raw berry pie + raw chocolate crust

There are days when a story chases you, when you feel like it’s falling out of you or like you have to write it, in that moment, before it’s gone; and then there are days when it doesn’t, when you sit, staring at your keyboard and photographs, searching for words like you’re hunting for lost gold.

All it means is that you’re a writer.

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Everyone from Anne Lamott to Elizabeth Gilbert will tell you this. For most of us, creativity is less a kitchen faucet, turned on and off like we please, and more a gust of wind, unpredictable and sometimes violent. While there are those of us who tap it well, who know how to do their rain dances of disciplined writing times and creative writing exercises to produce results, for a lot of us, it’s not as simple. We stare at a lot of blank screens, spend a lot of afternoons escaping for want of inspiration, do a lot of wrestling with paragraphs like we’re fighting stubborn pieces of clay. That’s how it goes.

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Because I’ve heard them say it, I know it’s true of authors and journalists as well as it is of, say, self-employed copywriters and Nashville food bloggers. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing someone else’s story or your own: you can still feel that same pull, that same hard-won fight and effort. You listen back to your interview, you look at pages of notes, you stare at your WordPress dashboard and you feel the familiar desire to write, the need to write and yet, all you hit is a wall. Words won’t come.

So here’s what I’d love to know: what do you do about it?

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The answers out there, like the writers, vary greatly—I recently wrote about this for my day job—and I think in having the discussion, we have a lot to offer one another. Some writers draft outlines; some riff on previous work; others leave the screen altogether, opting instead for a run in the park or conversation with friends to get their creative juices flowing.

In the more specific realm of food bloggers, sometimes it’s less the writing that’s difficult but more the coming up with topics—those of you who blog, do you feel that way? Dianne Jacob writes that finding inspiration as a food blogger may mean thinking outside a traditional recipe post, opting instead for a round-up of products you like or a new series that will set your topics for you.

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I tend to be of the camp that free-writes, that sits down and starts writing everything in my head without edits or backspaces, whirling along until something valuable appears, and, three or four or five paragraphs in, it usually does.

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Today, for example, this post originally began with “So I want to write about berry cream pie” and progressed into a few lines about Tim Riggins’s dad showing up at his football game (side question: television on in the background while you work—white noise or distraction?) and eventually became a more sculpted set of paragraphs about our living room and the ottomans we bought at T.J. Maxx.

forks and raw berry pie

It was only several paragraphs later that I hit on another approach, the direct one that this post has become, wherein I felt like I didn’t know what to say and so, said exactly that.

last plate of raw berry pie

What about you? How do you approach the writing process? Whether you write newspaper articles or nonfiction essays or poetry or blog posts or in the journal on your nightstand, what does it look like for you?

It’s true that writing can be a lonely business, but it’s less so when you invite others in.

That’s why I’m doing that here, sharing a little of my writing process, asking you to share yours—because I think, maybe, when we share our stories, we not only gain community but also, we help each other grow.




Raw Berry Cream Pie + Raw Chocolate Crust
Inspired by Foodista, at the recommendation of Joanna
Makes one nine-inch-round pie

This pie didn’t get much attention in the post, but trust me, that’s not for lack of deserving it. Pure summer on a plate, it’s light, refreshing, sweet and airy. Plus, made of all raw ingredients, free of gluten and free of dairy, it’s ideal for entertaining, especially when you want to please a wide range of palates.

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup crushed pecans
1/2 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup raw cacao powder (or cocoa powder)
2 Tablespoons coconut oil (take from the cup in the filling ingredients)
1 Tablespoon raw honey

Filling Ingredients:
2 cups fresh berries (we combined blueberries, raspberries & strawberries)
1 cup raw cashews
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
6 Tablespoons raw honey
1 pinch salt
1 cup coconut oil, just melted (i.e., 75 degrees)—minus 2 Tablespoons for crust

Directions:
MAKE THE CRUST:
Grind crust ingredients in food processor until almost the consistency of a nut butter (it will take a few minutes) and press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (or another 9-inch-round cake pan or pie pan). Clean out processor.

MAKE THE FILLING:
Place all filling ingredients into food processor in order listed and blend until totally smooth and creamy.

CHILL & WAIT:
Carefully pour filling on top of the crust and refrigerate pie for at least three hours.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Erin

    I have this feeling to which I try and listen when it comes to working with my blog. There are days when inspiration in cooking is lacking and if I try anyway, most likely I fail. Same for photography and same for writing the post (which is most admittedly my weakest area anyway.) I find that I have to step away and just say that it (whether it be cooking, photography, or writing) isn’t going to happen right now. I then go to the gym, take a hike, or do something that allows me to brainstorm a bit more before taking action.

