blog birthday

Four years into blogging (as of tomorrow!), I have a confession to make: sometimes I forget what I’m doing here. For a while I thought this was a photography blog. My posts revolved around my pictures, which I was spending lots of time trying to improve. Then, it was business. I looked for ways to monetize, testing ad spaces and selling statistics. It’s been design-focused, while we’ve changed the layout and header more times than I care to count. It’s also been about food and about compiling more original recipes, since everyone says that’s how to stand out.

But while I was home in Chicago, spending an evening with Jacqui, a friend whose perspective on blogging has always been authentic and grounded and right, we got talking about blogs and about writing, and it hit me: somehow, in the last few months and years of changing styles and formats and direction, I’ve forgotten the heart of this place.

Because no matter why you start out blogging—to practice your art, to build community, to tell your stories—it’s not long before you start to feel pulled towards another goal: to be noticed. All bloggers want to be noticed; all writers want to be read. There’s nothing wrong with that. And you look around and there are bloggers getting endorsements and bloggers quitting their day jobs and bloggers with fan clubs the size of celebrities’, and you think, does what I’m doing matter at all? It’s basic human nature to want someone to care about you, to want to be known; and listen, as any blogger would tell you: keeping up a website takes work and time, but for most of us, instead of getting a paycheck at the end of our work days, we get the satisfaction of knowing other people who like what we do, too.

But see, here’s the thing. When this secondary goal of getting noticed becomes the primary goal for why you blog, something changes about your work. It does. Maybe it changes by helping you focus and raise the quality of your work; or maybe it distracts you from getting the real work done. For me, the biggest difference between blogging because I love it and blogging for recognition is this: I forget what I’m doing here.

In “The Supper of the Lamb,” Robert Capon says this:

“The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get.”

I look around at all the talent in my Google Reader, and then I look at my site, and I think, you know, the world doesn’t need me to copy-cat the cool kids. There are hundreds of gorgeous food blogs, millions of quality cookbooks, always someone who’s doing it better. That’s not where my talent lies. This site isn’t about the layout or the logo or the way things are organized. It’s not about the photos, not really, even though I know photos are good. It’s not even about the food, much as I love it and even though the posts have recipes.

This site is, and should always have been, simply, about our life, told through food.

Maybe that includes ads, maybe that includes promotions; maybe it doesn’t. Because maybe it doesn’t matter either way. Maybe, what I’m seeing now, standing on the cusp of four years, looking ahead at the next, is that what matters, really, is the passion and love behind it, with or without recognition, with or without acclaim.

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 112 Comments

  1. Erin

    Perfectly written, Shanna. It’s sometimes hard to remained focus when I start questioning why I’m even keeping a blog or when I start comparing myself to those who were able to quit their day job and have big endorsements. However, you hit it spot on- life, told through food. Thanks for the reminder and here is to another four years of remembering that.

  2. Kathryn

    I agree with absolutely everything you’ve written here. There are times when I’ve wondered what the point is or spent time agonising over what I should be posting and forgetting that my blog is really just my space and it’s something that I want to look back on to remind me of this time in my life. Congratulations of four years and I look forward to reading more of your writing in the next four years.

    1. Shannalee

      I very much like the idea of having it to look back on your life. It is that for me, too, like when I read posts about being engaged and watching TV with Tim on an air mattress but yet being happy and thankful—these are things I could forget without a blog. One of the Internet’s many blessings.

  3. Erin

    Such a great reminder. It’s so easy to forget why we’re doing what we’re doing and get caught up in all the people who are doing it better than us. We just have to remember that maybe it’s just that they’re doing it differently.

