Constant Comment

Hands typing on a white keyboardAs a blogger, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of measures I want to use in order to determine how well I’m writing.  Number of pageviews? Trackbacks? Comments? A few months ago I found myself getting so obsessive about my blog’s stats that I had to implement a procedure that would prevent me from looking at them. Since eliminating that evaluative criterium from my list, I moved on to fixating on comments. Specifically: what could I do in order to generate more of them?

At some point I got it into my mind that the number of comments I got on a post correlated directly with the post’s quality. Fifteen comments? There’s a winner. Two comments? Instant loser. No comments? Ultimate failure. It didn’t matter how I felt about the post; in many cases, if I didn’t get a big response to a post I’d felt really proud of, my feelings toward it would change completely. Conversely, if I wrote what I’d thought of as a throwaway post and ended up getting a lot of feedback on it, I felt completely destabilized. I became unable to write a post without thinking about how many comments it would generate. How could I make something more interesting, more provocative? What kind of topics did people want to hear about that I wasn’t already covering?

When I mentioned all this to my fiancé, who also does a lot of writing, he made a remark about the danger of trying too hard to write for your audience. He warned me that if you get too wrapped up in who you’re writing for and how they’re going to respond, you’re not going to be able to keep writing about things in the way that works best for you. I nodded and smiled, because I wanted to be popular, and no one gets popular doing what they want. You only get popular by doing what other people want you to do, right?

I developed another fixation, this time on blogs with large numbers of commenters – what were these bloggers doing to generate this kind of response? How could I do it, too? It wasn’t until I got to a point where I could see things a bit more clearly that I realized that in many cases, a post that had generated 35 comments (to pick a totally arbitrary number) wasn’t necessarily all that provocative or even well-written. And when I started paying more attention to the comments themselves, I realized that in a lot of ways they weren’t anything to write home about, either. Standard comments were things like, “Great post! :)” or, “I love that picture of X.” Were these the kinds of comments I wanted my blog to generate?

Even though I wouldn’t say I’m entirely cured of my desire to get a lot of comments, I have succeeded in realizing that comments aren’t everything. Sometimes my posts will only get two comments. In general, though, those two comments will be thought-provoking and substantial, the kind of comments I’d prefer to have over a breezy one-liner. Moreover, the response I get to any given post shouldn’t determine my feelings about it; if I write something and I feel proud of it, nothing should change that.

Blogging and writing are deeply personal exercises, ones that can bring up wave after wave of self-doubt and fear. One of the greatest sources of that self-doubt can come from our perception of the way others receive our work. At the end of the day, though, it’s really true that you have to write for yourself. If you’re happy with it, the people who should be your readers will be happy with it, too. Whether they number in the single or the five digits makes no difference; what counts is that you get your message across in a way that makes you proud.

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Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at http://www.icametorun.com.

24 thoughts on “Constant Comment”

  1. You know what’s funny? I would comment more here on Persephone, because I feel that most of the articles are left very open-ended, inviting further discussion. But the comment rate is lower than the other massive blogs I visit so I feel self-conscious about blathering on by myself. There are a few types of comments– those that disagree or agree with the actual content, those that simply thank the writer for sharing her perspective or addressing a certain topic, and those that add their own anecdotes. opt or perspectives. I tend to be one of the latter, and while I like to contribute, I don’t want to be perceived as someone who is always writing about ME ME ME.

    *the irony of this post has not escaped me. Yes, I do indeed see what I did here.*

      1. I accept the invitation and will not let you down! I also just was informed that I am Filled With Awesome, so I’m feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. I also have just consumed my second consecutive diet coke, so I’m also feeling quite enthusiastic about things in general so I’m going to spread that around a bit.

  2. Commenters typically make up a very small percentage of readers, from my experience. Sometimes I’m surprised with what “sticks”, sometimes I’m bummed I don’t get more feedback. It’s the nature of the beast.

    Something I’ve looked at lately is bounce rate ( % of people who don’t click to another page on your blog once they arrive) & average time on site. Those two details tell you whether or not people are really reading your content. It’s interesting to say the least!

    1. I’ve had to repeatedly remind myself how many blogs I read and how often I end up commenting (rarely) in order to kind of keep myself in check and remember that as you say, the number of commenters makes up a very small percentage of the overall number of readers. It’s funny to me how I can be a living breathing example of something and still sometimes have a hard time believing it! Such is the power of the human mind, I guess :)

  3. It’s important to remember, too, that not all readers are commenters. For us, it usually averages about 1%, and other sites that post the numbers of views/comments seem to follow that, too. I’m a huge reader, and a limited commenter, most of the time. I enjoy writing for people like me, who enjoy having something interesting to read.
    I love feedback as much as the next writer, but I’m also pretty sure if I write something horrible or something fantastic, someone is going to point it out. I don’t feel like I need comments as much as I used to.
    That being said, the editors have a hypothesis for our own pieces. The longer we spend writing something, the fewer people comment on it.

