By Angela Noel
May 18, 2017
Almost a year ago now, I sat agonizing over my first blog post. I’d convinced two or three brave souls to let me profile them. Each had placed tremendous trust in me, but I worried. Would the words I put on the page both honor my subjects and connect with readers?
As a few people read that first post, then a few more, I felt the rush. My heart pounded in anticipation every time I checked the stats. Ten people. Then twenty. A hundred. Matt French, the subject of my first post, liked it. His friends and family liked it. That’s what mattered most, right?
But the more I read other blogs, and the more research I did to understand what “success” for a new blog should look like, the ickier I felt. A few months in, after I’d faithfully posted each week, I remember reading a piece from another blogger. She lamented she had only a “small” following–10,000 views a month. I felt shame. If she was disappointed with 10,000 what did it mean that 1/10th of that number visited mine? Clearly, something was wrong.
Work vs Fun
To find out how to improve my stats I spent hours reading about how successful bloggers crafted posts and promoted them. To boost my subscription sign-ups I did pop-up gymnastics and experimented with different plug-ins, each promising to increase my numbers. I worked late into the night, writing and re-writing blog posts. I enjoyed the writing. I enjoyed the people. But anxiety ate at me.
Each article I write celebrating an inspiring person ends with a call to action, both for myself, and for every reader who finds my blog: Be Awesome in Real Life. But, according to my family, during these first few months I was more irritable than awesome (by far).
To make matters worse, over lunch one day, a writer friend told me he knew a successful blogger who committed to spending no more than an hour on any article. I must be doing it wrong, I thought.
Success seemed out of reach. More importantly, I had to ask myself: Was the effort to make this blog successful making it less fun?
Yikes. Something had to change. One day, on the advice of a good friend, I listened to a Magic Lessons podcast. The six-word key to my conundrum waited within.
Just What I Needed to Hear
Glennon Doyle Melton, author and activist, spoke at length about her blogging and writing efforts to Elizabeth Gilbert in the podcast Magic Lessons Ep. 209: “Show Up Before You’re Ready.” I turned up the volume when the conversation turned to Glennon’s frustration with earnest bloggers asking her for advice on how to grow a million-viewer audience like hers. With grace and wisdom, she offered up an alternative to focusing on growing an audience. Instead, she advises,”Serve the people who show up.” Serve them to the best of your ability. “It’s such an honor,” she says. When I listened to her words, my fingers tingled. The anxiety in my chest eased. I knew she was right.
I started the blog to do two things I love: write and celebrate awesome people and ideas. I got to do that every week! I’d failed to see the success I already had. Bogged down by numbers, I’d forgot to listen to my heart. But I’m not alone.
Evidently, losing sight of why we create is a common problem. Creative people, Glennon says, don’t quit because they don’t like making things, they quit because they can’t handle defending what they’ve created. And that includes defending it to ourselves. If no one likes it, I used to ask myself, why am I doing it at all? But Glennon has the answer for that too, “There’s the during, and there is no after.” Meaning, creation IS the thing. Babysitting it or “following it around” to see how people react to it kills the spirit. Whether I have two followers or a million, “give them the light,” Glennon advises. Lucky for me, I follow at least bloggers who’ve already figured this out.
Susie Lindau is one of those bloggers. I featured her Wild Ride as a Blog to Love after she’d posted an An Open Letter to New WordPress Bloggers. In it, she asks new bloggers to evaluate their motivations and what equals success. She says:
Why do I want to be a blogger? To become famous and spew? To build an author’s platform? To sell books? To make money? Those are all end-games. Blogging for results will get you nowhere.
Instead, focus on the path of writing what you are passionate about and you will see results. It’s all about practice and community building.
Follow blogs without the expectation of a followback.
Susie’s words carry weight because her followers feel her authentic self shining through. For example, I’ve never met Susie in person, yet when she shared the news about the sudden death of her brother, tears welled up in my eyes. Her humanity and mine are connected. As Glennon points out, “The deeper you go into yourself, the more everybody else can see themselves in you.” That’s exactly what Susie has achieved with her followers. She shows us a different side of ourselves by allowing us a clean, clear, honest window into her own experiences. This is the writer’s duty and gift: To show the reader to him or herself. Susie continues to do just that with every post–living her adventure and sharing it with others.
The Stats that Matter to Me
- Twelve people allowed me to poke into their lives and feature his or her particular brand of awesome in a post.
- Two beautiful writers penned guest posts.
- Five readers of the blog wrote Love Letters to someone in their lives they admire.
- Six people I didn’t know had been reading the blog stopped me in a hallway or at a party to tell me how much they loved reading a post or two, or ten.
- I’ve heard from many mothers, fathers, siblings, or cousins of post subjects. They already knew how amazing their loved one was, but they’re so happy I can see it, too.
- I’ve found bloggers from all over the world to follow–who’s adventures and insights have shaped what I think, say, and write.
Today, whenever I ask myself what blogging success means to me, it’s not numbers and stats. I gauge success by the richness of my experience, the wonder and curiosity I feel, and the opportunity I have to keep creating every day. Relationships, more than anything else, matter to me.
Thank you, all of you, for helping me be awesome in real life.
Your turn: How do you define your own creative success? Have you ever gotten caught up in the wrong measurement based on your goals?