When I began writing both my blog and my first book, there was no one to read my words. I simply shouted into the oblivion, and it left me feeling hollow, and wondering whether anyone would ever read a single thing I wrote. So I did something that makes me feel physically ill to admit–I wrote fake comments on my own blog posts. *crawls into a hole and dies*
I’d read somewhere that comments beget comments, so I tried it. And lo and behold, it worked. If I left 1-2 fake comments, I’d get a half dozen more. But if there were none, none there would stay. Mostly I did this because my family knew about my blog, and it was mortifying to know they’d be reading my work, and seeing that no one else was doing the same. But it goes deeper than that. I was desperate to be heard. To be seen. To be noticed.
But soon, after my first book was published, I didn’t need those fake comments anymore. If I posted something, people jumped in with their own thoughts. At first, it was fantastic. People see me! People read what I write! But after a year–and then two, and then three, and then more–those comment notifications made me feel…anxious. The positive ones were fantastic, of course. But there were always the others. It’s the ol’ adage, I suppose–Be careful what you wish for.
I became obsessed with what people said to me, and what they said about my work. Did they agree with how I wrote the story? Did they think my voice was strong enough? I read tons of Goodreads reviews of my books. I read and reread my blog post comments, and if a blogger tagged me on a lengthy review, you better believe I was grabbing a bowl of popcorn.
Naturally, all that obsessing began affecting my work. As I wrote each chapter, a quiet voice in my head whispered, “What will readers say about this scene? Don’t you remember that one review? Hmm, better revise this.” In essence, I became a slave to that voice. I didn’t always obey the command to slice and dice my story to accommodate those faceless tweets and blog comments and Amazon reviews, but the voice was present nonetheless.
Something snapped in me when I realized I’d come to dread writing blog posts. I was afraid something I said would elicit a negative reaction, even if the overall response was positive. And I knew I’d think about that one comment the rest of the day (Truthville: I’d think about that comment the rest of the week).
So I did something that felt…big. I turned off my blog comments. For years, all I’d wanted was to be heard. But I lost sight of the fact that if you’re not writing something risky, something personal, something from your heart without worrying about who you’ll offend–then you’re not worth listening to.
A few days ago, I saw this tweet from accomplished author, Paolo Bacigalupi, and it seemed as if he wrote it just for me:
Yes! This is what I needed to hear. Victoria, stop worrying about the social media frenzy and focus on your next book! And so I did. I slipped my current project into a virtual drawer (one that relied heavily on reader feedback), and pulled out a fresh sheet of paper. And I began to write. It was a quiet project. It is a quiet project, but I think I’m in love.
A few weeks ago, I would have shouted about it from the rooftops. I would have announced on every social media outlet that I was working on something new, and I would have felt excited, or defeated, depending on the comments I received. Not today. Today this project stays with me. In my head, and in my hands, until I’m ready to share. And it feels…fantastic. Instead of worrying about people’s reactions, I remember the readers who have paid good money for my books. I remember the fan mail I’ve received and the sweet fans who stand in lengthy lines for my autograph.
I shy away from social media a bit more. I silence the comments on my blog, and in my head. And I write for myself, and trust that when I am ready, there you will be. And that the stories and posts I deliver to you will be truer, and braver, because of it.