Last weekend I attended Eat Write Retreat in D.C. I was invited via Twitter and bought the ticket on a whim as a graduation present to myself. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary with the hopes that being around serious bloggers would help me figure out if I wanted to pursue 'something' in food--Should I bake? Should I write about restaurants? Did I want to take my blog in a new direction? Does my writing suck? Should I bother blogging at all?
My poor brain was a whizzing tornado of anxiety. Thoughts were dashing around my head. I had doubts about my ability, about how professional my blog looked and whether I would be taken seriously at all, being that my blog has few followers and a small readership. After all, didn't I start this blog for fun? I wanted to stop spamming my facebook newsfeed with pictures of the delicious photos I would take of practically everything I baked and whatever I ate at restaurants. How would it stand up against serious bloggers?
Do me a favor. Read that last question again. [I'll wait.]
That, dear readers, was my problem. At the start of the conference, I was so intimidated by everyone because they had beautiful DSLR cameras with huge lenses and business cards with tiny pictures of vegetables and appetizing dishes. I showed up empty handed [didn't even bring a notebook!] except for my slightly-scratched point & shoot which always seems to have flour on it. Frankly, I didn't think I belonged. I wasn't sure if I should take my swag bag and hop on the Megabus back to PA. Sure, I had paid the fee, but had I paid my dues in the blogging world?
Instead of being my normal, bubbly, slightly-awkward extraverted self who sees no issue with talking to strangers, I was much more demure and reserved than I had ever been in such a setting. Instead, I did a lot of observing and even more listening. I heard a lot of people discussing terms I was unfamiliar with--about gluten-free eating, for example--and mention bloggers and foodies whose names were completely lost on me. During the first day, this was all pretty overwhelming. I thought maybe I had made a mistake by coming. Then, at lunch on the second day, something amazing happened.
I got a reality check via Twitter. My friend Dave tweeted to make sure I was taking a ton of pictures, like I always do, and at that moment I realized how much I had been holding back. I was so intimidated that I had barely taken any photos. I had maybe a shot or two of everything I ate, which was completely unlike me. I replied that I had been a bit intimidated and he immediately followed up with a reminder that I had nothing to worry about. He reminded me that I was doing something I loved and that I had never let these kinds of things bother me before, so I shouldn't start now. And, with that, a simple tweet changed my whole perspective of the conference.
I started to relax and make a bigger effort to talk to people. I began to truly enjoy myself. I laughed through lunch with a great group of gals. At the CulinAerie workshop, I didn't care if my grapefruit slices were a bit off; I'm a baker, not a cook! I was sitting in a cooking class, something I'd wanted to do since sitting on a stool in my dad's catering kitchen, and I was not going to let doubts ruin my experience.
One of the most important things I realized was what a wonderful, encouraging community I was a part of. [Yes, I belonged.] Other bloggers had questions about how to style food or how to improve their writing, just like I did. People openly shared about their families, their blogs, their jobs and their pets. In fact, at dinner on Saturday night, a bunch of us started pulling out our "baby" pictures on our phones to share our adorable cats and dogs. Most importantly, though, I realized how supportive everyone was of one another. I was happily overwhelmed with insightful suggestions about how to improve my blog or take a good photograph. And, in my moment of greatest doubt, I was going to give up a coveted spot to speak with the Food & Travel editor of The Washington Post, but a fellow blogger refused to let me cross my name off the list. For that, I am so grateful. [Thank you, Wendy!]
I initially wanted to write this post chronicling the contents of my swag bag and describing each plate of food in delicious descriptive detail, but when I got home from the conference, I realized that I had learned more about myself than what had been on the conference schedule. I realized that I am in a unique position in the blogosphere, as many conference attendees have successful blogs and go to improve upon their marketing, photography and writing skills. Essentially, they want to make a good thing better. Me? Well, even though I've had my blog for just about a year, I feel like I'm just starting one. After listening to the speakers and panels and taking in the anecdotes and insight from other bloggers, I feel like I can approach my blog with new eyes.
When I got home from the conference, my brain was reeling with ideas of how I wanted to write more and learn to use my camera properly. Google became my best friend. I sat down and created a plan with a detailed to-do list of all that I needed to fix or learn if I wanted to get serious about blogging and confidently call myself a blogger. I think it's about time I started taking myself seriously, wouldn't you agree?