(Once you’ve had success on the internet, you better start thinking about what’s next.)
The Internet is a relentless, unforgiving circus.
Content can go viral without rhyme or reason but then it’s quickly forgotten and replaced by whatever it is to come next. It’s tempting to think of the Internet like a drug, but it’s more akin to sugar; with drugs we know they’re harmful but with sugar it seems like it’s our friend. With the Internet we’re all just diabetics craving our next high. Last weeks “Gangham Style” is this weeks “Harlem Shake” is next weeks “goats that scream like humans”. Internet content is renewable, replaceable, and forgettable. We crave for that high then ultimately come crashing down — starving for our next fix. But seeing as most of the success that is had on the web is short-lived and rarely profitable, why do people keep creating this content?
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway
At this point in my writing career I’ve had enough of my work circulated for someone to easily stalk or blackmail me ten times over. With all of the articles I’ve had published on sites like Thought Catalog, Chalkboard Mag, and the LAist and through all the social media shares I’ve probably had thousands of people exposed to my work. However, through all of that “success” I’ve quantifiably gained about twenty new followers. For the amount of work I put in to this site and all of that exposure that’s not much of a return on my investment. There are two ways for me to think about this data:
- I should keep submitting my work and piggyback my brand on the success of established websites and hope that it will get to the right person.
- I’m using the wrong tactics.
I’ve come to the conclusion it’s the latter — and I don’t know why I didn’t see this a long time ago. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of advice from other writers, and their main message is to “write about the things you want” and then your voice will develop and success will follow. Seems pretty basic right? It’s so fucking basic that I feel like a giant moron for not recognizing that in the first place. But sometimes even when you’ve heard a message a hundred times, it’s not until you are ready to hear it that you’ll take action. We know the “secret” to getting in shape is simply diet and exercise, but until we are ready to accept that advice and hear it, then the message is lost.
“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Ernest Hemingway
I launched in to my writing career by writing about the things I wanted to talk about. Tragically, all of that went astray when I posted my flagship piece “LA, I Love You” and it was immediately picked up giving me temporary celebrity status. I saw my website analytics explode and fell in love with the numbers. I became obsessed with trying to recreate this spike so submitted work to other sites in an attempt to recreate the statistics of “acceptance”. This was toxic. It was a mistake. And it was bullshit. I have since turned off (the visibility of) my analytics because I don’t want to know how many people are looking at my site — it doesn’t matter. In the past I’ve had thoughts like: “I haven’t posted a dating article in a while and my numbers always go up when I do”. Writing with the intent of pleasing the audience instead of myself has got me nowhere, and I shall do it no longer. I’ll post a dating article when I feel like posting one, and I’ll write about paramedics fighting zombies when I feel like writing it. I will write what I want, when I want, and how I want. This is my career and I’m the one slaving away at it for free, so I should be doing the things I love — so simple. By doing that I know the authenticity will come across on the page and will advance me even further.
It’s true that the Internet is the great equalizer and becoming famous and creating a hit has never become easier. We no longer need the gate keepers like record producers, publishing houses, or modeling agents; anyone can have a voice through the Internet (even when many should be silent). Millions of people are singing covers on YouTube, millions of aspiring filmmakers are uploading short films on Vimeo, and millions of bloggers are aching to be read. Millions of people are competing for the attention of millions of others in an effort to gain “likes”, shares, and notoriety. However, if that’s true then it also stands to reason that with all of this infinite content out there, people are competing for a finite amount attention from consumers. So instead of trying to constantly evolve and market to the beast that is the Internet, you should instead just continue to have faith in your work and “be true to yourself”. And I’ve bet you’ve heard that said a million times — but maybe this will be the first time you will actually hear it.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. The truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway
[Photo: The rotating street art on Sunset Blvd and Sanborn Ave in Silverlake.]