Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Food-Writing Trap

Last week, I decided to quit my blog. I was having a pity party that it wasn't growing, that it was medium-sized and medium-sized it was going to stay, that it wasn't hitting my goal number of unique viewers.

That's right, I have a goal number. Bored yet?

I texted my good friend Jennie Perillo and said I was "blowing it up", starting over, new platform, new concept, something more marketable, more attention-getting, whatever, just more. I talked a lot about "my brand". I sounded like a crazy woman. I wasn't leaving blogging, I told her, just shaking things up a bit by dynamiting the whole store and starting from scratch. Jennie spent an hour of her life talking me off the ledge, and the equivalent of stroking my hair and purring self-confidence-inducing messages into my ear, until I re-gained reason again and took my finger off the delete button. Thank God for girlfriends.

That night, still unsure of what exactly to do, but armed with ideas, I told David about our conversation. I talked about platform and positioning myself to sell my book. He listened to me babble on, as he always does, while I made my seemingly salient points, and then...he told me that everything I was saying was bunk.

Bunk. My salient points.

David thinks it's stupid to think of my blog as a platform. He thinks that platform stuff is yesterdays news. He thinks connection, intimacy and creating intense bonds with people who can reach out and touch you, talk to you, know you, is what is truly relevant.

In his mind (and Bob Lefsetz's - if you aren't getting his e-mails, you should) we don't live in a world of grand, untouchable pop stars. We live in a world where indie bands make good careers creating a local fan base, touring hard, getting in front of people and making it about entertaining the fans. They are responsive, connected, adored because they give a shit about the people who listen to their music. And it shows. They aren't filling stadiums, but they are making an impact on thousands, and thousands more, and thousands after that, and their reach is organic, connected and responsive. And that makes them more important, more relevant, in many ways than the Beyonces and the Gagas. David thinks that the number isn't a real goal, connecting to people through stories is.

David would also like me to stop calling my blog "a platform". He thinks my blog is art, my art, and that the only thing I need to do differently is write more intimately, tell more personal stories, ones that reverberate with readers and also ones that I am too afraid to write now. The ones I'm trying not to write, and instead, writing fluffy pieces about pretty food and my kids slurping up lobster.

And he's right. I have fallen a bit into the "food writing trap". That's what I call it. That thing where every picture of a kid is a little charming hand reaching into a quart of freshly picked berries, or a sweet little curly-haired girl picking tomatoes in the garden wearing a gingham dress and a straw sun hat.

A lot of my summer pictures are of the girls and their friends making s'mores around the fire in the backyard, the hot flames dancing around their faces, tables laden with food well-cooked and, kids running buck naked through the meadow in the buttery light of sunset. So much so that many people wrote to me these past few months telling me how idyllic our lives are. It always made me cringe.

In some ways, our life is idyllic, but that's not the whole truth, is it? That's one moment in one night. It is propaganda in some ways. It has to be, because I certainly didn't blog about how I yelled at the kids to pick up their toys a half hour later and then the kids started chanting, "Bad Mommy!" as if they were at a Child Welfare rally.

And that's the "food writing trap" - beautiful images and lipid, pretty words that conjure up the ideal. It's flowing, pretty, and unreal. It's words dressed up in gingham and a floppy sun hat. Those images, those book trailers of authors frolicking with their kids, is nothing more than a snippet of family life. But it isn't actually family life. Family life is much more nuanced, multiple-sided, intense, grueling, euphoric, boring. Food writing and food photography rarely capture that. It is too ugly for food writing. No one wants that in their book, or their blog, or their book trailer, all that messy stuff. It just messes with the food, which should be camera-ready perfect at all times.

I want to capture that again. The real stuff. I mean, that's what I used to do, when I called myself a "parenting humor writer who blogs about food", before I decided that I had to march in toe to the rigid definitions of food writing. I think that was the gist of what David and I talked about late into the night. That's what I think is worth my time here.

