Sometimes, a thought comes in a moment and you just record it. You type it as fast as possible and there it is.
Just so close to perfect!
As it’s coming, if someone interrupts you, walks in the door or calls or sends an innocuous email, boom! The thought is gone.
Other times, you sit for hours, construct a piece with great labour, something complex, something you think is so nuanced and hardly anyone gets it. Nor do they like it much, other than a select few, who are concerned about the same stuff as you. Always.
You wonder what happened.
What you fail to do is that you can’t draw the reader in, can’t make them care unless they already do.
One result of a medium so interactive, with such immediate feedback mechanism built in such as a blog, an e book or even an online article with the like and share buttons below is that you know immediately how many people are reading and liking or disliking what you sent out just seconds earlier.
Okay. The e book responses are perhaps a little slower but you know what I mean.
Pleasant surprise if something scribbled while waiting for coffee takes off and unpleasant surprise if something written laboriously for many hours does not.
The shelf life of this kind of writing is short. The slow and steady only occasionally wins the race and maybe never. [Perhaps there are stats available on whether the tortoise ever wins.]
Our immediate reaction after such a heady experience, in a good way or bad, is to do more of this and less of that, to make a judgement based on instant feedback, to infer something about our writing.
We try to theorize and learn and make a generalization out of the response. That’s who we are.
That is to say most writers are especially susceptible to this type of inference-based thinking because of the way their brains are traditionally wired. To make inferences from experience, to read the details but not necessarily always as a set of interrelated number but more as an an emotional response to the impression of the impact of them.
This kind of instantly available critique, in the form of hits and likes is great feedback to an extent.
But could there be some drawbacks to this method of assessment?
What if instant popularity is drawing more of only one kind of readers, the ones who are drawn in by catchy intros, witty sketches, nice quotes? What if, encouraged by these readers, one only cultivates the catchy side of one’s presentation?
What if, by going on cultivating a certain kind of eye-catching quality, one gets into a positive feedback loop? What if one loses confidence in labour and primarily starts concentrating on skimming the surface while reading other people too and producing more of the same catchiness in one’s own writing?
At the end of the day, the nuanced, laborious pieces can be worked on to become more catchy. To appeal to a more general audience perhaps.
But can the catchy be worked on to develop more substance?
Or are the in-depth and the catchy styles just meant for different forums to be produced and consumed by completely different kinds of writers and readers?
I think not. I think surface always has potential for depth and vice versa.
So are we merely comparing apples and oranges or is some depth being nipped off in the bud seduced by popularity?
Some writing, which seems catchy can actually be quite “deep.” Even if it came together in a matter of moments its history as having been produced by-the-way is actually quite deceptive.
Often, such writing is the result of hours of hard work behind the scenes, over many days. It might only seem like an instant when the process of conscious labour was distracted for a moment while waiting for coffee, when it all came together. Even writers themselves may not be aware that their brain works in mysterious ways.
So they begin to think–how did this small inspired piece just happen? How can I do more of them?
Apart from behind-the-scene hard work, there may be certain fortuitous circumstances that help a piece take off.
A post about Monday on Monday, for example, can take off on Monday. Or a post about bloggers on a forum on blogging posted at a time in the day when most bloggers are online might become a hit.
But the question is, do you want to keep writing about Mondays? Become a Monday sensation? Did you start out with another aim? Are you looking to move on to Tuesday?
On a more serious note, are you also looking beyond popularity to check if your posts are likely to survive the test of time and variety of audience? By time I don’t mean centuries or decades or years, just maybe 6 months, or maybe even a month? Is that part of your plan?
It depends on what kind of inference one is trying to draw from the success or failure of one’s writing. If one wants to create a forum to draw people in, like a site about cute kitten pictures, for example (wouldn’t one be great?) the spike in hits and likes is a good measure of the quality of presentation.
However, if one is trying an essay on the aesthetics of cuteness, one which might be more productive speculating on parameters of aesthetic sensibilities which might last at least a month or two (when the kitten is no longer a kitten), perhaps the measure of success or failure ought to be something else. Not just numbers.