Five hundred posts! How the hell did that happen?
Five hundred posts couldn’t happen without all of you – a blog is nothing without readers and I’m enormously grateful to you wonderful food lovers and adventurers for dropping by, reading, sending emails, posting comments and continuing to drop by, making it all worthwhile. It’s been a great joy to get to know so many of you in person too.
So please drop in for dumplings anytime you’re in Shanghai – it would be a pleasure and an honour.
Who would have thought that three years, five hundred posts and a lot of late nights later, I would be a food and travel writer with more than sixty published articles under my belt? I honestly didn’t see it coming and I didn’t set out to become a writer, but I love writing and telling stories about food and places. And if I hadn’t come to China (a country which I now dearly love, even with all its faults) this would never have happened, so for that I will always be thankful.
So here goes Post 500, about how I came to China and inadvertently became a writer, dedicated to all the many talented but as yet unpublished writers out there.
Two years ago, just as I began to think it might be possible to write outside of my blog, I was introduced to the editor of Parents and Kids Magazine – a monthly magazine for Shanghai’s expat families. We got chatting about a recent holiday and I was asked to write a travel piece for the magazine. It would be unpaid because I was an unpublished and untested writer, but it seemed like a great place to start because if I was going to write I wanted to write about travel and food, the two topics close to my heart.
It turned out to be a good decision – Parents and Kids belonged to a group of publications under the same owner, so after that first article was published I was asked to write a series of blog posts for their main website, City Weekend Shanghai, on new things to try in Shanghai followed by a blog series called Try Everything Once.
As is common with many print magazines, online blog content is essentially unpaid, written largely by either staff writers or by bloggers like me. Part of me baulked at doing so much work for nothing week after week for several months, but I felt confident it would lead eventually, one way or another, to paid writing commissions.
Soon after, City Weekend’s family columnist resigned and I took her place writing Family Matters: a fortnightly column about family life in China, and this time a paid gig in their high-circulation print magazine. I was overjoyed! That column became my regular for well over a year until I resigned after leaving for the Great China Roadtrip.
This regular published work led to my becoming the Food Feature writer for Shanghai Family Magazine, then travel writer for That’s Shanghai and That’s Beijing Magazines, which led to work with the Sunday Times, CNNGo, and Oryx magazine. I would never have had a chance with any of those bigger publications if I hadn’t started small and built up experience.
Luckily blogging helped put me in touch with just the people whose advice I needed. It turns out a lot of food journalists, writers and editors come to Shanghai at one point or another for stories, and they often look to local bloggers as a source of information and referrals.
As The Grumpy Traveller (freelance travel journalist David Whitley) notes, editors will take reliability over brilliance almost every time.
I Kept My Day Job
I Learnt Another Skill
I took up photography for the creative enjoyment when I arrived in Shanghai, but it gradually became a marketable skill I could offer editors.
Before print publishing was decimated by online media, magazines would rarely dream of hiring the same person to write and photograph a feature. But in these days of tight budgets and major online competition, being able to offer editors a package of writing and photography means I can command a higher fee than for the writing alone, and may mean the difference between an editor choosing my pitch over someone else’s.
Obviously I’m not talking about National Geographic, but about magazines who need good quality photography to illustrate a story. I have always provided my own images for the stories I write, which means I also have more input into which images are chosen. It must be frustrating to write something amazing only to have it illustrated with a stock photography beach shot.
I Kept Writing
Week in, week out, whether I had a deadline or not I kept writing – blog posts, ideas and pitches. I blogged because I love to share stories, and I’ll continue blogging as long as all of you wonderful people keep reading.
Blogging keeps up the habit and practice of writing until it becomes an ingrained part of life. Blogging isn’t my job and I make absolutely no money from it, but it has given me the freedom and space to develop my own writing style and voice, and at the same time has become my online business card and CV rolled into one, a place where potential employers can see what I do for themselves, and contact me easily.
I hope to be able to continue writing about China for a long time yet – there’s certainly a bottomless pit of stories from my last three years here, most of which are untold. Life on Nanchang Lu will continue to be around whether I’m in Shanghai or back home in Australia and just dreaming about Shanghai.
And once our travels are over I’m planning to sit down in a quiet place to write a book about them – my biggest writing project yet. I’m terrified and excited by the prospect all at once, but can’t wait to get cracking. I’ll keep you updated with how it’s progressing.
Dianne Jacob’s practical, sensible and extraordinarily helpful book Will Write For Food is like a road map for carving out a food writing career. Although written specifically for food writers her solid advice applies equally to budding writers in any field.
Pitching Errors: How Not to Pitch – from website The Open Notebook offers valuable advice on what not to do when pitching a magazine story. They also keep an interesting Pitching Database of successful pitches.
The Single Most Important Piece of Advice for Freelance Writers by The Grumpy Traveller is well written advice that should give all freelancers heart. He also has a useful section on Writing and Media
If you have a story to tell or a tip to share about writing, I’d love to hear it!