My new purpose - and my promise - on this blog, is to tell it like it is. To stop being afraid of what I say, for fear that the food community might find me and my food hideous and undeserving. To tell the whole truth, and not just a snippet or a pretty replica of the truth. To not worry about my numbers, or how big my blog is, or how many A list get-togethers I get invited to, and just be okay with the fact that I dig my readers, and they dig me, and focus on telling stories they care about.

Stories THEY care about. My readers.

And I suppose, it follows that if I can do that, maybe more people will come here everyday to see what I wrote for them. Maybe I'll hit my number. Maybe that will feel good or maybe I'll be too busy writing, doing my thing, to even notice.

Oh and there's the other thing. On the day I decided to blow up the blog I got an e-mail from a young woman named Sarah, who sat down and read every single post I had ever written. Every single freakin' post. After a lovely e-mail exchange, she told me this:

I myself am struggling to put together a book of recipes that I cooked with my father before he passed away and there are some that I will never have back. I just don't remember what went into that stew when I was five. I can only remember how it felt to sit on his shoulder while he plopped mystery ingredients into the pot, and how it smelled and tasted so much better because I "helped", and that will have to be enough.

This is really the best reason of all to write the blog - for the girls. So they might be able to read about the things they can't remember and be able to have them all over again, someday when it really matters. David told me that, of course, but it was a reader who really drove that home for me.

Thanks for that, Sarah.

xo YM



anne said...

I've been reading your blog for months and am always inspired! The rosey portrayal of your favorite moments may not be the whole truth, but those are certainly moments worth savoring! I look forward to more moments, messy and fun :)

The Yummy Mummy said...

Thanks Anne -

It's good to know what you think. And I agree with you. I will still have some of those idyllic moments on the blog because they are real and a part of us, but I want to also make sure that I don't get caught up in creating a veneer of our life. I don't want to choose stories that fit an image I want to create around us.

This will obviously be a work in progress. But I'm excited about how these ideas will impact my writing.

And thanks for telling me and for reading...


bridget {bake at 350} said...

I think this might be my first visit to your blog...and I love this post.

Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon said...

Kim, the life lesson I've taken away from this year is to be true to yourself. Be authentic in what you say, the stories you tell, and the connections you forge. I wish it were as easy as it sounds.

And yes, sometimes that means showing the messy bits and all.

colleen @ foodietots said...

Thanks for this post. I've been teetering on that same ledge lately. On the one hand I love the little "community" (to use another social media buzz word) of family food writers I've met because of the blog, but then I put hours into writing and editing a post to have it sit uncommented on and wonder why I bother. Thanks for the reminder that it's about more than "The Brand."

THE Tough Cookie said...

You are an honest woman. A truly honest woman who's not afraid to share raw emotion.

And, this is why so many will always want to read your words.

Paula said...

Honestly, this is my first time to your blog. Arrived here because of a tweet encouraging us to read your post. I have just subscribed and look forward to your *new* posts. I recently commented on another blogger's post on a similar subject and mentioned the quote *those who write live forever* To have a record of who you are and what you did, of what mattered to you most, for your children and grandchildren to have down the road is the best reason in the world to keep a blog. Keep posting!

tori said...

You're a great cook, a cracking writer and a very wise woman. You've tapped into something I've been thinking about for a while. To me food writing is a bit like a piece of fish- a perfect piece of confit might be pretty, but sometimes it's more interesting when it's served raw and in a jumble. Tell it like it is, warts and all and we'll all start trying to do the same. I just was attacked by a punnet of raspberries and slashed my hand. Domestic goddess? I think not...

Johanna said...

This is my first ever stop at your blog, although I follow you on twitter and love reading your pithy, sassy, funny words. And I have to say, your reader, Sarah, is spot on. And so is your hubs.
I have similar concerns, and feelings, about building my "brand", and feelings of envy when other, newer blogs are picked up by the general consciousness faster. But in the end, ultimately, I write the blog so that I can have a conversation at the kitchen table with people. Thanks for the reality check. And the reminder. And good luck - I can't wait to come back and see what this brings.

Roving Lemon said...

