It’s that time of year again, when Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) shows go up and BlogHer’s Voices of the Year (VOTY) are announced and I am inspired to wax philosophical about self worth, recognition and validation in the blogosphere.
If you are like me (and I KNOW not everyone is), blogging is a multifaceted endeavor that meets myriad personal needs. I blog to process my feelings, share my story, help others, participate in a community, contribute to a meaningful dialogue, and to practice my craft as a “writer.”
I think it’s important to know why we blog, because I think it helps us understand our desired outcome. I stop all the time to ask myself: What am I putting into this space? and What do I hope to get out of it? If what I hope to achieve does not meet what is actually being achieved (or my perception of it), I either need to change my expectations or stop blogging (or get a reality check).
Most of the time I can determine if what I get from this blog is worth what I put into it. Most of the time I don’t need validation from others to know that what I’m doing here is worthwhile. But every once in a while I have my doubts. Frequently those doubts cower in the corner but there are times when they loam large, overshadowing rationality or common sense. Sometimes I can’t help but consider outside metrics when I’m faced with these scary, overpowering doubts. If a post doesn’t get any comments, I wonder if my voice, or what I write about, is relevant enough. Are my readers not interested in this topic, or what I have to say about it? (Do I care?) When others receive accolades for their writing, I wonder if such recognition is necessary for me in determining my worth as a writer.
In an age of scarcity (as Brené Brown calls it), being relevant and recognized are important. Or at least, we’re taught that relevance and recognition are important. In this era of reality television and social media, everyone thinks they have something to offer the world. We all believe we are interesting and worthy of being heard. There is no greater example of this than the explosion of the “blog;” we put our voices out there not only because we have something to say, but because we think people might want to listen.
And luckily for us, they do. At least some people do. And really, that should suffice. But sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s an incredible feeling to know that people who don’t know us choose to read us, and some even take the time to write back. How awesome is that? People are taking the time out of their busy days to read what we have to say. They think each of us is compelling enough to follow, despite having no previous connection whatsoever. It’s very validating, to have people read our writing. It makes us feel relevant, like what we have to say is worth something.
And yet, the minute we base our relevance (or the relevance of our writing, if we’re able to separate ourselves from it) on other people reading our words, we run the risk of quantifying that relevance. Some might argue that we already have.
The blogosphere is a strange place because a blogger’s relevance (in the past I’ve used the word “popularity,” but I think “relevance” is more accurate) is, quite literally, quantifiable. Metrics exist to determine how many people read a blog, how many people share a post, how many people “Like” someone’s words. Once we start gauging our perceived self-worth by these metrics, it’s hard to refrain from comparing ourselves to other bloggers. Some posts get dozens, maybe even hundreds of comments. Some pieces are shared thousands of times. It’s hard to feel relevant when our writing does not receive that kind of recognition. Am I a good enough writer? Do I have something important and interesting to say?
Even if we can convince ourselves that our writing is as good as the writing that garners all that attention, the difference in numbers makes clear that our work is different some how. Our message must not be as relate able or pertinent. It’s so easy to feel like we aren’t saying the right thing, or aren’t saying it in the right way. Or maybe we’re just not saying it well enough.
Of course not every blogger wants their words to travel the length of the blogosphere (or even the Internet) and back, but I think most of us are looking for more recognition than we currently get. We’d all appreciate more readers, more comments, more shares. It’s human nature, and it’s not necessarily negative.
The truth is there are few other instances where our social worth is so transparent than in blogging and social media. Everything we say and do, and the responses our words and actions inspire, is saved and counted–that information can be surveyed at any time, by ourselves and anyone else. We’re all vying for each other’s attention in an age when we’ve been taught that there’s never enough. We have to do a lot of work to protect our fragile egos from the implication of all this quantifiable data. (And again, we each use these tools differently and each one of us has to determine what we want out of these tools and the data they render.)
At this time of year, when an exclusive few are selected (and countless others are rejected) for coveted spots in LTYM or VOTY, it’s hard not to ponder our relevance. I personally don’t submit my writing for consideration–it’s the path of least resistance, and less disappointment. I say I abstain because I’m lazy but mostly it’s out of fear. I’m afraid that if I put myself out there, and don’t get recognized, it will change the way I think of myself as a writer. I’m worried that if I willingly give others the power to determine whether or not I’m good enough, those doubts and fears will tower over me, rendering me mute.
This is when I have to remember why I blog. I never started this space looking for fame or fortune. What I really wanted was connection and community. The truth is I’d probably lose that if thousands of people started reading my blog. Remembering that helps ground me when I start to compare myself to others. But I also blog to hone my craft and become a better writer. That is why I make the comparisons in the first place.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been sick of copyediting at the ggmg magazine for a while, but that I enjoy writing articles for them when the opportunity arises. Recently a new managing editor mentioned that it might make sense for me to become a writer. The idea terrified me and I sat with it, too afraid to bring it up with her again. It didn’t help that a separate email went out to the magazine staff, asking the writers to list all the online and print publications where their work can be found. They responded (replying all so we all got the emails) with laundry lists of impressive credentials. Obviously I couldn’t ask to become a writer, when my work has been published exactly NO WHERE but here. Clearly I wasn’t relevant enough.
Later I was listening to a Brené Brown talk (I know, enough already with Brené Brown) and she mentioned that adults rarely do things that legitimately scare them; most adult don’t try something new unless they are pretty sure they will be successful. This really struck me, and I realized I couldn’t think of one significant creative or professional risk I have taken in the last five or ten years.
And right at that moment, I vowed to write the managing editor of ggmg magazine and ask if I could stop being a copy editor and start writing, even though it terrified me.
So I did. And they said yes.
It is a big step for me, because I’m not sure I will succeed. I am letting someone else directly determine my worth and my relevance as a writer. They may decide I don’t have what it takes. I may decide I don’t have what it takes, but I’m never going to know if I can do it unless I try. And so that is what I’m going to do, try. And I think I have blogging to thank for that, because it is here that I’ve learned to have more faith in myself as a writer, and it’s here that I’ve learned how to shelter myself from the deluge of quantifiable data that can so easily wash away a writer’s sense of relevance and self worth.
So to all of you who have submitted writing (or any kind of creative work) and not been recognized–I am here, abiding with you, recognizing your worth, hoping that some day, it will be our turn.
What are your thoughts on relevance and recognition in blogging during this age of scarcity? Do you find yourself making comparisons with others? How do it make you feel?