Archive for December 16th, 2007

Writing Adventures in Shanghai: Writing About Food: Stinky Tofu Sells

Kristin Bair O’KeeffeBy Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote “Ode to Salt,” “Ode to Onion,” and “Ode to Tomatoes.” Roald Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Dr. Seuss made breakfast fare famous with Green Eggs and Ham. E. J. Levy’s essay, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” made it into the 2005 edition of The Best American Essays, and in the May 2007 issue of Women’s Health magazine, Monica Gullon wrote about the glory of sprouts and Vietnamese spring rolls. By the time you finish reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s current bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, you’ll be more than ready to move to Italy and dive headfirst into a bowl of fresh pasta.

Or…like all of these writers, you’ll be ready to write about food. And why not? We humans are compelled by it. We love to eat it, talk about it, cook it, grow it, watch TV shows about it, and read about it. Food is a universal necessity that crosses the boundaries of race, class, religion, and country. Food makes us feel. It conjures up memories and connects us to one another. And yes, as is evidenced by the list above, it inspires great writing. No matter what you write—poetry, children’s books, literary essays, magazine articles, or books—food sells.

“But,” you stutter, “I’m not a chef. Hell, I don’t know the difference between rosemary and thyme.”

“Bah!” I say. “You don’t need to. Remember the time you accidentally baked the tuna casserole with plastic wrap still on it? Write about it. Remember the time your dog crawled onto the dining room table and ate an entire batch of chocolate drop cookies (and survived)? Write about it. Remember that perfect crème brulée you shared at that gorgeous restaurant in New York City during a blizzard with your husband on your first anniversary? Write about it.”

The truth is, we’re all passionate about food, be it burgers or osso bucco. Here in Shanghai, I’m obsessed with stinky tofu…a block of tofu soaked in a fermented brine for a really long time. I’m not obsessed with eating it, mind you. I haven’t dared to venture that far yet (and doubt I ever will). But every time I’m slapped by its horrific odor when I’m walking down the street, I wonder; and when something makes me wonder more than once, I know I need to write about it.

Eventually I’ll write about the first time I smelled stinky tofu during the 2006 May week-long festival at the Longhua Temple, and about the fact that the odor is worse than the stench of the most rancid baby poop, and about the fact that street stalls that sell it have actually been fined for breaking air pollution laws, and about the fact that last year on an airplane, a man’s bag of stinky tofu tore open and the majority of people on the plane, overcome by the odor, puked for the rest of the trip. Perhaps by writing about it, I’ll figure out why so many people in China love it so.

So put your fork down and set your chopsticks aside. Choose your dish, pick up your pen, and start writing.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe moved to Shanghai, China, in April 2006 and has been writing about this incredible country ever since. Her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” chronicles her adventures (and misadventures) in Shanghai and garners the attention of readers all around the world. Her essays about the China experience can be found in The Baltimore Review and To Shanghai With Love (forthcoming). As a respected writing instructor, she has taught hundreds of writers over the past fourteen years and is currently teaching both fiction and nonfiction writing in Shanghai.

The Copywriter’s Paycheck: Develop a Copywriting Niche

Elizabeth ShortBy Elizabeth Short

Having fun writing copy for a variety of industries? Or does switching from massage therapy to diesel mechanics to dairy farming make you dizzy? Either way, read on to learn why specializing is a good idea.

Getting Started Tip #9: Develop a copywriting niche
Doctors do it. Lawyers do it. Chefs do it. So do scientists, college professors and fashion designers. In fact, it’s hard to think of a profession that doesn’t, to some degree, involve cultivating a niche. Professionals often create a niche for themselves out of a particular love or affinity for some aspect of their work.

Greater marketability is one bonus that comes with the territory. Just as parents turn to a pediatrician when seeking medical care for their children, chiropractors will find a natural fit with copywriters who specialize in writing about chiropractic care. Another bonus? Higher income. By becoming a whiz at writing for a particular industry, you complete jobs more quickly—allowing you to make more per hour as well as take on additional projects.

Cultivating a copywriting niche often happens organically. You find an industry you enjoy writing about, land a few jobs and develop a widening network of referrals. If this hasn’t happened for you yet, market your services directly with a targeted letter, brochure or Web site. Maybe, like me, you enjoy writing about a variety of topics. Happily, there is no reason to stop. You can always develop a niche as your bread and butter, then round out the menu with other interesting assignments that come your way.

Copywriting Tip #9: Seal your copy with a KISS
Here in the northern climes of Washington State, you want the most unadulterated and scrumptious-tasting water available for your home or business. Extraordinary water isn’t just good for maintaining a clean bill of health, it also helps keep your tresses shinier, your skin free from unsightly blemishes and your clothes bright as the noon-day sun.

Okay, so maybe this example of overblown writing is a little…overblown, but you get the picture. As a copywriter, your job is to choose words and craft a tone that will appeal to your intended audience. At the same time, you should always remember to KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly) your copy. Simplicity not only fosters a clear message, it also allows you to get that message across in the minimum amount of time. How’s this for simplicity: Here in Northwest Washington, you want the purest and best-tasting water for your home or business. Better water isn’t just good for your health, it also helps keep hair shinier, skin cleaner and clothes brighter.

Elizabeth Short is a freelance copywriter and graphic designer with a passion for helping small businesses clarify and broadcast unique marketing messages. With a focus on websites and print materials, she brings together content + design in one easy, affordable package ( Check out her e-book, 7 Steps to Effective Web Content ( to learn the secrets of writing copy for the web.

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December 2007

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