August 15, 2012 by Xenogirl
I have been endlessly rummaging around in my cluttered imagination in search of the perfect blog topic… that one elusive blog post that finally gets “Freshly Pressed” and goes wildly viral across the interwebs. This is every blogger’s dream! Notoriety! Fame! Fortune! But after much thought, I have given up. In fact, I have concluded that these hopes should be immediately crushed whenever they surface within my brain. This will surely not be a popular sentiment, but I even suspect that such thinking may be the first sign of a mediocre or possibly failed writing career.
Early into blogging, I discovered the “stats” page of my WordPress account. This is the nifty program that tells me all sorts of revealing information about you, my faithful readers. How many of you are reading? What country do you call home? What pages do you look at? How did you find my blog? I confess… these daily numbers become quite addicting. For example, today I was thrilled to discover that my blog has now been read from six continents and over 20 countries. This news serves as rather pleasant ego stroking, but in the world of blogging, my numbers are puny and pathetic. I do not have thousands of followers. In fact, I only have 36 readers officially “following” my blog. So I am concerned… I mean… these lousy numbers indicate that I am a bad, irrelevant writer.
But wait! There are endless sources of information about how to increase readership and traffic to my blog! Optimizing and tagging and branding… oh my! Please please please “Freshly Press” my post and yes… there’s more! I can download that e-book for $9.99 to learn the secrets of successful blogging and join a mailing list to receive a free gift! It is true… blogging fame and fortune are just mere keystrokes away for the market-savvy writer who avoids the “10 Mistakes of Failed Writers” and religiously follows the “7 Steps to Blogging Nirvana.”
For any confused non-bloggers out there, the highly coveted “Freshly Pressed” status basically means that magical blogging fairies select your post (yes… you!) from among the 517 billion blog posts published that day. These chosen few represent the best of the best and are highlighted on Word Press. This is, really, quite a big deal.
Yes… that strange glow you just saw was my face burning bright green with envy.
Upon such freshly pressing, thousands of hopeful bloggers descend upon your post and generously “like” your literary genius. Readers agree to “follow” your masterful writing. That blue “views” bar on the fancy stats graph all but spikes through the top of the page. This is indeed the blogging jackpot. So new writers like me are left burning incense to the WordPress gods in hopes of that glorious freshly pressed moment. We scheme and refocus our writing in hopes of recognition and readership and eventually, due to our blogging success, maybe even a (gasp) book deal. But here’s the thing… I have come to believe there is a danger lurking in the depths of this blogging fantasy.
As I have shared in a previous blog post, while busy wrestling with the existential demons of my mid-life crisis, I stumbled upon my long-lost love of writing. Hidden in the bottom of my spare closet amidst the dust bunnies, stack of high school yearbooks, and a worn pair of Chuck Taylor high tops circa 1988, I rediscovered my creative self. This girl is pretty amazing. She dreams of writing… maybe even a novel. She recently started blogging. She has unique insights about the world… and she really loves to write.
What she does NOT love, however, are marketing plans and personal branding and image management and manipulative networking and all such related dog and pony shows, even of the literary kind. Now admittedly, this is mostly because I really suck at such things due to what we will nicely call “quirks” in my personality. So when I found myself insecurely obsessing about the details of my blog’s “search engine optimization,” I suddenly wasn’t feeling particularly creative or insightful or amazing. I imagined my inauthentic attempts at such marketing would result in my future career looking a bit like a snake oil salesman attempting to whore out her wordsmithing wares on a seedy corner of cyberspace.
Now… kudos to all of you writers who can happily embrace the capitalist side to modern-day writing and who can do it well; you will undoubtedly be far more successful and happy than I. But the idealistic me is left wondering, when did writing become about increasing blog traffic and building a fan base? Am I naive to think that the writers and artists of the new millennium can earn a living without becoming a slave to the money-making machine? Do I really have to craft and execute the perfect marketing plan to become a successful writer? Or can I just… well… write?
A possible answer came in the midst of my struggle with whether or not to seriously pursue writing as a career. Let me preface this by stating that writing is not for wimps or the risk-averse. Deciding to spend the next year pouring my heart and soul onto a keyboard with zero guarantee of success or salary is extraordinarily foolish. Thus one evening, while yet again detailing my extensive list of excuses and fears as to why I should not pursue my writing dreams, my long-suffering husband stopped me in my existential tracks. He asked, “Do you really think that Ernest Hemingway wrote for career success or to build readership? What about Nathaniel Hawthorne? Sylvia Plath? Soren Kierkegaard? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Consider any of the great authors and thinkers of history. Why did they write? Why do you want to write?”
(long, silent, uncomfortable, paradigm-shifting pause)
Well, ummm… ok… why DO I want to write?
Will I write because I love the art and craft of writing or will I write to earn a buck? Is it possible to authentically do both? Does it matter? Do I want to tell stories that are slurped up through the bendy-straw of pop culture or do I wish to craft stories that inspire and resonate with thoughtful readers? Do I love my creative self or do I love my search-engine-optimizing self?
Thus in the (quite romanticized) spirit of the great authors, I have come to believe that my desire to write is far more powerful and important than my desire to be published. In wrestling with my fear of failure, I now find myself asking… what would Ernest Hemingway do? Now granted, Hemingway ultimately does not provide us with a model for healthy living, but he does serve as a remarkable example of a gifted and passionate writer. I am pretty sure he would ignore the latest “25 Reasons to BLAH BLAH BLAH” article on publishing success because he was too busy, well, being a brilliant, ground-breaking writer.
Undoubtedly I am foolish and perhaps old-fashioned to think that a mid-western Gen X girl at mid-life can quit her day job, sit down at a keyboard, and just “be” a writer. After all, “starving artist” is hardly a respectable career choice these days. We do not live, as Hemingway did, in the Jazz Age of Paris which overflowed with innovative music and art and literature. Today our culture embraces “50 Shades of Nonsense,” boy bands, and formulaic story lines poorly disguised as prose. Our society and its cultural gatekeepers value and reward art that can be easily monetized and syndicated. The rest of it is considered, at best, irrelevant “indie” art… and at worst, a hobby.
The irony is that of course I want to make a living through the written word, as do all writers. I love my readers and hope for many more… a lot more! And my dream IS to be published someday. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these hopes. Inevitably though, I will have to do some marketing and promotion of my work, or be lost in the throng of would-be writers. I think these goals only grow malignant if they become my primary reasons to write. So I am determined to write for the love of writing. I want to write because I am a writer. Motivations matter. Inspiration has a tendency to seep out into every blog post and chapter written, simply because it is the nature of the craft. Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Indeed.
So what would Hemingway do in 2012? I think he would suggest that an author must live to write instead of write to live. Be an amazing writer first, and the money will follow. Hemingway might tell me to throw out all the blogging statistics and models for publishing success and instead focus on that creative girl who loves to write. He would also probably ask me to go big game hunting with him in Kenya… but that, dear readers, is another blog post entirely.
This idealized Hemingway approach may get a little messy, may not earn much of an income, and certainly defies the money-making, ladder-climbing logic of our times. Ultimately though, a passion for writing is what will feed my hungry, creative soul. I would even like to imagine that it is the true path to authentic literary success. So wish me luck and encouragement… and while you are at it… ummm… please don’t forget to “like” my blog post.
Of course, in the irony of all ironies… the WordPress “blogging fairies” graciously selected my post “A Letter From My Future Self” to be freshly pressed just days after I wrote this post. I am deeply honored and humbled and thankful for the recognition. I promise I won’t let it go to my head!