While at the Recurse Center, I’ve been amazed to find complex trains of thought from the last several years dovetailing back into my consciousness along with new and exciting explanations. For instance, I’ve tried several times to write regularly since 12th grade and always fallen off the wagon. It perplexes me every time. Why shouldn’t I be able to make a shitty blog post once a week? Where does the now-familiar discouragement come from? To a certain extent, I’ve always known the discouragement and burnout are normal and unavoidable, and if I let them stop me it’s just a convenient excuse. But sometimes there are real motivational factors at work, and I think I’ve found a new one to be aware of:
Leaving behind quantitative measures of success in writing
One of the first steps in starting a blog, they tell you, is to install Google Analytics so you can see how many views your hot take is getting.
What I realized after years of the motivation/discouragement cycle is that nothing tangibly useful ever came of having analytics on my readership. Those maps that show you what continents and countries your audience is from? Did they ever prompt you to approach your writing differently? If so, was your future writing better? How do you know what foreign audiences think of your work if all you see is a view count? Do graphs make you feel proud? Oh, really? What about 2 days later when it crashes? Will you still feel important then? Will you want to make another blog post at all if an objectively small number of people ever see your work?
So What does qualitative success look like?
I realized several techniques that have always helped me far more than measuring view counts, upvotes, etc.
Direct feedback: Show a post to your friends. Ask them if they liked it, then forget the answer because it doesn’t matter. Ask them how your work made them feel, or if they thought of something they hadn’t considered before. Did it bring back memories? Did it shock or offend? This is the kind of feedback that will actually stick in your gut making you feel good about your writing, providing you with the energy you need to push through the next moment where all you want to do is quit.
Write for a very specific audience: You don’t always have to send your work off into the vast expanse of the internet where it’ll only be seen by strangers who never so much as comment. Why not write for an audience of one? Craft the most personal letter to one of your friends, and send it. Can you make them cry with joy? Make that your goal.
I feel really good on this front
One of the most rewarding experiences to come of my writing this summer happened when I shared a personal essay with an OkCupid date and it actually inspired them to get back into writing. It’s an excellent example of a non-quantitative measure of success, because I will never see this person again (I’m leaving New York for the next 2 years)! The analyst in me wants to know how many stories this person will write, will they really keep writing, will they inspire someone else or contribute back to a community? I have absolutely no way of knowing! And I’m actually really digging it.