    Lovely post and I absolutely adore this pie. I plan on making it the second I have fresh berries!

  2. Magda

    When I’m writing for my blog I usually just sit in front of the computer and write whatever comes to mind, without editing, without stopping, much like you do. For me it’s more difficult because my native language is Greek and I write my blog in both English and Greek; as if trying to come up with a topic for a blog post wasn’t hard enough, I’m doing it in two languages too.
    Going out with friends or exercising usually helps me when I’m stuck. TV never helps, it’s so distracting.
    I’m very new to your blog and I’m so glad I discovered you.
    Your pie looks amazing by the way :)

    1. Shannalee

      Hi Magda, It’s so interesting to hear the perspective of someone who writes in two languages—I wonder how many ways that affects you work (i.e., do you think in one language predominantly and have to translate? do you think in both?) So glad you discovered me, too. Thanks for saying hi!

  3. Jacqui

    What I’ve noticed about your writing, Shanna, and what I love about it, too, is it stems from conversations. The comments you write on blogs we both read, or questions you post on Facebook/Twitter, or the emails that we write to each other — those thoughts always make their way to your blog in some form. I think that’s a great way to approach writing because it creates this community that, as anyone can see through the meaningful comments that your blog posts often raise, is pretty effin’ awesome. This is good stuff, S.

    As for me, I am in the free writing crew. Although ideas for blog posts will also come to me while I’m driving, running or in the shower. Also, while I’m at work and should be writing other stuff. Hey, have a great weekend!

    1. Shannalee

      I love the idea of this being a great conversation—thank you for saying that. Your comments always enrich the discussion. In fact, you should know that I have spent many days wishing to write responses as thoughtful as yours.

  4. Lan

    tv or radio is usually on while i work or blog, or do chores in the house. it’s a nice distraction and sometimes, i might get inspired by something i hear or see.

    when i write, it’s typically been a few days since i’ve had the dish & photographed it etc. i let it muddle around in my head for awhile, mentally deciding on what i want to write about, how i want to approach it. i will tell you that the ones that i work the hardest on, whether in snapping pix or doing the write up are usually the ones that aren’t viewed often; whereas the ones that i hastily put together get the most notice.

    PS. i remember that episode with Tim Riggins & his dad! i have just about 7 episodes of FNL left to watch and i am dragging my feet, i don’t want it to end!

    1. Lan

      oh, forgot to mention. i’ve been thinking about this raw pie (we’ve been attempting the raw thing this week…) and i’m ruminating on an adapted version of it.

      1. Shannalee

        So interesting that the posts you put the most time into don’t tend to be the ones that get the most notice! Another blogger told me the same thing, that when she posts a quick “here’s what I had for breakfast” recipe, it will draw tons of eyes, but the well-thought-out ones won’t. I wonder what that means. That we should edit ourselves less?

        Looking forward to hearing what you think of the pie and how you adapt it!

  5. Laken

    I’ve always said I’m a better editor than I am a writer. So while I try to be more in the free writing camp, sometimes the urge to fix and clean up takes over before I get much down.
    I’m actually trying to implement a writing schedule when my summer semester begins next week — maybe daily, maybe just a few times a week, we’ll see how it turns out.
    And as for ideas, I’m an avid note-taker and idea-scribbler. I have documents on my computer and in Google, drafts on my dashboard, words in notebooks — and when I get stuck, that’s where I go. Sometimes it’s just a quote, sometimes it’s a recipe, sometimes it’s just something I couldn’t quit thinking about. I just browse through the things I’ve already taken the time to write down somewhere, and something usually comes from it.

    1. Shannalee

      I love hearing this take on scheduled writing, Laken, probably because it’s so different from mine that I find it inspiring. I may just test it out a little, to see how it goes! PS – I have already started keeping a little notebook by my side when I’m reading, jotting down quotes I like and ideas that are helpful, largely because of something you wrote about doing that—so thank you, friend!

    1. Shannalee

      Dianne, It feels like such a high compliment to hear kind words like that from you, a writer I have admired since I read “Will Write for Food.” Thank you for stopping by—it means a lot to me!

  6. kale

    My method is weird and I don’t know why but it works every time. Most people turn to sources of inspiration, but me? I draw a hot bath with some lavender or eucalyptus oil, and I just relax. Somehow, eliminating all the noise and just being stuck in a tub of water with nowhere to go and nothing to be distracted by, I can find what it is I’m looking for to start writing. (Once I’ve dried off, that is. No laptops in the tub.)

    (Side note: Love that Friday Night Lights came to your mind haha!)

