white soda bread scones + this business of bloggers and “original content”

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Truth be told, I’m starting to hate the word “content.” It’s one of those words bandied about so much that it starts to lose its flavor. The assembly of words and the composition of a photograph have suddenly been reduced to a term that feels clinical, sterile, soulless. Rarely do I use this space to talk about the more professional side of my life, but permit me this brief trespass because I think the world is overcomplicating things a bit.

Years ago, I got my masters in fine arts {MFA} at Columbia. Having majored in finance and marketing in college and coming out of a stint at Morgan Stanley, I was hardly the sort of candidate who would attend such a program. Yet, I’d been architecting sentences and crafting stories ever since I learned how to hold a pen. My first poem was a haiku about my mother, where I likened her voice to thunder. I was seven. I wrote the sort of stories that frightened people. Routinely, I was called out of class to the guidance counselor’s office, where a young woman would hold a story I’d written and ask me if anything was wrong at home. I wanted to laugh because everything was wrong, but what did that have to do with the story about a girl who hung herself from a tree? So when the writer Judy Budnitz called me and told me I had been admitted into the program I asked if this was a practical joke. She assured me it wasn’t.

I reconcile the world, and find my way through it, in my writing. It’s always been this way, yet I never had my work discussed, nor did I understand the mechanics of writing. The bones, if you will. And this is the reason why I paid a great sum of money for this program — to have the time and space to take the thing I’ve always been doing, seriously.

My second year in the program I was surrounded by what folks call “line writers.” These are of the Ben Marcus variety. They care less about the movement of plot and development of character, rather the architecture of a sentence is tantamount. The cadence of the line rises above the din. These line writers composed the sort of pieces that read beautifully but made no sense. I always walked away feeling stupid for not getting it. How is that I could understand epic poetry and its dizzying array of allusions, yet I can’t decipher a paragraph in a short story? What I remember most is one of these writers regarding my work as if it were a sullied tissue. Family stories have been done to death, she said, rolling her eyes. There’s nothing new here. After the shock wore off and I subsequently cried in my apartment later than evening, I had a thought.

EVERY FUCKING STORY HAS BEEN TOLD. A MILLION TIMES OVER.

Heartbreak, loss, love, anger, death, sorrow, guilt, pain, envy, faith etc, etc, etc — writers have been trying to make sense of the world and the way they see it through prose. From Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare to Beckett, Woolf, and Eliot to all of the great post-modernists, there is no new terrain to cover, the only difference is the perspective. The themes never change but the voices do, and that’s what makes us unique.

Inspired by Emily’s post, and some of my own thinking as of late, I’ve noticed a dizzying proliferation of blogs that have the same look, feel, fanciful collages, and SEO-centric plugins, and while there are the motley lot who serve to be bland photocopies of others, there are scores of other voices who bring something different.

And that difference is their voice. The power of it, the sweep of it, the depth of it.

Take this post. I’ve baked a soda bread in the form of scones, and the recipe comes from a terrific cookbook author, Rachel Allen. There’s certainly nothing new about a scone recipe, why, there are thousands of them on the internet, but what’s new is how I marry image and type. How I take a recipe and somehow connect it to what’s going on in my life. It’s my voice that hopefully makes this space unique, not the mechanics of the “content.”

I’ll put on my marketing hat {a hat I’ve worn for the better part of fifteen years}. Marketing is about storytelling, plain and simple. You take a cup of coffee and you tell me why I need this coffee. How this coffee will resolve a problem I have or make me feel better. A deft marketer connects with their intended target {consumer}, understands their needs and pain points, and then cultivates stories that speak to that need and anticipated need. The tactics are the same, the content may be similar, but it’s the voice, the way we arrange the words, the way we connect them with pictures, is new. So if we translate that to blogging and this space, stop agonizing over developing that NEW recipe or sourcing that NEVER-SEEN-BEFORE interview. Focus on understanding your audience, what they love, and how you can create beautiful things every day to deliver against that love. Have the integrity to bring beauty every single day and your audience will follow and endure.

Write your family stories, adapt your recipes {and give proper credit}, make your collages, but let them be your voice, not someone else’s. That’s what makes your virtual postmark of a space original.

Other Choice Reads on the Topic: What Should Food Bloggers Write About? | Finding Your Voice Through Social Media | Handling Change Offline + Online {great podcast}

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Rachel Allen’s Bake.
450g {4 cups} unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp caster sugar {superfine, however, I used cane and the scones turned out fine}
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda {baking soda}
1 tsp salt
12 to 15 ounces (1 1/2 cups to 2 cups) buttermilk or sour milk

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Sift the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, and salt into a large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour in most of the buttermilk, leaving about 2 ounces in the measuring cup. Using one hand with your fingers outstretched like a claw, bring the flour and liquid together, adding more buttermilk, if necessary. Do not knead the mixture or it will become heavy. The dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky.

When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a floured work surface, and bring it together a little more. Flatten the dough into a round approximately 2 1/2 1-inch deep. Cut into scones, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Turn out to a wire rack to cool.

Variations on Seasoning
White Soda Bread or Scones with Herbs: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, parsley or lemon balm, to the dry ingredients, and make as above.

Spotted Dog: Add 3 1/2 ounces sultanas (golden raisins), raisins or currants, or a mixture of all three, to the dry ingredients, and make as above.

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10 thoughts on “white soda bread scones + this business of bloggers and “original content”

  1. You speak a lot of truth. Every recipe that I approach gets substitutions, short-cuts or just a different perspective.

    When I guest-blog, I always try to dream up something appropriate that might never have been done before.

    As long as you put your own perspective into the story, it’s a valid point to make. I see many blogs that repost recipes, without changing single a word or photo. I feel that if a blog does that, it’s not really a blog but Pinterest in the form of a blog.

    Like

  2. Felicia– I read this post above and loved it so much that I did searches to find other things of yours that I could read. This rarely happens (my concentration allows me bursts of good reading). So real, so refreshing.
    Thanks for writing.
    Jane

    Like

  3. So sweet of you to mention me :) Your words are so much more eloquent than mine, but to the point, they are so much more you and that’s what makes them great.
    Also, now I know what a line writer is. Glad you explained that!

    Like

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