  4. Emma Galloway

    Your words are so perfect. So many of us bloggers get caught up in the whole ‘how can I do better, be better… like everyone else’ saga. It’s totally human nature to feel like this, but still it never does us any good does it? I sometimes have to get off the computer and stop looking at other blogs or else it just all feels too much. There really is SO MUCH talent out there in this world. But like you say, we all have to remember why we started in the first place and so long as we are still enjoying doing what we do, then we just keep on doing. Thanks so much for the little reminder. xx

  5. Wholesome Hedonist

    Wow. Do you know how you are aimlessly checking your Google reader, and then you stumble upon a post that so perfectly encapsulates what you are feeling at the moment? You did that for me, today. I’ve started my new blog and I’m intent on making it a ‘success’ – measured, just as you said, by how it measures up to all the other blogging successes I see out there. And as I read all these posts on how to make it a ‘success’, I also struggle with what it’s about and how to stand out. It’s nice to know that someone who’s been doing it for a while struggles with the same things. And it also reminds me to not lose focus of why i have kept blogs in the first place – to connect with others and share my passion.

    Thanks.

  6. Gemma

    YES! This sums up so much so well for me. I find it really hard not to compare all the time and then I remind myself that I started my blog for fun and the main point for me is to enjoy writing it, not for it to feel like another job! I think it was easier in many ways when I started my blog (in 2007 – yikes!), there weren’t many huge blogs and no expectation that blogging would lead to anything…

  7. Helene @ French Foodie Baby

    This post got my brain buzzing about all kinds of different topics this morning, so first thank you for that intellectual stimulation :-) Always admire your ruthless honesty. It just made me think and want to write, which is wonderful. It’s kind of like life, isn’t it? We get into something, and meander out of it, left to wonder what we are doing, to then move on to the next thing. That has given me the feeling I just can’t seem to “pin” my life down sometimes, but perhaps that’s not the way to look at it. It’s such a vicious circle (or more like a balance to maintain I guess), to love doing something and do what it takes to make it pay the bills if possible. Arrh, life is good and hard and difficult and simple and chaos and balance… etc etc. :-) Hand me that white page!

  8. Kris

    Again, your words are so timely. We had a similar conversation at the Big Summer Potluck (http://www.thebigpotluck.com/) this past weekend. Being very new to all of this, I’m trying to learn all that I can about this new blogging world and where I fit in. I am not sure where I’m headed yet, and that’s ok. All in time. This is such a wonderful reflection. Thank you.

    1. Shannalee

      I’ve read a few articles about BSP and beforehand had heard from Paula that it was her favorite all-time blog retreat, and it sounds like a wonderful weekend! Thank you for your input here, Kris. It’s so appreciated.

  9. Sarah Rose

    Thanks for being real. Even though you admit that you don’t know what you are doing here, you are appreciated (even when your focus gets blurry from time to time). Yours is the blog I still read the most regularly! I appreciate that you are authentic and I love hearing your stories and convictions. I keep coming back because I feel like I’m getting to know a new friend that I’ve never met before (and discovering some unique recipes, too). :)

  10. Ginger

    No words really to say how much this spoke to my heart. Thank you for sharing so much beauty and poetry with the world. This is my favorite food blog. It’s not because of the header or photos or “clean-eating” recipes… it’s because of the heart and warmth behind it. Thank you for always serving your guests something wonderful.

  11. Lindley

    Well, I guess I’ll just parrot the above – often I feel some blogs are preening, showing off just a bit and there’s such a sameness to so many of them. Your voice and thoughts are so honest and warm and unpretentious – so easy. And your recipes and photos are always a joy. Stay on course, girl – you’re unique.

  12. Candace Olander

    Dear Shanna,

    Your honesty is refreshing and poignant. No matter how ultuistically we start anything; eventually goals start to creep in. You have faced the demon and now you should just keep doing what you do so well.

    In my own journey I have learned that the best is looking at someone I care about sitting at my kitchen counter and feeding them. If they open their heart in the process, it is perfect.

  13. Kendra

    You’re speaking truth into people’s lives, my friend. Truth that most are afraid to speak aloud. Truth that is freeing and lovely and strong. Truth that unites and gives people permission to make their art without comparison, expectation, or shame. You’re such a gift.

