going viral

What Happens When You Go Viral: On Wanting to Give Up

I recently found out that the hit count on my Relevant article back in June was over 1.6 million. The editor told me it was the second-biggest traffic day in the history of their website. That’s mind-boggling to me.

If you had asked me a year ago what I thought it would mean to have a piece get that much exposure, I would have assumed it would be my big break. That it would boost my blog, lead to freelance opportunities, help connect me to the right people. That it would be my open door into the world of professional writing and publishing. That it would bring me validation and satisfaction. It would reassure me that what I’m doing here isn’t pointless and that my story matters.

Do you want to know the truth?

It hasn’t done any of those things. For a few weeks I received a lot of emails and messages from people thanking me for my story. I got to write a few guest posts on the topic. But no one has offered me a job and I haven’t landed an agent. 1.6 million people read something I wrote and my blog still has fewer than 200 followers. (If that’s not discouraging, I don’t know what is). And as much as I would love to say I don’t care about any of that, in the world of professional writing ( by which I mean writing in some capacity that pays the bills) numbers are what matter. How many subscribers do you have? How many followers on Twitter?

All I’ve ever really wanted to do since I was in kindergarten is to be a writer. I’ve tried other things and I’ve cultivated other interests, but writing is the only thing that has consistently excited me. I’m under no illusions that I could make a career out of blogging, but I would love to have enough paid work as a writer to support my family while doing something I love. And, like most writers, I would love to write a book someday. But these past few months I’ve become more and more convinced that I am not cut out for what “being a writer” means today.

Being a successful writer is no longer about craft or talent or art. It’s not about having the deepest insights or the most profound observations to share. It’s often simply about who can shout the loudest. Like high school student council elections, success in the blogosphere is a popularity contest. It’s about who is the most provocative, who is the most visible on social media, who is the most aggressively self-promoting.

I admit that I’ve dipped my toe into that pool. This summer I (very reluctantly) got a Twitter account. I hate it. I almost deleted it within 30 minutes of registering. I’ve tried to network with other bloggers, to write and invite guest posts, to comment other places, to submit pieces to other publications. But pursuing self-promotion doesn’t feel right to me. Reading someone else’s posts and looking for ways to insert myself and my work into the comments goes against some of my core values of sincerity and authenticity. These are things I’m not willing to compromise on.

In my last “What I’m Into” post I confessed that I’d been reading like a chain-smoker, using other people’s words to try to hide from own. I’ve read a few posts about this struggle lately (here and here ). Honestly, I was a little shocked and disheartened. One of my friends is working on a book and has landed a really great agent. One has a completed manuscript she’s starting to send around. I look at them and think, “If only I had an agent…” or “If only I had a finished manuscript…” Perhaps they look at me and think, “If only I had a million-view article…” And yet, we seem to have hit a collective wall. We are all struggling to feel that what we are doing matters.

I confess that I frequently get angry with popular and successful writers whose blogs I find poorly written and uninspiring. I don’t believe in quantity over quality – in pushing points that don’t need to be made just to generate content. There are a million voices out there and there are many moments when I don’t think the world really needs mine. If all I’m doing is adding to the noise then I’d rather be silent.

I want my writing to be about creating something beautiful—about art and passion and sincere wrestling with (sometimes fragile) faith. I want it to be about telling truths and naming every day grace. I want it to matter.

I’ve been rolling a book idea around in my head for at least eight months. There are some stories I want to tell, but I am afraid. This stage I’m in as a writer is one where I carve off a chunk of my heart and fling it out into the world and watch it disappear into the distance without even the consolation of hearing an echo back to let me know I hit something.

I am afraid of failing, yes, but here is an uglier truth. I am also afraid of hard work. Or rather, I am afraid of hard work that goes unrecognized and unappreciated. I am afraid of 1.6 million people who say, “Your words don’t matter.”

I want to give up.

And yet, I can’t quite do it. I can’t completely walk away. Because this space has changed me. In some ways it is healing me. I’ve made friends here. I’ve found a tiny community of artists who are fighting to say something true. These people inspire me. And I’ve experienced moments of extraordinary grace from readers, some whom I’ve never even met in real life, who have sent encouraging emails and have shared their own stories, who have sent me articles and books that are dear to them, and even one who bought the most beautiful cook book I’ve ever seen and mailed it all the way to Korea.

Jim Carrey once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

I’ve never been rich or famous, but I can tell you that as a writer, having an article go viral is not the answer. And it seems that having an agent or finishing a manuscript is not the answer. Satisfaction and conviction that this work is good and that it is worth doing has to come from somewhere else.

I don’t know what the next few months will look like here on the blog, but I’m committed to trying to figure this out. Should I write? Should I not write? What should I write? And why? And for whom?  Hopefully I will find a way forward–a way to be able to do what I love without compromising the kind of person I want to be.


****EDIT: I just wanted to add a  note letting you all know how much I appreciate all of the kind and supportive comments I’ve been receiving on this post and for all of the new followers. I am really overwhelmed by your generosity and support. Online interactions can sometimes be so negative and all of your kind words have really touched me. I may not be able to respond to each and every comment, but please know that I’ve read every word and I appreciate them. I know I’ll come back to them in moments of discouragement. I’ll be checking out a lot of your blogs over the weekend. There’s a phrase we use in Korea that means “Don’t give up! You can do it!” It more or less translates to “Fighting!” in English.  So to all of my fellow writers, artists, and creators, “Fighting!”

Image source: Wikipedia.org