I've only started reading your blog recently, but I read a *lot* of food blogs. I can only speak for myself, but for me the ones that are all about idyllic food-and-family propaganda/porn get old. Fast. People get so focused on living up to their own hype that what they're saying becomes stale and predictable. The ones that allow some grime and humor to come through are the ones that I keep coming back to.

Sarah said...

I suppose sometimes it takes a creepy cyber stalker to bring some perspective. Happy to fill a need. Know that inspiration isn't just found in the beautiful images you paint but in the tampon art and temper tantrums too.

The Table of Promise said...

I am happy to hear you say these things. I love reading your blog!! I have ever since you were a guest on Fed Up With Lunch. Ruts are common, I feel that I might be in one now, so your post is helping me redifine myself as well.

Thanks for not chucking your site. I would have been bummed.

Unknown said...

You have definitely struck a chord in me and I am inspired by your words to keep it real and honest. I agree, meangful connections with people should be far more important that numbers. I can honestly tell you this, you reached out and made many meangful connections with this post. I'm happy to have been one of them! Can't wait to read more. Thank you Kim (and David too)!

Lauren said...

I can just picture an army of mommy bloggers/food writers/story tellers all standing up after reading this post and saying Yes! I too will tell the truth!

And I would be one of them.

I still think back on the post you wrote about having to stop in the middle of Manhattan (5th Ave was it?) and nurse a tantruming Edie while a crowd gathered. I think about this when I nurse my daughter who many would say is too old to be at my breast and I feel less alone.

Rita said...

There's a bit of a "pretender" in all of us. For God's sake, you're a writer. Of course you're going to embelish which always adds interest to a good story.

Unless one is a psychopath, I think it's quite normal to care what people think to a certain degree.

Keep telling your readers about the good times and the not so good times - we can all relate in one way or another. Life is not a 50's
sitcom. Most of your readers are much younger than I am & might wonder what i'm talking about, but I sure remember those moronic TV shows!!!

Cindy said...

I'm with Sarah - the tampon art and temper tantrums are at least as enjoyable to read, and surely at least as real a part of your life. :-D

Anonymous said...

one of the best posts ever that was this was when you summarized the google search words that lead people to your blog.

and the tampons.... hoo ha spray........ shopping and goldfish crackers and the cooking.

The Yummy Mummy said...

I can't believe you people remember tampon art...God, you're freaks.

But I love that. Thanks.


Kate said...

I wish I could reach halfway across the country to give you yet another hug right now, because you write from the heart and you always have and that's why, time and again I get excited to see a post in my blog reader attached to your site.

You have never been boring, never pandered to a common denominator or made your blog into some glitzy blinking site that makes me want to run screaming from the room. You touch people, and you talk about real life with little children, peppered with these moments that speak of pure bliss, but you've also been very open about the anxiety, fear and pure pain of raising children. It's not for the faint of heart. And neither in maintaining a long-term blog. I've been there on that ledge, and when I decided to just stop trying to be something everyone was expecting, and write from my heart, the entire thing opened up and changed immensely. If I touch one reader with a post, honestly I think I've done what I intended to do. When I touch a dozen, then I'm flying high.

Please don't change a thing, or disappear. I would miss you so, and your beautiful little girls. Please keep writing about real food, and real life and let your voice shine through. You do it so well.

Fiona - Nuts about Food said...

Dear Kim,
even if I just started commenting recently, since I started my own blog and found my voice, I have been following you for years. I love your blog and missed reading it this past summer, when you disappeared from our lives for a little while. You are funny and honest. Yes, you have a hot Aussie husband and two adorable girls and you take wonderful trips to loving grandparents Down Under. There are a lot of ingredients for idyll right there. You have them, so you give us the good times. What is wrong with that? But you also write about the craziness of having two young children and the challenge it is to help them grow up and become happy, secure human beings that have an active role in our society. You write about your fear at night when D is gone, your nightmares about falling planes, the difficulties of conceiving and about loss. You put yourself out there and let us read parts of your novel, you show us your insecurities. That is not idyllic, that is real life. We visit this blog because we enjoy great food, beautiful pictures of sweet girls and dishes, because you make us laugh tears with our morning coffee. But we also keep coming back because you shared your doubts and fears with us and over the years you have become a friend.

