As the semester comes to a close and finals have begun, I’ve been reflecting on the end of my internship and what it means for me. I said goodbye to Marisa and Food in Jars just over a week ago (with the promise of a lunch date next semester), and I have to say, it was genuinely difficult leaving.
I’ve truly enjoyed interning at Food in Jars for many reasons, those practical and not so much. On the surface, my internship got me off campus and into the city twice a week, which was refreshing and allowed me to clear any negative energy I had at the apartment or in classes by simply getting me off my butt, away from City Ave, and into a productive environment. I became more familiar with the ins and outs of WordPress (as well as the 44 bus route) and what it takes to run a blog and business from home. On the first day, Marisa and I mapped out some goals and possible projects to tackle, and we’ve slowly been checking them off of our conveniently shared Google Doc (honestly, discovering Drive and utilizing Docs has been a lifesaver this semester). Some of those goals included:
- Gain food writing skills
- Become more fluent with social media
- Practice blogging and writing for an online space
- Understand the ins and outs of a small business
- Gain additional Communication/English skills (as related to major at SJU)
As it stands, I feel accomplished with those goals: I’ve guest-blogged (twice!); I made two new pages for the site; I’ve called various produce distributors, done inventory, went through piles of receipts, and made a-many post office runs; I’ve reformatted, recategorized, researched and proofread for that wonderful little canning blog.
However, I learned so much more. This internship allowed me to explore the world of blogging and bloggers, something that can’t really be understood until experienced. And that’s just it. I gained experience. Not just from doing, but by getting to talk to one who lives, thrives, on that experience. Blogging involves giving your time to something and requires a delicate balance amongst other projects, be they freelance work, a second job, a marriage, a bachelor’s degree, or simply needing to clean the kitchen and tackle the laundry. As a writer/blogger, you give yourself to your readers, and, as redundant as it is, yourself. When I first wrote my draft post about canning green tomatoes, the majority of my suggestions were about details. Who? Why? How? What can you remember? What do you wish you were there for? What is the best part about it? Some of these details were things I didn’t think readers would care about, but, in truth, it’s those little things that make a post resonate. It’s what makes Food in Jars, both the cookbook and the blog, so fantastic to read. All in all, it’s what makes blogging, for personal or business purposes, so magical.
I also learned a lot about usability. The two pages I made–the Cookbook Errata and the Canning 101 pages–would have cluttered the site’s menu, but were also important things to have in order to diminish unnecessary emails and, overall, help out any readers visiting the site and needing to easily sort through information or get their questions answered. A new drop-down menu was created to fit the pages and declutter what already existed, therefore making things more accessible to the reader, inquiring or not. Moreover, most of the beautifying “grunt work” I did on the blog–resizing photos, putting recipes into a plugin, etc. also make the experience of visiting the blog much more user-friendly. The recipes were more clearly distinguishable from the rest of the text of the post (and the plugin allowed the reader to export ingredients to a digital grocery list if they were so inclined), while the resized pictures stopped posts from looking like a blocky zig-zag and created a more harmonious format.
In observing a food writer, I began to notice things that you don’t necessarily get from class, or books, or even from reading food blogs. The understated decisions that go into food writing are monumental: making the choice between yield in cups, pints, or servings; including a formal recipe or including directions throughout the post; finding time to test and retest recipes; varying the type of posts–recipes, links to other sources, giveaways, discussing books or equipment, etc. Again, it all comes down to a balance.
I also learned the value of a taking advantage of a resource. I am fortunate enough to attend a university with small classes and a top-notch faculty who sincerely invest themselves in their student’s individual growth and learning. I have gone to professors for help, recommendations, and just general chats, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve understood the power of networking and connections. Ironically, I landed this internship by talking to one professor who I’ve had multiple classes with, who led me to another professor, who I met with once and served as the single bridge between myself and Food in Jars. At my internship, I did my best to politely badger Marisa about her wealth of knowledge. Still, I had a lot to learn about networking.
In my Ethics and Communications class this semester, I’ve read a lot about the internet and it’s effect on society and the individual. In Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, Rheingold discusses attention, networking, and participatory culture. One of his main points is to know how the technology works so that you can know how to use it and how it affects you. I learned from both Rheingold and Marisa that, as familiar as I am with social media and networking, I haven’t really understood all the ways in which it works and thus how to utilize it. Both recommend just jumping in, regardless of any fear of failure.
Rheingold advises in exploring existing blogs or sites and utilizing face-face or online resources to find experts in the fields I’m interested in and then following them. Over time, fine tuning and prune my network and then feed, engage, question, reciprocate, and respond to it—essentially becoming a contributor to the community myself.
Marisa, who ends nearly every blog post with a question or well-wishes in order to engage her particular community, advised me to do the same. Start seeking out and following blogs. Participate in the community by engaging others through comments and messages, offering to freelance or work in the communities that seem like a good fit, and by contributing my own creations (which I need to stop hesitating on).
In other words, start creating and networking the crap out myself and my creations.
Which I am actually totally game for.
I’ve always loved using an online space for creation. Many moons ago I had a livejournal (fat chance I’m posting that link) and currently have a tumblr which is used mostly for reblogging than for personal posts. It’s time I start contributing to this culture, my culture. Participation and observation are part of why I want to write, why I love to cook, why I can’t ever stop thinking. So now it’s time to give back in a forum where people other than my professors can see.
Granted, it’s hard to get a blog rolling on top of interning, working, and managing the workload of four classes. Time management, or rather, self-discipline, is a skill that is more than needed in blogging and writing in general–and one I intend to make a habbit rather than an occasional practice. Thus, starting June 1st, my summer goals to be accomplished include:
1. consistently blog here, as a personal blog
2. churn out roughly 1 to 3 poems a week and share here/on tumblr
3. begin vegan food blog, even if I change it over the semester or get a new angle–just start blogging already
4. start 90 day novel book. because why not.
I’m tired of being a “someday” writer. The best thing I can possibly do is start doing things today and share them, only then can I learn what I want and where it can take me.