Shauna Ahern gave up her blog, Gluten-Free Girl, in 2017. She made a good go of it for 12 years and her blog lives on online. Now, instead of food blogging, she works full-time as head writer at ChefsSteps. Her husband Danny stays home with her two kids, and everyone gets health insurance.
That was part of the decision to close the blog and get a job: Worrying about money.
Her new book of essays is Enough: Notes From a Woman Who Has Finally Found It. She writes about growing up in a dysfunctional home, the trials of food blogging and self employment, meeting Danny, dealing with his alcoholism, starting a family, living without much money, starting a flour business, and her health issues. And most of all, it’s about finally accepting what she has and who she is.
She came up with the idea of a book of essays four years ago. There were two years of fiddling with the book proposal. She got a book deal and wrote the book within the year. “I was writing it for years in my head,” she said.
Here’s Shauna on food blogging and why she moved on:
Q. Why did you stop food blogging?
A. The internet changed so profoundly over those 12 years. I ended up spending so much time on it. At first food blogs looked terrible, and we were all writers and artists, sharing our passions. Then blogging changed, where I had to make good photographs, and it became a place of trends, urgency and panic.
As each new platform began, we were all supposed to flock like lemmings. It became about marketing and I never wanted to be a marketer. It was a full-time job and then it became about money and do we have enough and what do people want Gluten-free Girl to be. That’s when I had to leave, when it wasn’t Gluten-free Girl anymore. It was a persona.
Also because hundreds of thousands of people were writing to me, asking for advice. I stopped answering people who would send me a 3-page list of their symptoms. Then they were asking for advice because their son wasn’t fitting in at school. I had to be the purveyor of wisdom. That’s a bad pattern that I don’t feel comfortable doing that anymore. I was giving all of myself away.
There’s a great life beyond blogging, where you don’t have to think about SEO and whether you’re an influencer.
Q. You say in the book that you never made much money from the blog. Why did you not take ads?
A. We created our own ad network. We were stubborn, and I couldn’t imagine a McDonalds ad on our site. And we couldn’t get an ad network to promise that the food ads would only be for gluten-free foods.
Q. In Enough, you wrote that you felt lonely, as a blogger. What did you mean?
A. I never felt like I fit in. I don’t mind long hours alone, but I want to be writing books. But I was spending all my time on the computer with a small child, and there was not much time for community or interactions. I was working so hard for something I didn’t want to be a part of.
Q. There is a long essay about your failed gluten-free flour business. I felt the frustration and desperation in it. Is it a cautionary tale for other bloggers who want to start a food business?
A. I didn’t write it to say ‘don’t do what I did.’ It’s more of a cautionary tale for moving away from what you love to do: ‘We’ll do this thing which will be a step towards having more money and we can finally relax.’
Q. Is there anything you miss about blogging?
A. I loved the community that sprang up around Gluten-Free Girl. I still have lots of readers on Instagram, Facebook and my newsletter. And I have people who have stuck around for 12 years. It just shifted form.
Q. Why did you decide to leave the blog up?
A. There’s still a lot of great recipes, and there are still people searching for gluten-free recipes. It’s like a painting now, on a museum wall. It’s a reminder not to do that again. I would not make it go away. That would be like pretending it didn’t exist.
[Update as of 2021: Access to the blog and recipes have changed. See the website for details.]
Q. Speaking of pretending, you write that you couldn’t blog about what was really going on in your life. How much of food blogging and social media is like that: people showing only their best selves and pretending?
A. I think most of it is. It’s so tied to career and fame and your persona. When Gluten-Free Girl felt like pretending, that’s why I had to quit it.
I still love Instagram because people are sharing their authentic selves as a microblog. My push is to do what I couldn’t really do with the blog. A month before the book came in I wrote a bunch of vulnerable posts and got such a great response.
Q. You’re being so fierce and authentic on social media. Why can’t everyone do that?
A. Women have been acculturated to be nice. Social media just intensified it, the whole idea that we can’t make waves. Being afraid that they’re not going to fit in. It feels like there’s been some loosening and some smashing apart. It’s the secrets and the pretending that kills us.
Q. Who are you on social media, now that you are not a food blogger?
A. I’m Shauna M. Ahern. That’s my handle on Instagram. I’m a writer.
Q. Why do you think people have stayed with you, even though the blog is done?
A. Social media is both good and bad, but now we have a place to talk about mental health. So people can find a community and feel like they’re not so alone.
Q. Will you always be Gluten-Free Girl?
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