I was reading a blog recently—actually it was one recommended in an interview I read—and as I looked through some of the entries, I was impressed with how well the person wrote, and at the end of the article, I noticed the line, ‘No comments yet. Be the first to write a comment!’ and I thought, Huh. Really? But why?!
And it occurred to me that this happens a lot. I’ll come across a link to an article, to a blog I’ve never seen before, and I’ll read it and think, wow, this is really good! and there won’t be any comments. Is it because my tastes are so different from the majority of the rest of the people who read the internet? I can’t believe that (although of course, I do have excellent taste).
As just another blog on the internet, compared to independent, professional websites, my blog naturally gets very modest traffic, but it’s probably as good a representation as any as to what happens, even on the big name sites. Over a week, I might get between 150-300 visits. Given I only post once a week, I’m certainly not disappointed with that. On that weekly blog post, I usually get between one and three comments, and between four and eight ‘likes’. I usually post the link back on my livejournal account, where I might get a couple more comments. Naturally, even one comment makes me happy. Hey, even one ‘like’ makes me happy! Still, the ratio of comments to views is low, and I know this is something that’s not unique to my own blog.
So when I see people writing really amazing stuff, and yet nobody is commenting, I have to wonder what is going on. How are people missing this? How are they not telling the writer how wonderful it is? I have to wonder about what this means for the future of writing and for the future of writers.
I’ve written before about the issue of paying writers for their work, and payment is certainly one very significant way in which one can be recognised for one’s work. But the payment is only one (major) part. As much as it’s lovely to see one’s name on a byline on a website and have money in the bank, it’s a little disheartening if nobody has anything to say in response. It’s like giving a speech to an empty room. In fact, it’s worse. It’s like you’re standing on the footpath, giving a speech to a constant flow of people, only the smallest number of whom will give eye contact, or smile, or a thumbs-up.
When I first decided I wanted to be a writer—I mean, when I really thought, this is what I want to do–I naively thought that I could just write, and it would be brilliant(!) and that I would get ‘discovered’ by someone, and my work would become an instant hit, and I’d be famous and wealthy and be able to buy a little cottage with a window that looked out onto a meadowy field, where sheep grazed in the sunshine and wisteria grew rampant over an old wooden fence. I’d sit there and write my bestsellers and drink blackcurrant-flavoured tea and eat cherries and mangoes.
(Hey, I was sixteen. Reality didn’t feature much in this pipe-dream!)
And the reality is, there are so many out there, waiting to be discovered. I used to think that the best would simply find their way, that the cream would rise to the top. If it were really good, I thought, it would get the recognition it deserved.
Obviously that’s not how the world works. It’s certainly not how the internet works. Have you read it lately? And the ones that get the most comments are certainly not outstanding literature! Rather, they’re clickbait and sensationalism at its worst (or best, depending on your perspective). We really do ‘browse’ the web. We flit past, picking out what might interest us, and decide on a whim if we want to spend our time on it. Some sites even state the number of minutes it will take to read their articles, so you can decide if you have enough time to bother with it.
I wonder if perhaps we’re just so stretched between social media sites, news websites, email, and—gasp!—real life that we no longer feel we have the time to take a minute to type out a short response, even when we see something we really appreciate. I read an article recently where the writer decided to stop ‘liking’ on Facebook. Instead, she was going to actually take the time to write something.
Even though I’m not on Facebook, I’m still guilty of the same behaviour. I’m happy to retweet or favourite or like something someone has said, because it’s easier. And it’s not just a matter of having the time. There are times when I’m reading something so good, or so disturbing, that I don’t know if I have the energy to summon the eloquence I feel the article deserves.
Would it really be so hard, though, just to write ‘I really enjoyed reading this’? We don’t have to try to win the Nobel Prize for Literature with every comment we leave. We could just write a quick response, to let the author know how much we liked what they wrote. Even the self-doubt I might feel—but they don’t know me!–is ridiculous. I should remind myself that almost all of the comments I get on my blog are from people I’ve never met.
Comments aren’t the yardstick by which a site’s success is measured, of course. If one is trying to sell advertising space, it’s hits and followers one needs, and even then, there’s no guarantee that success will come. And then, there’s no certainty that payment will follow. One’s fifteen minutes of fame can come and go with relatively little to show for it, and after the spotlights fade, it’s back to regular programming. There is still work to be done; there are still words to be written. Internet fame is fleeting, and nothing old can stay. It’s all about the newest, the latest, the most horrifying.
The thing is, though, even without all the fame and the bright lights, I still feel that need to write. I still really like pieces I’ve written, even if nobody comments to say they do too. Sure, I can still read back over my work, and almost always edit a sentence or even a whole paragraph, but some posts, I’m genuinely happy with. Of course, I’d like to earn some decent money from writing, because it allows me to work from home, and it means I can choose my hours around being able to weed around the passionfruit vine if it’s a gorgeous day, or be up all night with an unwell child without having to worry about sick leave and letting colleagues down. But while I practise and search out publications which might pay me, I keep writing this blog, because every week, I’m writing about something which is important to me. That’s what will keep me writing. No matter the number of comments or views or likes, and I can only imagine that’s what others feel, as well.
Otherwise we’d just stop doing it.
(Any acknowledgement is kind of nice, though, I have to admit. So, you know. Don’t be shy! And I’ll do my best to do the same.)