How a Food Writer Writes

Quick Facts

Pen or pencil? 

Pen

Favorite word?

Lexicon

Favorite place to write? 

This little hermitage I rented from some Franciscan nuns in Wisconsin.

 

Tenaya Darlington, M.F.A.

Professor of English, Director of the Writing Studies Program 

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SJU Writes: What kind of writing are you doing right now? 

TD: I’m near the end of this book I’m writing called The Cheese Lover’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have a draft. One half of that draft is finished and submitted, and the other half of that draft is still under construction. I do a lot of writing for a restaurant group—all of their menu notes and their cheese training information—so I’m always thinking about the next cheese I need to write about for them.

SJU Writes: What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever written?

TD: This book called Movie Night Menus, which my brother and I wrote together. It involved watching hundreds of classic movies, looking for the cocktails in people’s hands, determining what the cocktail was, creating the recipe and providing a whole meal around it. It was difficult [because] there were so many movies to watch. Literally, I would leave class, go home, put my laptop on the toaster oven and start making dinner, and I would be watching a movie non stop. We only had nine months to write it. At the same time, my brother was opening a restaurant, so his life was haywire and I was trying to hold down this book project.

SJU Writes: What’s your writing process like?

TD: I’ve written three books with my brother, and our process would always be to hop on a Google document, open a Google hangout, and we would write together. His cursor would be moving over my cursor. Now, I’ve been working on a book of my own, and the process has been very scattered. Mostly I wake up, open a new document, and just go. 

SJU Writes: How did you get into food writing?

TD: Accidentally. I grew up in a family where we cooked every night together. We loved to cook our way through cookbooks. That’s what we did for entertainment. I went on and got a degree in English, then got a degree in fiction writing, and when I graduated, I [did] some work for a newspaper as a book reviewer. I started reading the food section and getting excited about that, so I asked to do a profile on a chef. From there, I decided I loved being around food, going into kitchens and restaurants, and it came really naturally. I told the publisher of the newspaper that one day I wanted to be the food editor at the newspaper, and he looked at me and laughed. Two years later, the food editor left and I applied for the job. The publisher went to bat for me [and] gave me my first break. I did that for five years and ended up coming to St. Joe’s, [thinking] I was going to leave that life behind and that I’d return to writing novels, reading stories and poetry. When I moved to Philly, the food world here was really interesting, and that’s how I ended up writing this blog, Madame Fromage, going where food seemed accessible. 

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students interested in food writing?

TD: Become passionate about some niche in the world of food. It’s a vast world, but there are so many communities within that community. Get to know people, develop a curiosity, hop around from thing to thing for a little bit, but then become known as the person who writes about agriculture or eggs or fermentation. I’m a big believer that when you get really passionate about something and you stick to it, doors will naturally open and the path will become clear. Don’t panic. Just dive in.

 -Alexandria Hargrave ’20

How a Classical Studies Professor Writes

Quick Facts

Pen or pencil?

Both, I’m a Gemini.  

Favorite word?

Compassion

Favorite music to write to?

Italian opera

Maria Marsilio, Ph.D.

Professor, Director of Classical Studies

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SJU Writes: What kind of writing do you do within your discipline? 

MM: I’m essentially a classical philologist, meaning I work principally with literary texts and publish scholarly articles for a number of journals. I also publish pedagogical texts in An Online Companion to the Worlds of Roman Women, where I write Latin text commentaries. Classics is highly interdisciplinary, incorporating Greek and Roman literature, gender studies, social history, material culture, religion, philosophy, law, economics. And so, when classicists are asked, “What is it like to write as a classicist?”—where do we start explaining? I team-teach a class with Dr. Robert Daniel, and we like to say we’re always playing in other people’s gardens. We love to explore other disciplines and learn from them.

SJU Writes: When you have a writing task, how do you approach it?

MM: Approaching a writing task means I don’t want to simply repeat what everybody else has said and say it in a different way. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be advancing the conversation, so I try very hard to present a truly innovative argument. It’s hard to do with classic texts that have been read for thousands of years. But that’s where the interdisciplinary approach can help illuminate otherwise hidden aspects of a text. I won’t write something unless it contributes to the discussion. Writing is not solitary, for me. I can’t write in a vacuum. 

SJU Writes: What’s your revision process like?

MM: I’m always revising, even as I compose. One of my favorite resources to have while I’m writing is a thesaurus because I get stuck in the “spin-cycle” and I don’t realize I’m using the same word or the same expression repeatedly. So, the thesaurus comes out. And when I revise, I become more articulate, but I also think in terms of economy. How can I make this piece of writing more concise, direct, and to-the-point? 

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students who are learning to write in your discipline? 

MM: The more you write, the better you get. Keep writing. I think the other thing that’s important to learn is that—and I was not so good at this when I was younger—you can’t be thin-skinned. You have to accept that if you’re going to ask people to read things, you’re not asking them to return it with “Swell! Everything looks perfect! I wouldn’t change a thing!” Seek assessments from people outside the discipline. I try to write in a way that would satisfy the specialist but also in a way that was comprehensible, engaging, and thought-provoking to somebody who is completely outside the discipline. To me, that’s great writing.

 

 

Olivia Giannetta ’22

How a Political Scientist Writes

Quick Facts

Pen or pencil?

Pen  

Favorite place to write?

My home, mostly.

