Goodnight Already had it’s first anniversary last January. I published my 100th post in June. I kept meaning to mark these small milestones, but they came and went quietly while I continued to write posts about rats and forest fires and birthdays. So I’m pausing now finally to reflect on what the last twenty months of blogging has offered me.
1: Numeric Feedback
I spent two years in the early aughts earning an MFA in Creative Writing. Those were good years. I got to immerse myself in the creative process, write new stories every month, and get immediate feedback on those stories from a community of peers. The feedback came in the form of written notes and long discussions about what was and wasn’t working.
Blogging doesn’t offer that exactly, but it does offer something else of value: data. The number of views, likes and shares I get on any given post is often as instructive as any workshop letter ever was. The numbers don’t tell me where my typos are, or where the story lags, or if my characters are interesting. But they do tell me if anyone’s reading, if they connected with the work enough to pass it on to someone else, and if they stayed long enough to click around and read other posts.
I’ve learned to appreciate these numbers for the objective truth they offer. They aren’t too generous or tactful. They also don’t judge. They don’t tell me that a post was poorly written, that it was too self-indulgent or too sappy. They simply tell me: people were curious about this, or moved by this, or else they tell me: they were not.
When I started blogging, my goal was to post at least once a week. I assumed I could just carve out an hour, sit down and write a post, edit it once, and hit publish.
A few of my posts have gone that way, but most of them haven’t. Instead something happened that’s either annoying or magic, depending on how I look at it: a process took over. It demanded things of me. I started to move through my life with an eye out for possible posts. What was I worried about this week? What was I learning? Sketches of these posts took shape in my brain every day as I walked from my car to the office, or as I cooked dinner. Once I sat down to write them, they came out scrawled as half-formed paragraphs that needed active shaping and several visits of revision. I couldn’t sit down once and press publish. I had to return to them, learn from them, refine them at least a little.
Over time, I’ve learned to trust the process. I’m excited, not scared, when my first draft is a chaotic mess, when I can’t tell where something is going, or when a draft takes an unexpected turn. After dozens of posts, my body seems to know the rhythm of this thing. Like going for a long run, it’s work, but it’s pleasant—mostly—and it helps me feel expansive in my body and my life.
3: Practice in Letting Go
A related point: blogging has taught me to let go of my work, to make the distinction between the best I can do and good enough for now. If I manage to publish the book that I’m working on, I hope that I will have the patience to make to see it through countless revisions, to send it into the world not because I’ve grown impatient with it but because I’ve reached the limit of my skills.
But blogging has helped me learn that it’s okay to aim a bit lower than that in the service of experimentation, of getting things down and letting them go. Most weeks when I put up a post, some part of me considers what I could do with it if I spent another two weeks refining it. And then I shrug and move on because blogging should move in real time, and life won’t always wait for my revisions.
4: Understanding the Value of a Reader
This is, by a long stretch the most important thing that blogging has taught me: no one—not even my best friends, not even my mother—owes me their readership. The world is full of words and diversions. If I want you to read I’ve got to earn it.
Sometimes keeping a blog feels like keeping a home–the kind of home where people drop by because they were in the neighborhood, and they’re hoping you might have coffee on hand. When I was a teenager I had one friend whose house we always went to. In my gang of friends, we had a number of places to choose from, but we didn’t rotate. We always wound up at this one house. This friend had a comfortable kitchen and parents who didn’t mind having us around but who stayed out of our way. The refrigerator was full and sometimes there was a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies on the counter. Sometimes I think that’s how I want my blog to feel: like a place that’s comfortable and there for you when you need it. Sit down. Eat a cookie. Eat five.
Anyhow, that’s really the point of all of this. Thank you for reading. Thanks for checking in once in a while, or subscribing via email, or telling me when I run into you at the grocery store that you read my last post. Having readers makes my day. You are the gas in my engine, the butter in my mashed potatoes, the honey in my hive.
image credit: Message in a Bottle, Suzanne Nilsson, cc by-sa 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomastern/12407730413