Blogging In an Age of Scarcity

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?

7 responses

  1. It’s taken me a long time, but I really have gotten past worrying about how many comments I’m getting or how many followers I have. I feel like I have a nice community of people I like, and we support each other, and that works for me.

    When I started blogging, I was primarily looking to get support, but I found it was also fun to do so much writing. I used to write stories as a kid, poetry as a teen, and I’d gotten away from it. It’s been nice to get back to writing.

    I also didnt start my blog to help people; it was totally self-serving. I did have a reader tell me recently that I’d helped her, though, and that meant a lot to me. She has hundreds of followers, and I have very few, but I guess it doesn’t matter.

  2. Good for you! And congratulations on the new gig.

    Three things immediately popped to mind reading this:

    1. There was a post on BlogHer today about deleting your sitemeter and how “comparison is the thief of joy.” Definitely worth a read.

    2. To that end, the comparisons we make, the ones you are discussing above, are almost always assumptions. Yes, you can sometimes see shares for a post or the number of comments, but we build a lot of assumptions (and make ourselves feel badly in making a comparison) out of a few numbers.

    3. Cecily had a great post yesterday about how social media popularity doesn’t really pay the bills. It’s also worth a read because she talks about the other side: not needing the validation for self-esteem reasons, but needing the attention to translate into a way to make a living. Tangential, but interesting nonetheless.

  3. Go you! You’re in the arena 🙂

    Love the quote Mel pulled about comparison being the thief of joy.

    “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.” — so impressed that in this moment, you challenged your own belief. For me, yoga is helpful with comparisons and self-worth because it keeps me aware of my core, even as things are going on outside of me, beyond my control.

  4. There was an interesting (though unsurprising) study done on scarcity by a Princeton professor last year, which explains why, in a resource-poor environment, people tend to make bad decisions: e.g. why people who are completely overwhelmed tend to choose things that will make them even more overwhelmed, why poor people tend to make decisions that involve incurring more debt, etc. So it’s not even just that we never have/are enough (real or perceived), but that we make bad decisions that leave us with less because we never have/are enough. It’s a downward spiral, and the only way out is direct intervention, making the other choices real enough to ourselves so that we can choose differently. Good for you for choosing differently.

  5. Congrats! Way to just go for it! I’m super excited for you!!!

    “Comparison is the thief of joy.”. Words to live by…. Something for me to truly think about!

  6. I’m proud of you for taking a risk and asking to write for the magazine. Good for you! As you know, I co-produce one of the LTYM shows. The hardest part of producing is picking the cast. There are occasions when we went, “OMG, we must have that piece,” but more often it was building a show. We likened it to curating. That doesn’t mean the best piece or writer always gets in. It’s about the needs of the show and how things are fitting together. I liken it to putting a puzzle together without a picture. Anyway, I just wanted to highlight a bit how we approached it. We said that to each auditioner, but I fear they still think it’s a popularity contest. I totally respect that you don’t want to do LTYM or VOTY. I didn’t submit to VOTY this year but have the previous two years and when I received the notification that I hadn’t been selected, I felt like crap and like my writing is crap. I felt a pang when people started posting about their selection but ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t submit.

    You might be interested in this post by one of our cast members:

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. It means a lot to me and hits close to home, after three years of submitting and not getting chosen for VOTY and two not being selected for the LTYM – Chicago cast.

    I am so proud of you for “choosing differently,” as Justine said.

    I also really appreciate Mel’s comment about how comparisons are so often based on assumptions.

    Thank you, KeAnne for also weighing in as a LTYM producer. I know the Chicago producers and can only imagine how difficult and rewarding theirs and your roles are in putting together LTYM casts/shows.

    The same day I heard I wasn’t selected for VOTY, I was at a meeting a church with the women on the retreat team I co-spiritually direct. At the end of the evening we were doing an exercise in affirming each other. It was so good for my heart and soul. Not that I didn’t know how much these women appreciate me and what I bring to our faith group, but on a day when I was questioning my abilities, especially as they relate to writing, the validation of some of my gifts was priceless.

    Anyway, thanks again for writing and sharing this. Write on… xoxo

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