Warner (aka ntsc) said...

And I've been reading your blog since Coq au Vin and have gone back and read most of the entries prior to that.

I would miss you.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for years, your blogs posts are always amazing. I think the greatest gift we can give other women and other mothers is to tell the good bad and the ugly. It shows us as real people, and offers support in that it's o.k. to be real. Unperfect, messy, beautiful, loving, at times insane women, who get up every morning and love our family and our children and do the best that we can do. And sometimes we miss the mark, and that's o.k. Well done!!


Susan said...

Amen! My favourite posts are always the ones that feel like they aren't shying away from what's real. I first found your blog via a link to a post about how you were trying to have a shower and Edie and Lucy were sobbing outside like they had been abandoned (something along those lines anyway!) - the same thing had just happened to me and I laughed so hard you won me as a loyal reader forever!

Dissertation Writing service said...

This kind of information is very limited on internet. Nice to find the post related to my searching criteria. Your updated and informative post will be appreciated by blog loving people.

UK Dissertations

Farn├ęs said...

For what it's worth, I've been visiting your blog daily since I found you (two years ago?). I too read alllll of your posts when I first came here. You rock!

Katya said...

I know exactly what you mean, and I'm going through the exact same thing with my blog--so hard to keep from being chirpy, so easy to think design will fix it when my real talent is writing.

Reading a lot of John Thorne and Julie Powell to help keep me on task and keep a realistic and mean (in the Dorothy Allison sense of uncompromising and soul-searching and wicked) tongue in my head.

Good luck with this new way up a new ledge. I'll be reading from now on.

Cheryl Arkison said...

And here I was amazed that the girls' hair always seemed so unruly, that seemed real to me. Well, a little anyway.

I'm going to play devil's advocate a little here. I think you already do have a brand. And that brand is you, your humour, the way you see your kids and family. Blogs are nothing but edited snippets of a life lived (well, a good blog is that). And you do that well. I'm not saying that I don't want to hear about your tantrums because then it makes mine feel that much more normal, but I also don't think you should worry that you are being too pretty. You are pretty, your girls are pretty, and your writing is fantastic and funny. Just keep doing what you are doing.

There are times when I curse Kevin Coster and Field of Dreams, but that adage (is it old enough to be an adage now?) reigns true.

Regardless, Babe, I'm not going anywhere and I'm glad you aren't either.

MrsWheelbarrow said...

Kim, you have a way of saying what I've been worrying about - how do you do that? THANK YOU for all your well crafted words. That part is not bunk. Not at all. Love you, C

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

Kim, you already know I'm a big fan, but I'll say it again anyway. Yours is one of the only blogs in my feed reader (food or otherwise) that I will stop and visit right away when a new post arrives.

You're a fabulous writer, yes, and a compassionate storyteller, but, more than that, you are authentic.

What some might view as "idyllic," I view as living in the moment, and appreciating and finding meaning in your family and your life. In less skilled hands, that would get old fast. (And the web is littered with blogs just like that.) But never in a million clicks would I place you in that category.

As for that the ridiculously overused "brand" and "platform": I decided when I started my own blog that I wouldn't fall into that trap. I've seen too many writers start off trying to fit the mold they think is necessary for success, and usually the exact opposite happens. They spend so much time packaging and primping that they forget about substance. But it is substance -- and passion, and voice -- that create the connections that let a blog find its footing. And that all starts with authenticity.

Stay true to yourself, and the rest will follow.

A. C. Parker said...

YES! I am one new reader of your blog who says AMEN to all that. Count me, not just as another number toward your readership goal please (which I will be), but as someone who supports your husband's view: write to connect, because it comes from yourself, for yourself and for your girls. Forget platform (it will grow organically if you follow your own path). I'm a fellow writer and also an editor. I've wanted to "blow the whole thing up" so many times, it's unreal. Let's all just talk ourselves off the ledge—together. Thanks for a great post of putting it in perspective. ~ Allison

One Hungry Mama said...

