During my nine and a half years of blogging, I’ve been asked thousands of questions by other bloggers.
About content, about networking, about selling stuff. I’ve been asked about my success, about my failures, about my headlines, about my introductions, and about the way I choose the photos I place at the top of my articles.
But never have I been asked this, “When were you the happiest as a blogger?”
Do you want to know the answer to that question?
It was when no one was reading my stuff. I had just discovered blogging. I was happy to be a beginner. I was punching the keys, and it was all about fun. No one was reading my words, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to read them.
Then I kind of got lucky, people found my blog, and they liked what they read, and six months later, I was doing my best to serve daily content to an audience of over 20,000 people.
That’s when I started to earn quite a bit of money, enough to call myself a full-time blogger.
It was even more exciting, and it gave me energy like nothing else. For a while. But then it got complicated. Or I became complicated.
You see, this is the thing about writing for other people. A lot of other people.
I was writing for money, I was writing to impress my readers.
Blogging was no longer about expressing an idea, about writing into existence an idea that would keep me up at night.
To be honest, I was never afraid of rejection. It does not matter what one reader thinks or comments about my content.
What I struggled with, however, was the fact that I was trying to please all these people whom I called my readers.
Then, something worse happened. I got cocky. Plain and simple. It happens to most bloggers, as they become popular. You’ve got this twenty-something Romanian guy, writing a bunch of 300-word essays on life and love and death and fate, and hundreds of thousands of people read and comment and share on those silly little essays.
It’s a lethal combination that one. Trying to please people while thinking you’re better than just about everyone else.
Of course, I failed. Not the kind of failure where you give up, delete your blog, and move on with your life.
The type of failure that is slow. The most usual type. Day by day, I’d lose a bit of my drive, a bit of my passion.
I’d complain to my mother, from time to time, and all she could do was shrug.
Pardon the cliche, but I felt like a hamster on a wheel. Like Sisyphus rolling that damn boulder up a hill.
I kept punching the keys, of course. No satisfaction guaranteed. Until someone commented something that went like this, “How come you have over 100K followers and only 2–3 comments on your articles?”
That was my wake up call.
Every Once in a While, Have Fun
That day, I thought, “well, if no one’s reading my stuff anymore, I’m free to write anything I damn well please.”
And that’s what I did. That’s what I still do, from time to time.
You may have noticed this article I wrote a few months ago. It’s not my usual style. I don’t write about myself like that. There’s absolutely no benefit to you, as a reader, other than the fact that you get to know me a bit more.
But I had so much fun writing it. Truly. I had fun coming up with all sorts of weird facts about me, or interesting little stories about my life. It was fun.
Look, in time, this gets old. Even getting new readers gets old. Even if you have the best support system in the world, it gets old.
You don’t burn out, but rather wear out. Or rust out.
But there’s this feeling that you’re just writing to a shapeless mass of people, as if all the shadows of all those who follow you melted into each other on a wall.
That’s why this exercise is so powerful:
Once in a while, write an article that no one’s ever supposed to read.
Write an article without having to worry about later having to edit it into perfection. Don’t write about a topic that you think your readers will love, or something that’ll make you money.
I realize that this might sound like a waste of time. Why would you want to write an article no one’s ever going to read?
Because the words we write for others are limited in their ability to truly matter.
The words we write for ourselves, however, can even nudge the world a bit.
Let me give you an example. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius kept a journal. It was his way of making sense of the world, of analyzing his actions, his thoughts, and his beliefs.
It was something that was never meant to be read by others.
Ironically, we now know these thoughts as Meditations, one of the best works of stoic philosophy ever written.
What Happens if You Don’t Play to Win?
At the end of the day, we all write with a clear goal. We want some sort of external validation, whether it’s money or likes or more readers. That’s okay.
It’s why we call ourselves bloggers, and it’s this urge that makes us click on the publish button.
With this exercise, you stop playing to win. There’s no external validation to be pursued. You just play in order to enjoy the game.
This fun exercise reminds you that there’s no such thing as failure — only your fear making it seem real.
Writing something that’s never meant to be read by another human being reminds you of the fact that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most.
If you’re not having fun when you write your articles, all the external validation will one day feel insufficient.
A blank document is intimidating because you think there’s some rule you have to follow, there’s someone you’ve got to please. And you forget to please the most important person, you.
You forget that writing is an act of discovery, of venturing in search of ideas you’re passionate to write for the sake of it.
This simple exercise reminds you that writing should be fun, that writing should be about making you feel a sense of pride for having completed something that matters to you.
Yeah, money’s fun. Yeah, likes and comments are fun.
But you know what’s even more fun?
Doing work that means something to you, while you smile inside like a child because you’re having so much fun you can’t even fall asleep…