  7. Laura

    I think you and I have a similar approach, in terms of blogging anyway. I generally free write when it comes to that realm. If the words don’t come, I begin to write about what I know–my life, what I do, where I’ve been and it usually begins to form some semblance of a cohesive thought surrounding a recipe of sorts. I always try to keep things relatable so that’s ticking away in the back of my mind as I type. If I’m totally blank on thoughts, I get back in the kitchen and cook or putter some more, remembering what brought me there originally.

    Great post. Great pie. Just great :)

  8. kate

    Blog posts never come from me when forced; if I try to write without a sense of where it’s supposed to go, the words sound forced and false. Sometimes, in the midst of a mindless activity, such as a walk, or shelling edamame, the words form and tumble from my brain in a rush and I need to sit down -right now!- and pull open the laptop and write it out. If I can’t, I reach for the ever present notebook and jot the thoughts down so I can’t forget. The more I trust this process, that it will take me exactly where I want for my blog posts, the better they are.

  9. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    I´m so new at this that I don´t really feel I can talk about it. But I share your interest in sharing, as it gives perspective. I have such a road ahead in regards to writing and photography it´s hard for me to be totally happy with my posts. On the other hand, the only way to move and learn is to do. And since we all react differently to the same image, I post about food because I love to cook. If I become something of a writer or photographer along the way, it´ll be more than welcome. So, I read other blogs and take walks. Not because I have writer´s block, since I don´t believe I am a writer, but because alone moments always bring a new approach. I write in english but my first language is spanish; ironically I find it harder to write in the latter.
    Finding blogs like yours is always refreshing and inspiring.

    1. Shannalee

      Paula, I have felt that way for such a long time. I just told a friend recently that I’m starting to call myself a writer, out loud, and it still seems strange! What is it about this particular craft that feels so hard to earn? Why are we who write so reluctant to say we’re writers, as if that has to come with time or some sort of acclaim? It’s fascinating—and I bet you’d be surprised to see how many people feel exactly as you do. Thanks for that comment!

  10. Lana

    It’s funny that I encountered your post just now when I am doing everything possible NOT to start writing any of my several projects, including a blog post:)
    As I am a writer first, and a food blogger second, I try to think of the dish I made (and photographed), allowing my ideas to come to me in concentric circles. It might take a few days, but a story always sneaks in and I know immediately that it is the right one. It could be prompted by anything, a Skype talk with an old friend, my teen’s obsession with a boy, a song that’s playing in my head as I walk along the beach.
    I just leave myself open and try not to force it.
    And I LOVE Dianne Jacob! I had a chance to meet her at a food writing workshop recently, and she is not only a great teacher full of extremely useful information and practical tips, but a genuine and kind person who truly wants to help.
    (I have no idea how I stumbled on your blog, but I am immensely happy that I did:)

    1. Shannalee

      Hi Lana, It’s so nice to hear from a blogger who promotes others, from Dianne Jacob here in your comment (love hearing she’s genuine and kind in real life, too) to the bloggers you featured in your last post. Thanks so much for sharing about your writing process and about how leaving yourself open helps!

  11. Anna

    This is a wonderful post Shannalee. I can’t get enough of hearing about how other people write. And your words and the pie are spectacular! Occasionally I just sit at the computer and the words flow but not often. I tend to carry a note book around with me at all times. When inspiration strikes (at my day job, on the bus) I blurt the words out on to the page. Sometimes a whole blog post comes out, sometimes it’s just a snippet. When I’m ready to blog I copy the words onto the computer, revising as I go. Every once in a while the finished post is completely different to what I started with, but mostly, that hand written note is the beginning and the end.

    1. Shannalee

      Anna, I’m so with you that I can’t get enough of hearing about how other people write! I just started carrying a notebook, too, and I love the way you describe the words sometimes fall out onto the page for you.

  12. MaryAnn

    I agree with Jacqui; good writing should feel like a conversation. When I’m thinking through a blog post I’m usually doing something else – driving, running, cleaning the toilet (you know, activities where I want my mind to be a little distracted!) and I have a little mental conversation as I organize my thoughts. Then, if my other responsibilities allow it, I sit down at the computer & write it out. For me, a large part of my blogging fun happens in my mind. There are so many posts that haven’t actually been written anywhere other than between my ears :-)
    This raw berry pie looks so good. I so appreciate your healthy approach to food.

  13. Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator

    Hey Shanna, this pie looks amazing. I will definitely be trying this! As to the writing… I don’t have trouble with writer’s block… I have trouble making the time to coherently capture all my ideas and then create actual posts with them. Not sure which is worse! I used to have more of a block, when I didn’t feel I had “anything to say.” Glad all the therapy I did helped me get over that. :)

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