As 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 fiancÃ©, 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.