attempt to connect with the reader by showing something of the writer. If you are more concerned with having a brand that is marketable than real engagement with readers is not what you are looking for. You may end up with a successful business who has giveaways all the time and sponsored posts once or twice a week. That is fine but you are the conduit for who you are sponsored by, and readers know that you aren’t giving of yourself on the blog. People will come to your blog because they want something for free, not to engage with you in a reader/writer symbiotic relationship.
The second point was something Cheryl said during the Q&A part of her talk. I can’t remember what the question was exactly, but this is what I wrote down: Establish what success means for you and respect yourself enough to be proud of your accomplishment when a goal is met. It is always difficult to stop myself from comparing my blog to the perceived success of another blogger. Envy never does anyone any good. There is a reason that God forbids coveting what your neighbour has; it is poison for the soul. I will try to look at the work I do on my blog, for my almost ready historical podcast, and as a stay-at-home-mom with a new baby on the way and be proud of what I achieve in my small little world.
The photography workshop put on by Melissa and Christopher from the Canal House continued with the same basic thesis of the weekend for me. Take inspiration from others but the artistry of your photographs needs to come from you, not from mimicry of the current popular food styling ideas. They pointed out that if you are copying popular use of certain props, it likely shows. I’ve seen it myself and I’m pretty damn sure I’ve don’t it myself. I’m stylistically challenged. I revert to the same napkins, utensils, locations in my kitchen. What their point brought home to me is, own it. Let your perspective shine through. Don’t worry about what is the most popular camera angle (I don’t do over head shots well), let the food be the focus of the shot and not the props. The light you have in your home, the plates, napkins, other ephemera used in photos, and most importantly, the food you create is your perspective. Let that perspective show through to your readership and that will help build engagement and a connection to the reader.
This trip to BHP gave me affirmation that I have been on the right path for a while. I’ve been giving how I write and what I write a lot of thought and I’ve been trying hard not to compare my blog to others. That is a work in progress, of course, but I’ve been really trying.
I am immensely grateful that my good friend, Jenny, was able to come with me to this conference. It was such a comfort to go back to the room and re-hash the days’ events and compare and contrast BHP to the Food Bloggers of Canada conference we attended last year.
I am also grateful for the many connections I made with new friends. I enjoyed conversations with Angela, Jessie, Mallory, Allie, Zainab, Carrie, Julie, Molly, Chris…the list goes on. Thank you all!
The weekend started with apprehension and a self-imposed sense of being an outsider. By the end of the weekend, I had made new friends, laughed, and talked myself dry in the mouth. I had stood up in front of a crowd of mostly strangers to share part of a story, gotten choked up and embarrassed by my display of emotions but I had shared part of myself that connected with people. Thank you to those who came up to me after and talked to me about what I shared at open mic. It meant a lot to me.
I will move forward from this conference more confident that, despite the self-doubt that often plagues me, I am on the right path. Being home now, blogging, writing, creating recipes, researching late-Georgian England, learning to podcast and being a pretty good mom, is where I need to be. This is the perspective that I will share.