  14. Bethany ~ twoOregonians

    I love your candor. And I love that quote – about lovers/amateurs. In this crazy digital world, the voices of true passion are the ones that bring joy to readers. It’s not about copying the cool kids – I have to remind myself of that, too. I have two different blogs, one on food/sustainability and one on travel/life/food/etc.

    My initial reason to write and share photos: the joy of passion. My biggest temptation: to turn it into a project fueled by wrong motives. (Recognition, reward, etc. – as you said.)

    Thank you for being a clear, authentic voice here in your corner of the world. It reminds me how much I love and appreciate the sound, and it reminds me to free myself from twisted expectations and simply continue sharing joyfully, out of true passion.

    Keep it up! : )

  15. Nancy @ gottagetbaked

    Hi Shanna, first of all, congratulations on your blog’s 4 year anniversary! You are a phenomenal writer. This blog has become my favourite one to read simply because of how beautifully and authentically you write (and for the gorgeous photos and food, of course!). Second of all, I really connected to this post. As a new blogger, I’ve easily and quickly become sucked into the blogiverse rat race – comparing myself to other bloggers, feeling guilty when I don’t post as often, needing recognition as if it’s validation for the value of my own blog. Thank you for this gentle reminder of why I started blogging in the first place – because I craved a creative outlet, just for myself. One of the biggest benefits to blogging has been opening myself up to other bloggers and discovering wonderful voices like yours.

    1. Shannalee

      Oh my, Nancy. I almost feel like I can’t take your kind words. Thank you for the encouragement and thank you for also desiring a creative outlet, one that you’ll share online. It’s a pleasure to hear your sweet comments here.

  16. Kimberley

    This really resonates. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot the last few months: how to stay inspired and focus on the things that enrich me, and how to have enough space from the less savory elements of this funny world we inhabit so that it doesn’t get the best of me. I have been taking space from blogging for that reason. :)

    Thanks for expressing so eloquently.

    1. Shannalee

      Kimberley, What you said makes so much sense—’taking space from blogging’ to find a way to stay inspired. I’ve found myself doing the same thing at times. And PS your blog is so lovely.

  17. stephanie

    Hi Shanna… I have been following your writing, well I guess for four years! I do not blog, and I do not follow many blogs, so I am by no means an expert on such matters. I just happen to like YOU…your writing has let me get to know you as a human being and I like that person very, very much. Your thoughtfulness, your depth of character, your love of family, and your willingness to share things that are a little personal are just a few of the reasons I enjoy your writing. When you wrote about your “tummy issues” I remember thinking, “wow, me too”… how brave of her to share so that others (me) might know that they are not alone. And I will never forget your account of your harrowing hike on Mt. Acadia, what a life changing experience that was for you. And how could I not LOVE reading about your courtship and beautiful marriage to Tim. I was crazy, happy for you like you were my own daughter!

    So… I love the delicious recipes, the gorgeous photographs and the like, but your unique ability to paint a picture with words and the story you have to share is what keeps me coming back for more. Thank you for the gift you share with your readers, the gift of you.

  18. jessiev

    Too True. and, i’m so grateful for your writing – every time i get a notice in my email, i hop over and take a COMPLETE break from my work and life. it’s amazing, how your photos, writing, stories, and recipes! have enriched our lives. thanks, shannalee!

  19. Anna

    You write so beautifully and truthfully Shanna. This is a great post.

    I’m a newbie blogger and really, I do it because I like to have a space to write and record my ideas, my experiences and how I feel and get to know people. Despite that, I still get sucked into Google Analytics, wondering why I don’t get more than 5 hits a day! It was really stressing me out, and like you say, changing the way I write. I think it’s easy to get sucked into the digital world generally and forget about the wonderful people sitting across from you on the couch. So, for the past month, I’ve stopped checking stats at all. I’m going to keep writing and commenting on blogs I enjoy and just forget about getting noticed.