This may seem like a big shift (or a return to something?) to you but, for me, this is another evolution in your writing and cooking which has always been interesting, compelling and funny to me (even when you think it might not have been). As always, I can't wait to see what's next.

Thanks for exposing a new part of your thinking and process. And I'm glad you didn't start over. Part of what's so great about you (about all of us!) is the journey we take. And this blog--going all the way back--tells yours. And we like that story. The whole thing.

Margaret Murphy Tripp said...

Love your blog; couldn't agree with you more. I'm much more interested in real life. Please don't quit.

debbie (words to eat by) said...

Hi Kim. Just found you via Food News Journal (how I've never come across you before, I'll never know...) and I love what you wrote. If I didn't blog about the mess that is my cooking/family life, I'd have very little to say! Rare is the day when things go as planned around here, between the 4yo who won't eat 99% of what I cook and the constant recipe testing... Sigh. But that's what makes life fun, no? That's what I tell myself, at least.

Jenny said...

I'm glad Food News Journal led me to you. You clearly tapped into something a many of us are feeling, myself included. I have been thinking about photography lately, and the kind of story it can tell. If you listen to conventional advice, you should buy multiple props, maybe a piece of white foam board to improve lighting, use layering, etc. I dunno. I think I prefer things to just look real. Not not-beautiful, but real. All the eye candy gets old after awhile.

nmaha said...

Wow! Why would someone who writes like you have doubts. I'm hooked.

vertigob said...

I was going through the same thing last week. I feel like everyone else is having this crazy success, tons of followers, writing books, etc.

Here I am, writing this silly little blog with recipes and stories about my life. No one cares, why do I bother?

When I told my husband, he told me the same thing. Bunk. "People love your blog. It is a record of our lives now. Some day the children will be so glad you did it. Some day you will be glad you did it. I am glad you are doing it and that should be enough."

And now it is. I just needed to hear it.

Cheryl said...

Beautiful, true, authentic, and real. Thanks for your bravery, your point of view, and your writing. When you hit a chord with a post like this, you are a success, no matter what the ridiculous numbers say or don't say. Screw the damn numbers.

Jill Silverman Hough said...

Sometimes when I create a number to go for, it's because that number represents something - but after a while, it becomes the goal in and of itself, and I forget it was a means to a goal. Yay you for getting back to what you're really committed to, to what the number meant before it was just a number. And thank you for, in the process, reminding the rest of us what's important.

Abby Dodge said...

Kim.. the way i see and read it.. you already write from your heart. It's always warm, honest and endearing - messy or not.
You, my friend, are the real deal and I will follow you & your journey to the ends... wart and all!

Christine said...

You (and Sarah) made me teary. Damn you hormones! You know I'd be reading no matter what, but David's right...we aren't reading for the pretty picture, but for you! for your family!


Couscous & Consciousness said...

I just discovered your blog and what a great post to find it with. You can bet I will be sticking around and reading a whole lot more. I have no doubt that when your message is authentic the audience will follow. For me blogging is all about making those connections with wonderful people, but is also my journey to try to live (and thus write) with a more open heart - something I find very hard to do, but slowly I feel the gates to my heart begin to open - a little bit each day.
Sue :-)

Rita said...

Wow Kim - 41 responses (so far). You really hit a nerve with this one. Don't even think about giving up your blog!!!

molly said...

Irony, I think, is the appropriate word for just stumbling upon your blog, with this post. Talk about walking into a whirlwind!

You've got me, though, with the "whole truth and nothing but" bit. It's a tricky balance, and absolutely essential. I look forward to plowing back through the months, and following, in those still to come.

Keep at it.

Vicki said...

Wow, you have a husband that actually listens to what you're saying and then offers really insightful responses? Where did you find him and can I get one for my daughter?

Margie said...

I post what I want to share. I have no idea where it's taking me and who exactly is reading, I like sharing my stories, my photos and tiny bits of my personal life.

So, please keep writing cause i'm reading.

And, I will officially follow you. :)

Liz the Chef said...

