The Value of a Reader (and a few other things I’ve learned from blogging)

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.

2: Process

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

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25 comments

  1. Great post! I can relate with thinking about possible posts during everyday life. I also can relate with the messy first draft. It’s work, but it’s pleasant work, as you put it.

  2. I recently posted my 100th post as well! It has certainly been a journey, and I can relate to a lot of what you said here. My posts usually demand significant revisions after the initial draft, but I almost always have to hit publish while knowing that I could probably still make it better if I had more time. But blogging is different and more real in that way… I like the experiment of it all. The freedom to write about different topics and try out new types of media and formatting. Hopefully I am able to find the time to make it to my 200th post!

  3. As often with your posts, I find the final line a perfect ending. Glad to know about your writing process and how it feeds you. Shows me, also, that deadlines, even when self-imposed, can help one move on…

  4. P.S. For the life of me, I am not able to determine what the image is: some kind of toy or instrument in the sand?

  5. Nice! Well said. I would just offer one cautionary note about the numbers. You may write a GREAT piece and it still might not get the numbers on the internet. This is because of MANY factors, one being pure chance and luck. I have a bit of experience with this kind of thing being a visual artist with a web site and a facebook page. And now with my blog. I guess I just don’t think number if reads, likes, shares, means its a great piece or a poor piece. Anyhow great piece!!!

    1. I totally agree that the numbers don’t necessarily reflect the quality of the writing…but I’m so interested in the story they tell–not so much in comparison to any other blog or other things on the internet, but how my posts compare to each other.

  6. Congrats on the milestones and glad you took a moment to celebrate. Your reflections made me think about my own experience/process with blogging. I always look forward to what you have to share– wonderful insights and exceptional writing.

    1. Thanks for being such a loyal reader! Your blog will always be close to my heart–it was one of the first blogs I discovered after opening my own WP account. So glad we’ve been able to connect.

  7. I’ll have some pieces of writing come to me and realize it really needed to be typed out, but not posted. Do you have any of those? Maybe it’s just my paranoia from fighting a court case.

  8. I remember when this blog was a mere bee in your bonnet–we were talking about it as a hypothetical en route to our respective cars and this “maybe” look crossed your face, that expression when you see someone’s gears start to turn. It inspires me to see how you took that “maybe”, went for it and kept going. (Can I cheesily say you turned your maybe to a yes?) You are one of my examples for committing to a vision. Thanks for letting me rub up against your mojo. (And may I mention how privileged I am to be among your readers?)

    1. *wipes tear from eye* I remember that day often, and am grateful to you for giving me a little push, and helping me update my understanding of the publishing industry. That’s an unexpected perk of teaching: former students will help keep you from becoming a dinosaur.

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