    Thank you again xo

  20. Jess

    Hey, you. Hip hip for blogging in a way that makes you feel most like yourself! Not sure it really works if you try to do it any other way… For the record, when I first found your site a few years ago, it was the writing that hooked me and kept me coming back. Oh, and Shanna, you ARE one of the “cool kids!” Duh.

    1. Shannalee

      Jess, From the first time I looked at your blog and read the way you responded to comments, I saw your gracious spirit—and admired it so much. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful words.

  21. Aislin Cerrone

    Shanna you have such a gift. Even when you may feel like you’re not noticed, you’re bringing a smile to my face because you’re helping me to feel less alone as well. God is putting you in just the place he needs you to be so that you can touch people’s lives with you’re writing about your life. Your life inspires people like myself to hope for a faith-rooted marriage and a wholesome home :)

    Thank you
    Aislin Cerrone from Florida

  22. e / dig in

    thank you for the post – for the words of wisdom. i am another blogging newbie (just hitting three months). my aim was to share my writing – i have a govt job, so my blog is a creative outlet. i have to remind myself to stay writing for myself, for the creative expression; but as others here have said, it’s hard not to get sucked into counting comments and followers and wondering why i haven’t been offered a publishing contract yet! it doesn’t help that well-meaning friends want fabulous things to happen in your life because of your blog, they feed into this secondary goal or outcome. so thank you for the eloquent reminder to stay true to myself. anything else – well, what will be, will be.

    1. Shannalee

      There is so much value in having a creative outlet that it makes total sense why so many of us are pursuing blogging these days. I hope you keep enjoying the process as much as the possible results from it—I hope I do, too.

  23. art and lemons

    Happy #4 Shanna! Your blog is always a place of inspiration, filled with passion and truth, and I’m happy you shared this post and touched upon so many things we all think and feel. I look forward to more ways to celebrate your words, photos, and food.

  24. Elizabeth

    You’re hitting 4 years, and I’m just starting my food blog. It’s great to hear the wisdom and reflection from seasoned veterans, because it helps everyone (and newbies like me!) maintain perspective through all of this. You’re right. In the end, it always is, and always should be, about the food.
    Thanks,
    Elizabeth

  25. hannah

    Oh girl. Yes. I’ve found myself thinking “why am I do this? should I be doing something else to get noticed? does this thing I’m doing matter?” more times than I’d like to admit. But that’s not why I starting doing this. It’s not why I continue. I try to counter those thoughts with “do I still love this? is this what God wants me to do?”. I figure if I can answer both those questions with a yes, then I’m doing the right thing, even if no one is beating down my door with a cookbook deal.

    Congrats on four years, Shanna. I’m so blessed to have met you through this crazy world of blogging. :)

    1. Shannalee

      And anyone who knows you and your photography, Hannah, knows just how kind and humble your comment is. I am so sure big things are ahead for you, I feel like they’ve already happened. I can’t wait to be part of your cheering squad.

  26. Deliciously Organic

    First of all, Happy 4 years! I think we all struggle trying to figure out what direction to take our blogs. I know I do. I appreciate your honestly, and for what it’s worth, I LOVE your site. Photographs, stories, recipes, all of it. I look forward to reading more.

  27. Didi

    My first time here, thanks to Sukaina…I love this post as I could really relate to it. In the sea of probably a million food bloggers, I somehow want to rise above, but I don’t know how. I feel my life is too ordinary, but in the end, all I want is to get better at writing by documenting my food adventures at the same time perhaps connect with likeminded people. But still, it can be frustrating, the nagging need to get noticed acts as a creative wall, a pretty huge impregnable and unscalable one even…

    1. Shannalee

      I know just what you mean, Didi. The thing I keep thinking about is setting higher standards for myself. I want to push beyond a certain level of quality and then keep pushing. So right now, that means doing a lot of reading and listening and thinking—and then practicing over and over again here. But I don’t want to forget that the goal (of writing well) is not the only goal: enjoying the process is also important.

