Why It’s Kind of Okay if Nobody Reads Your Blog
When I turned twenty, I burned every bit of the writing that I had done in my teen years. Four three-ring binders, jammed full, up in flames.
There were a couple of reasons I did that, and some of those reasons were better than others. But for good or for ill, those papers are gone forever, because there was one copy of them. Handwritten thoughts. No duplicates. Written with ink once. Wrestled over. Wept over. Now dust blowing through central Kentucky.
See, back then you could write in private. A “diary” was something you kept under lock and key. People didn’t blog. They didn’t post to Facebook.
Of course there were professional authors who made books, but regular folks wrote to sort things out. People like you and me kept a certain sort of privacy with ourselves so that we could hash out our questions, then emerge more whole to the public. This process took time, and it took work. Sometimes you wrote for years, then burned everything up without a single person having seen it.
Everything has changed now, and that’s not all bad. It’s great that struggling and lonely people can find community, resources, and honest conversations with others online. But one drawback is that we can feel a weird sort of obligation to put our private stuff out there for everyone to read -- as if a little privacy were the same thing as a lack of authenticity.
I’ve definitely felt that pressure in the past, and I wish I could go back and tell my younger internet self that opening certain hard things up for public view wasn’t a moral requirement. Just because you have a testimony doesn’t mean you have to share it right now.
I don’t mean to shame people who are being vulnerable. It’s okay to be open sometimes, even about delicate issues that make other people uncomfortable.
But it’s also okay to hide and take good care of yourself when you are in the middle of trauma. Too often I’ve tried to run around the battlefield with my guts dragging behind me, working to sew up everybody else. Maybe that’s about being firstborn, but there were times I tried to write to help people when I could have just taken a warm bath and gone to bed early. And I probably should have, for everybody's sake. People who are bleeding to death don't make very good surgeons.
Every once in a while I’ll see posts come across my social media feed that say, “Well, I’ve finally decided to blog,” as if sharing personal details about our lives is now a basic human requirement like brushing our teeth and exercising. Or people will apologize, “I’m so sorry it’s been so long,” as if readers were in legitimate need of what hasn’t been given.
I absolutely get why folks feel that way, but when I slow down and look at what's going on under the surface here, I get concerned. This kind of language can indicate that we are close to using online relationships like commodities.
Scores of articles have already been written about how the presence of “shares” and “likes” in online communication has changed human interaction. We can easily associate worth and identity with these digital signs of approval. And now that bloggers can make tends of thousands of dollars a year simply by collecting readers, keeping a public diary has become a legit job as well as a hobby.
Add to this the fact that everywhere you look, bloggers are competing for readers, which means "top" blogs have to kick out a perfect mix of variety and consistency to get high traffic. There needs to be a cute-but-not-too-cute real live mom at the other end of the e-line; somebody who has a stylin' kitchen, but with carefully photographed messes to let you know she’s still human. Lots of pictures. Text with quotes in cool fonts. Tweetable sentences. Forwardable memes. And all this has to come together to an online front porch that welcomes you into the heart of someone you probably won’t ever meet, but who you know for sure that you wouldn’t mind having coffee with.
I’m not being critical here. None of this is bad in itself. In fact, a lot of healing has been offered to the world through these sorts of blogs.
However, since we are replicators by nature, it’s important to look at what expectations these websites can awaken in regular people like us. Without realizing it, we can allow this dynamic to bump readership up until it is suddenly the primary goal of our writing. And we can also slip into the false belief that becoming known is a mark of successful writing. Dangerous stuff.
Besides this, other pressures can be created. First, we can feel like we always need to know the beautiful narrative running through our present disasters. This is something that can take years to figure out, but as bloggers, we need to know it right now, today, and be able to communicate it to others. This knocks down another domino. We can feel pressure to tidy up our story too fast. We try to tuck all the loose ends in and sand off all the raw edges. But if we define what’s happening too soon, we might miss what’s going on that is more important that we haven’t even considered yet. Like touching a moth while it’s coming out of a cocoon, we can distort what’s really needing to happen in a time of transition.
Writers, as you look over how words are used in our culture today, I just want to remind you of what you already know. This is not new information, so it’s not going to rock your world. But still, sometimes it feels good to have someone say what is true over you. Somehow that’s freeing, right? So here it goes...
* It’s okay to write stuff nobody will ever read. Writing is growth.
* It’s okay to take time in your own company with your own words and your God. No, this is not selfish. No, this is not wasteful. It’s smart. It’s healthy. It can even be holy.
* It's not dishonest to hold back some of what you write. You don’t have to be emotionally naked with the world to be sincere.
* The world doesn’t have a right to hear everything you think. Your heart isn’t public domain.
* If you do publish, number of readers is not a reliable mark of what was accomplished by what you wrote. I know this is difficult to believe in our culture. But (let me try to say this gently) ... who are you to judge the worth of what you have cast out into the world? Jesus had twelve disciples. He told only three some of what he had to say.
Some of you have been following me for years, and because of the volume of my output, you probably think that I post everything I write or consider. Well, believe it or not, that’s not true. Just a fraction of what I write ends up online, and a lot of what I keep hidden is hidden for a reason. It’s simmering. It’s not ripe yet. It's even greener than some of the reckless, unfinished stuff you’ve read that I have posted. Sometimes I come back two or three years later and rework something you've never seen, then save it another year in a draft file. I should probably do more of that.
If holding some back sounds like something you want to try, I have an idea on where you could start. This might not work for you, but it’s worked for me in the past. If you’re stuck in the “public view” mode and don’t know how to engage with a private writing life, try working on some psalms. Psalms are short. They are honest. There’s plenty of room to stretch out emotionally and artistically. And best of all, they are easy to trash, if you want to get rid of them when you are done.
Let me know how it goes. I hope this post helps someone somehow. A couple of you have private personalities, so you don’t naturally walk around feeling pressure to share your stuff. I guess you might need an exhortation in the opposite direction now and then, but I'm not the one to give that to you.
However, for those who are walking around exhausted from hyper-responsibility, feeling pressure to wrap every fear up with a tidy moral, feeling pressure to figure out what’s going on in every disaster to make it articulate and encouraging for the world... I want to say that there’s room for you to make room for you. You don't always have to diagnose. You don't always have to teach. You don't have to use this struggle to collect internet commodities like Mario's gold coins, and you don't have to huff and puff and maximize every ounce of pain for the Kingdom. God is the one who is working all things for good. The burden is on Him there.
Meanwhile Jesus loves you, this I know... and He reads your blog. That's a pretty great audience, even if He's the only one who does. He reads what you don't post there, too. He reads what you write wherever you write it, because He values your company and the words that express your heart.
And He's okay if You save some stuff for His eyes and ears only. There’s room inside Him for you to write, just because you need to.