In 2010, my first year of blogging on Red’s Wrap, I got two likes. The next year, 2011, saw a big increase to three likes. So this fabulously successful blog got five likes over the space of two years. That may have been five different people ‘liking’ or just one dear person pressing the like button five times, I don’t know. I want to think it was a small but very intelligent and discerning crowd but it doesn’t matter.
What matters is attention. I go back now into my archives of nearly a thousand blog posts and there are many with no likes. How did that feel? I don’t remember. I just continued. Certain people always read what I wrote. My husband, a couple of friends, a few business colleagues who would slyly sidle up to me to whisper a quote of something I’d posted the day before. There were readers, I guess, just not very many and not very expressive.
Schooling people how to formally register their ‘likes’ seemed phony, like buying my own birthday present and signing my husband’s name to the card. Did I really need that kind of attention?
Likes jumped from 137 in 2012 to 830 in 2013 and then took an enormous leap to 3,256 in 2014 primarily because WordPress featured an essay called You’re Asking the Wrong Question on Freshly Pressed. This year’s total, with a few days to go, is 5,199, a long way from the two lonely likes of my first year of blogging. 2016, like 2014, was a year when WordPress exposure, this time of an essay called Book Mark, brought a ton of new readers and several hundred likes.
All the while, I was trying to bring new readers to my blog by cross-posting in other places. I loved cross-posting on Open Salon which was a curated forum hosted by Salon.com. Open Salon featured an essay of mine which was later picked up and widely circulated by Salon.com. The essay, called The Wire, was the first time I’d written about an illegal abortion I’d had while in college before Roe V. Wade made abortion legal in the U.S. After the essay came a visit back to that same college at the invitation of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. I stood on a stage and told my story. It was extraordinary.
But the charm of cross-posting has faded. The last post I wrote that was featured by BlogHer/SheKnows appeared next to a post about five ways to improve anal sex. It irked me. Not from a prudish point of view but from an aesthetic one. I want my stuff to be found among the diamond rings, not the K-Y Jelly. Is that wrong? Putting on airs? I don’t know. And then there’s the thing about once a post is published on some sites, it becomes theirs to use, re-posting as they wish with no prior notice or permission. If you want their attention, you see, you have to pay for it as long as they want.
The one exception to cross-posting right now is participation in the Yeah Write weekly challenges. Whenever I can, I post a nonfiction piece, a poem, or a story to the Yeah Write grids. Each week there is a dose of writing guidance along with explanations of what makes writing really stand out. I’d recommend Yeah Write to any blogger who wants to take their writing from keeping on online diary to publishing pieces of significance. A lot of good writers have emerged from Yeah Write. Good company to keep.
So what’s with my preoccupation with likes? If nobody buys the book, it doesn’t matter how good the book is. By that I mean this: it doesn’t matter how fabulous I think I am if no one else thinks my writing is meaningful. The likes are a metric* of the extent to which what I write hits home with people. If I’m not striking the right chords, I’m failing. In other words, if I’d kept getting two or three likes a year, I’d have quit. No one would be buying what I was selling so why keep pushing my cart up and down the street?
I haven’t changed what I write to get more likes but I have focused on what could make my writing better. I’ve tried to tackle tough issues like disability, race, and mental illness. I’ve taken chances on topics and tried to push forward what I could trust myself to say well. And I’ve decided to own my work. I don’t want to be part of the cheap churn of articles on mega-sites. I don’t want to be part of the ‘list generation’ of writers in order to post 10 things I love about winter and 5 strategies for a stress-free divorce. And I don’t want my post to be next to the K-Y Jelly ad.
Red’s Wrap is my little jewel, my little flower. I’ve been watering it pretty steadily for six years so it could take root and be something beautiful. And bloom. I wanted it to bloom and to keep blooming. And I think it is.
*Wordpress generates real-time metrics for WP sites, like Red’s Wrap, which include #views, #unduplicated viewers, #followers, #likes, referral sources, and viewers’ countries. Data are aggregated daily, weekly, monthly, and annually.
Written in response to The Daily Post prompt to reflect on the past year of blogging: Retrospective