For a long time, pretty much since I started this blog, I’ve struggled against getting hooked on how many people are reading, how many retweets my links get, likes and shares on facebook and generally anything that boosts the numbers on my stats screen.
And I’ve beat myself around the head about it. I’ve told myself it is my ego getting out of control. That it becomes all about the numbers and not about the content. That if I follow this through to its logical end I’ll write whatever garners the most readers. I’ve also worried that I’m getting affirmation from buzzes and notifications and waking up to a lock screen on my phone full of compliments to scroll through.
I’ve felt it too. I’ve felt the thrill of people liking what I have to say. And I’ve felt the rejection of a post I’ve spent half a day on read by just a few dozen people.
There has to be something wrong with this attitude, I have told myself too many times. Too narcissistic, too insecure. Not confident enough or sufficiently assured in God’s love for me to let a petty thing like page views affect my emotional state.
And then I realise.
Knowing the love of God does not turn me into an emotionless auto-matron.
Too often I’ve tried to create emotional stability in a void. Thinking that if I am rocked this way or that by someone’s kindness or cruelty. By warm words or cold hearts. Then I have got something wrong. I have taken the blame for every fluctuation. I have felt convicted for every flush of happiness.
But you know what? God loves it when we laugh. He loves it when we are thrilled. He smiles when tears of joy ease out of the corners of our eyes.
And something else. Doing what we are good at.
And this is why I’ve realised: wanting people to read my posts, share them, retweet them, rave about them, repost them; is not an exercise in vanity but a working out of me doing well what I am good at.
When two people I greatly respect referred to my post on Woolwich as an excellent piece of writing, I checked my instinct to shrug off the compliment.
When people talk to me after church about something I’ve written I still need to learn how not to act as if it was some other person who wrote those words. And I need to accept that having confidence in what I’m saying and how I am saying it does not mean I am right. I don’t have to have everything completely nailed down for it to be worthy of praise – too often I’ll caveat words I am unsure of as a work in progress, a get out clause if people don’t agree with me, a way of averting offence.
I’ll hit publish and just hope people read. I want the readers but I don’t want people to know that I want readers. I’ll limit the publicity and try and adopt a matter-of-fact persona who doesn’t mind whether posts are read or not.
But if what I have written is worth writing then I want it to be read. I write because I think I have something to say and the words that I use and the way that I use them can contribute to a conversation. I don’t write to shoot the breeze, or fill up some time, or feed the ever growing appetite of the internet.
I write because I believe I have something to say, and while God’s affirmation matters the most and will do things readers can never do, knowing people are reading what I am writing is not an act of vanity but an affirmation of my calling to create.
The likes and retweets and pageviews are not going to validate my humanity, or my dignity in the eyes of God, but that can and do validate my ability as a writer. And I think that’s a good thing. If no one read a word I wrote then I could still write, and I’d hone my skills and enjoy the craft. But I probably wouldn’t do it, at least it wouldn’t be the same.
Because I write to communicate and communication is a two way process.
(So like posts you read, share them, tweet them, gossip about them. And I should probably do something about the social buttons in the site design but that sort of thing is not part of my particular set of talents!)
PS. This post is mostly inspired by Rachel Held Evans’ post yesterday: I don’t write for an audience of one.