    1. Spend two weeks thoughtfully crafting a piece word by word? It passes, unnoticed, into the archives. Bang out a thousand words in twenty minutes while you’re half asleep, your topic inspired by the rantings of that guy who stands outside the grocery store, then don’t bother to proofread or even reread it? TEN MILLION COMMENTS IN A DAY.

      Never fails.

      1. I find this happens to me all the time with FB updates, too.

        Spend time carefully crafting a FB status update that perfectly captures my outrage over some new controversial political/cultural happening? No one cares.

        Whip out a one-liner, maybe even with a spelling error from my haste, that seems universally agreeable (“Candy is delicious,” or “Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity”) and receive 80 bazillion comments from people who try to qualify/disagree/dissect my statement.

        *sigh*

    2. This is so true! We used to say the same thing when I was teaching–spend days on a lesson plan and it’s a guarantee that it will go over like a lead balloon. Write it in the ten or so minutes before you head to your class and it might be one of your best ever. I guess the moral here is not to over think it, both when it comes to writing and when it comes to trying to determine what spurs people to comment.

  4. I think there’s a difference between writing for your (ideal) audience, and writing what you think people want to read. (It sounds like you’ve come to the same conclusion, Emilie.) I can tell when I’ve done the latter because I feel resentful if I don’t get loads of responses. I always get more comments and RTs when I write what I *really* want to write. I don’t just ramble on, I craft it for an audience, but it’s authentic and passionate and people usually respond to that.

    Someone like The Bloggess, for example, can get hundreds of comments on a really short and not necessarily meaningful post. That’s because she’s built a community around her blog of people who feel in conversation with her.

  5. This comment struck me as horribly condescending and lecturing. I suppose the internet breeds know-it-alls of all stripes. I was surprised to learn that you are a fellow writer on Persephone. I hope you treat your colleagues at your job with a little more respect.

    Oh and way to slip in that you work in publishing and thus are an expert on all writing.

    1. I assume this comment is directed at me, and I have to confess, rereading my comment does make it sound condescending to my ears. Not my intention at all, of course, but then–what is put onto the page at night doesn’t always look the same in the morning light.

      I wasn’t trying to slip-in my tiny insignificant job in publishing for any purpose at all or to imply my supreme authority on the matter. But I do have some insight, I imagine, into what an editor thinks about on the 20th manuscript of the day. Usually, it’s not happy thoughts. :D

      Many of these ladies work in the same area as me, and more closely to the heart of it. So heaven knows I probably don’t have any special or remarkable insights they don’t already know. :)

  6. Oh, I donno. I think that if you intend to write for self-edification, then do so and more power to you. But if you’re trying with the intention to share that content with others, to hone your craft, produce art, or effect a change, you’ve GOT to write for your audience.

    It takes patience and practice to develop the ability to manipulate your readers into experiencing emotions or coming to conclusions through your text, but if you don’t write with them in mind, if you write solely for yourself, you won’t connect at all. Things that seem coherent and cogent on the page to the author don’t always seem that way to his or her reader–not without mindfulness and care.

    Writing as therapy, however, is a valuable pastime–and blogging tends to fill this role for most people. So, on reflection, maybe I shouldn’t compare blog writing or all writing to producing, say, a fiction novel. Since I spend a good chunk of every day of my life looking at manuscripts, I’m always reluctant when people argue that great writing begins with writing for oneself. Manuscripts written by people who write for themselves are a dime a dozen in my inbox, and I’d publish less than 1% of them.

    I say, write and write boldly for your audience. Challenge them. Make your writing a maze for them, if you please, so long as it’s a maze you know they can puzzle out with effort. Toy with your readers all you like. The easy road is to assume the reader doesn’t matter, or to imagine that the audience has little bearing on how you string together words. Truth is, the reader is all-important. The audience is your god. Might feel better to pretend that’s not the case (heaven knows I often wish it were), might spare us having to deal with our (in my case, many) writerly-insecurities, but it doesn’t change the reality that if our writing doesn’t connect with an audience, it’s of zero value to anyone but ourselves.

      1. I only found one, but I put the apostrophe in for you.

        Yes, Persephoneers, your friendly neighborhood copyeditor will edit your comments for you if you ask nicely. Mostly because my own typos usually make me want to die of shame, and I don’t want dead commenters on my conscience.

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