What are you reading now?

Temp by Louis Hyman

 

Laura C. Bucci, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Political Science

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SJU Writes: What are you writing right now?

LB: I’m working on one article about why states adopt certain types of labor policies, and which states do. Another is about financial donations in political parties, how groups donate money and whether that moves them to a place of more power in the party or further out—and how that varies across groups. And then, with Dr. Scola and Dr. Baglione, we’re working on a piece on pedagogy about gender diversity in introductory readers. We’re [arguing] that the way we introduce political science to a lot of our first-year students is to say that women don’t write all that much and women aren’t central to the discipline, which is a really big problem. I’m also working on a book, so I’ve really overcommitted myself. A lot of pans and fires.

SJU Writes: What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever written?

LB: Dissertation. The idea of thinking about a big project means that you know its flaws but you care a lot about what you’re doing, and caring a lot makes it harder to do it imperfectly. By definition these projects have to start off imperfect. There’s a lot of trial and error and a lot of stuff you think is going to work but doesn’t. That’s been hard for me to deal with emotionally: that it can’t be perfect and it won’t be perfect and that’s okay. Even after a bunch of edits, if what I’m doing is important, and someone comes along and says, “Actually, it was garbage,” it’s going to hurt. But it’s actually a good thing, too, because it meant it mattered to someone enough that they would critique it. It doesn’t feel super nice, but it’s a mental check.

SJU Writes: How do you approach the writing process? 

LB: I’m a big fan of drawing pictures, so that’s my first tendency. I ask myself, “What is the relationship that I’m expecting?” and just draw a simple stick figure drawing of what I think leads to what. I encourage students to do this, too. What are you arguing? What is happening? What do you want to tell people? Write that down first, then build the rest of your essay off of that. 

SJU Writes: Is there a skill or skills you consider most important in political science writing?

LB: Some of the skills that are very important are describing relationships. We’re trying to say clearly what we think patterns should look like, given evidence that we have from other venues. And studying people means that you need to at least, in some way, like people. So we have to talk about people in such a way that is fair to them and what they’re doing, even if we don’t agree with them. I think political science writing, when it’s done well, talks about power in consistent ways and lets us know what the stakes are, what things are important, why all of this matters. Good writing in general tends to do that. It lets you know why you’re here, because otherwise no one wants to read your essay. Things like democracy, or justice, or law, or power—all of those things are hard to measure, hard to talk about. They’re all super important, but they’re a lot of things. How do we think about them consistently and clearly so that other people know what we’re talking about? 

—Margaret Brennen ’22

How an Art Professor Writes

Quick Facts

Favorite word?

Cellar door   

Favorite place to write?

A cabin on the beach, alone.

Oxford Comma, or no?

Yes! 

Martha Easton, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Art History 

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SJU Writes: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

ME: Coming up with an idea to write about.

SJU Writes: What is your least favorite part of the process?

ME: The first draft.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it?

ME: I often work things out in my mind before I put them on paper.

SJU Writes: What is your revision process like? Do you revise you’re writing, or after you complete a draft? 

ME: I kind of do both. If [my ideas] are flowing, I’ll just write. But, if I notice something right away that doesn’t make me happy, or that what I’m writing makes more sense somewhere else, I’ll revise as I go.

SJU Writes: Do you like revising? 

ME: I don’t enjoy it, but I realize that it’s necessary. I think I don’t enjoy it because I know that something doesn’t make sense or doesn’t sound right and I could say it in a better way.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in art history?

ME: Writing in art history is really like writing in any discipline. You need to write clearly. You need to have an argument. You need to demonstrate what you’re saying. The writing skills for art history are universal in terms of clarity, organization, and telling a story that’s interesting. If it’s not engaging to your audience, it’s kind of a meaningless process.

—Natalie Nguyen ’22

How a French Professor Writes

Quick Facts

Pen or pencil?

Pen, fountain pen. 

Favorite word?

All the words that end in “-ouille.” Like “Ratatouille,” “Rouille.”

Favorite punctuation mark?

Semicolon 

 

Kristen Burr, Ph.D.
Professor of Modern and Classical Languages  

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SJU Writes: Do you mostly write in French or English?

KB: Most of what I’m doing for conferences and publishing is in English.

SJU Writes: When do you write in French?

KB: Sometimes for other publications and other conferences and reports for general assemblies. Everything obviously in class I do in French.

SJU Writes: When you are confronted with a writing task, how do you approach it?

KB: Always brainstorming firstjust putting everything down on paper. Sometimes there are things in my brain that I don’t know are there until I put it down. Sometimes I don’t know how it’s all going to come together, either, until I see it all on a piece of paper. 

SJU Writes: What’s your favorite part of the writing process? 

KB: Seeing how things come together. They’re all ideas that I have, but watching how they take shape as I’m working on them, I realize other things, and I see them in different ways, too. I love that, and thinking about how to form my thoughts into a coherent and cohesive argument.

SJU Writes: Is your writing process different when you’re writing in French? 

KB: It kind of depends on what it is. The hard thing with French, though, is that you’re always super aware of the fact that you’re probably not saying everything quite like you would if you were a native speaker.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline? 

KB: Honestly in French, the only way to do it is to write. The more you write, the better you get at it. It makes sense to brainstorm, to outline, to do a rough draft, and to get feedback from different people. 

—Devin Yingling ’22