      1. Didi

        Yup. So agree on enjoyment! I attempted a 365 post, but obviously failed. If I pushed through with it, I won’t have time to live my life :( But I kind of whip myself for missing because it is practice…

  28. sara

    beautifully written. I have always loved your site for that very reason – you’ve been consistent and sincere through and through. I think the longer you blog, the more people are reading (ideally) and at least for me, that becomes scary. How do I please everyone? Is this TOO personal? It starts out as a journal and then it’s like strangers are reading your journal. It gets some getting used to I guess. All to say, you do a fabulous job, happy blog anniversary :)

    1. Shannalee

      good thoughts, Sara, and ones I wonder, too! it’s a fine line between authenticity and oversharing, and I think the Internet makes us all question it. still learning. thank you for your kind words, friend!

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  30. Kristen

    I was recently thinking about this as well… as Dine & Dish gets closer to 6, I’m trying desperately trying, to figure out where I want her to go in the next 6 years. Things have changed so much.

    I love your perspective and your voice. So glad you take the time to share it with all of us.

  31. Ashley @ Sweat for Sweets

    This is such a thoughtfully written piece. I really enjoyed reading this, so, thank you! I’m relatively new to blogging (about six months now), but find myself more frequently questioning WHY I do it. Sometimes, quite honestly, I want to laugh at myself & wonder why I run around like a crazy woman spending an hour documenting my life. As if anyone should care! And I often feel like the blogging world is quite incestuous in the way that we all read one anothers blogs and comment, etc. At the end of the day, though, if nothing more, than it’s a wonderful hobby & a fantastic creative outlet! :)

    1. Shannalee

      Ashley, So much to respond to in your comment. Mostly: Your use of the term incestuous for the blog world kills me! I’m actually so grateful for the blog community that doesn’t just create but also reads and comments—it’s what makes this place so much more fun. It’s a creative outlet, and it’s a hobby, and it’s also this great bunch of people all doing something because of passion. Hard not to love that! Thanks for saying hi.

  32. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    You write in such a way that there´s no easy way to comment. By not easy I mean that this should be a debate more than a comment (insert a smile here). I like that your posts sound real, I truly believe you talk from your heart. So, I guess the comment that sums my thoughts after reading this a week ago, is that it really doesn´t matter where you are going with your blog, as long as it´s where you want to go. And that will change many times probably along the years, like life itself. And it´s fine to accept that change, as long as it makes you happy. It´s inevitable to compare and to want acceptance, and it sometimes is a good thing when it makes us try to better ourselves. But in the end I´m all for a blogger having it´s own style and voice, those are the only things that will always be there. And even if they change, they´re still ours and we can reinvent them. Keep on doing what you do Shanna, I AM reading your life through your food blog.

    1. Shannalee

      So much encouragement in your words, Paula. Thank you for that thoughtful comment. I agree with you: and now that I’ve realized that, I’m hopeful I can trust that and know how to listen to my own voice.

  33. Kasey

    I really enjoyed this post, Shanna. I’ve been following your blog for some time now and I must say that I’ve always felt that you’ve remained true to the space you first created. I think, as we blog, we evolve and we shift in different directions, but the most important thing to remember is, no matter what you do, you should do it because you love it. I know I started blogging because I wanted a creative outlet for my writing and for the first year or so I would get bummed when no one would comment on my posts and it would make my day when I would receive just one comment. It’s weird how complete strangers seemed to validate my purpose somehow! But at some point, I stopped wishing I was Clotilde (the first celeb food blogger I ever followed) and started cooking, photographing, and writing just for me. I also have to say that falling in love and finding someone to share my passion definitely helped me better understand why it is we spend nights and weekends crouching over cold plates and formatting photos. It’s been a great ride so far – here’s to many years to come. :)

    1. Shannalee

      I love what you said about reaching a point where you stopped wishing to be a celeb blogger you admired and started cooking, photographing and writing for yourself. YES. And PS – also love what you said about sharing your passion with someone else. I so agree! : )

  34. Evi

    Great post! And you are correct, sometimes it’s so easy to loose what this all was about. I had a hard time when I went to my first food blogger conference- people were about money, where for me it’s more of a hobby and a way to share recipes mostly with family and friends, and then anyone else who would like to follow/read. I also like improving my cooking/baking skills. You always have to keep in mind why you started it all!