Thanks, I needed that, just 2 weeks into my new food blog. I want so to write about food the way it moves me, the reason I started on this journey in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I have read your blog for close two years and really enjoy it. Keep it going please. I understand your dilemma though, not wanting to sound to all perfect family life and I do sometimes wonder, wow does she e er have days where she opens a can of soup and gives it to her kids with ritz crackers for dinner. But I know you are writing a food blog and you are sharing that part--the wonders of that life. My only suggestion (and a bit of selfish one because I enjoy your writing) is that you write more regularly so your readers will know when to check. I think that alone would increase yore readership. I am sure it is not easy to do so but those are the blogs I stick with,the ones I know have a weekly new post.

Carolina Matthews said...


I 'discovered' your blog last week, and my heart dropped to my feet when I read the first lines of this post. I have not read enough of your work to have a precise idea of your style, but what struck me right away was your honesty - one more reason for my disbelief when I read you thought you were 'veneering' your life.

Anyway, I am glad you will keep writing, and I can't wait to keep reading.


Michelle (What's Cooking) said...

You captured everything I have been feeling lately, but more eloquently...I love your blog for its depth and honesty and appreciate that you are willing to share these fears. It's time I do the same - changing school lunch isn't all about making an effort and then things improve overnight. There are hurdles - lots and lots of them, and if I want anyone to keep on trying, they have to see the ones we successfully hurdled over...even if we fell on the way.


I follow you on twitter and I skulk around on your blog but this post grabs me, pulls me in and demands I leave a comment.

And only this - your husband is right.

Bunk. We are ALL guilty of bunk when it comes to how we think about our blogs, how we determine success, how we become slaves to a number and our stats. How we lose sleep over whether or not we're invited to a party or sponsored event. And it's all total and complete bunk.

What's real is what you've just written. And I for one, am far more interested in a healthy spoonful of reality. Capture those idylic moments because they're real; write about the crap, because that too, is real, it's authentic and it connects.

I hope you never stop writing; you can change the world.

Kristen said...

This is one of the best posts I have ever read...seriously. I appreciate your honesty, your candor, your willing to listen to your husband and Jennifer, and your desire to keep it real. For that, I thank you!
If you ever want to chat about this subject, let me know. It is a passion of mine...this whole crazy thing we call food blogging and our purpose!

Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies said...

Well AMEN to that. This is the first time I've visited your blog.. but it won't be the last. After a weekend at BlogHer Food, I came back feeling jaded, not good enough. And you know what happened? I started taking better photos, and writing better content, and engaging with more readers because I realized that dammit anyhow! I love to blog, I love to write, and I don't care how much money I make off my two piddly ads (though the blog paying for its own hosting might be nice), and what I really want, at the end of the day, is to connect meaningfully with people who like what I write. I write about my family, about my grandfather who passed away, and the food he made for me. I write about my grandmother, who lives 1800 miles away from me, but still tells me what she's eating for lunch every day (the ultimate foodie, and she doesn't even know it). I'm glad you didn't hit the delete button. I'm glad you have a friend like Jennie. And most of all, I'm glad you're keeping it real. That's when things are most interesting.

alice said...

I love everything about this post.

Sara@OneTribeGourmet said...

Thank you for this post! I too have thought about what is the purpose of my blog, I even stopped blogging for 2 months but could not stay away,I missed it too much!

Cheers! Love your Blog! :)

Amy said...

I'm glad you didn't blow it up.

I felt like that last week too – the dynamite was close at hand. The fog hasn't quite lifted fully, but I'm getting there – where you are it seems.

So, again I'm glad you didn't blow it up. I needed to read that.

kathy gori said...

I've been reading your blog. I was just routed here by a tweet from @bellalimento. So glad you didn't blow the whole thing up, and I totally get what you're saying and feeling here. People used to talk about a monkey on ones' back sometimes I feel I have a blog on mine.
It's wonderful to read you.

Kim said...

What a beautiful post. I am so glad that I have found my way to your blog after a share on Facebook. You really articulated what I feel is most important in what we do as bloggers...sharing simply because we are passionate about something, not because of how many hits we might get, or how many "likes" we might get on Facebook. I'll definitely be back to follow your honest journey through food and life.