    1. Shannalee

      Evi, I so understand that. The first blog trip I went on, I felt so out of my league (and awkward about it). People would ask about my gameplan or stats and I’d be like, what? I just blog for fun? And by the end of it, it left me feeling like I needed to up my game just to keep up… hence this post. It’s good to keep in mind all the intangible benefits of blogging, like learning and enjoying cooking and so on, as you wrote.

  35. Kelsey

    I think of you, Shanna, and I hear this quote (one of my all time favorites) from Barbara Kingsolver: “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

    I admire, respect, and appreciate your authenticity each time I spend time in your space. Thank you consistently providing such rich, thought-provoking material for the world to read and experience :) you’re the best.

  36. MaryAnn

    Congratulations on your 4 years! Your writing is so honest & so transparent. As I was reading this post I kept thinking of the verse that says not to compare ourselves against one another because it is not wise. Many times I have read your blog & wished that mine was as popular or that I was able to post as often or to have a special voice like you do…but that’s not how I should order my thoughts. And right now I’ve taken a blog break because all the news in my life seems so sad & who wants to read that?! But someday I’ll be back & hopefully the lessons I’ve learned during this time will be communicated in a way that can be an encouragement. We’re all works in progress…and in that knowledge there is hope that someday we’ll get it right :-)

    1. Shannalee

      I wish I could press the button in my brain that says ‘comparing myself to other people: OFF’ but I still can’t find it, ha! Like so many inner battles, it’s a constant struggle, a day-to-day realizing and re-realizing that each of us has our own unique gifts. And, at the same time, there is a kind of comparison that’s unwise and discouraging and there’s a kind of comparison that’s encouraging and inspiring. Still learning.

  37. Caelisa

    Shannalee, your blog is beautiful. I find no reason for you to ever doubt that. I’v been contemplating starting a food blog, and share your fears. At the end of the day, food is about people and passion, which, gauging from the number of comments on this post, aren’t a problem. I’m in India and read your blog regularly. Happy 4th :) May all your days be filled with deliciousness and sunshine.

  38. Carrie

    Shanna, Your beautiful words have captured how I feel many a day. I too lose focus and wonder what I’m doing. But I love your line, “This site is, and should always have been, simply, about our life, told through food.” I come back time and time again to your site simply for the way you beautifully weave your words into something that always touches me. Your shared life reaching our and touching mine. Thank you…xo

  39. Hannah

    I love this post so much Shanna! I feel like I have to take lots of deep breaths sometimes and remind myself – I started my blog to keep track of stories and recipes *for myself* – not for anyone else! And so while maybe (probably) I should get a hip logo or a better serifed font or some such thing, at the end of the day it doesn’t really get me to what I want. Thanks for being so open about your own struggles with remembering (and you do realize that some of us see *you* as the celebrity blogger, right?) :)

  40. Vicki

    Whenever you forget why you’re blogging, just look at the title of your blog for a reminder of your mission!! :) By the way, great to see you’ve been writing more. I’ll need to check Twitter more often since that’s how I find your entries. My tomato plant is still going great, although the watering on a regular basis stopped weeks ago. I killed one of the herbs from the herb garden I got as a birthday gift. But I can always try again next summer.

  41. Naveen

    This is a good post and reminder to those who write, to remmber why you started writing in the first place. I stumbled upon your blog serendipitously and this post couldn’t be more timely for me. Thank you!

  42. Sonja

    I realize you wrote this post a while ago, but I just stumbled upon it and I wanted to mention that it is very beautifully written! Thank you for staying grounded and true to your passions. This was refreshing to read!

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