I Stopped Caring About My Stats (And I've Never Been Happier)
A funny thing happens when you follow your passion and self-publish your writing online — you inevitably turn your focus to numbers and not your craft.
At first, it’s minor. You check Medium to see if you have any new claps for your latest work. You log into Twitter to find out if you have new followers. You take a peek at Facebook to learn if your piece has been shared.
Soon, you’ve developed a full-blown habit. You’re using Excel to track the data. You want to know why @axauthor86 (not a real handle, as far as I know) has more Medium fans than you. You’re determined to get more re-Tweets and Facebook likes, and you’ll be damned if that other writer gets more Instagram followers than you.
You expect to earn hundreds of new fans per day. You need to build an email list with thousands of addresses. You want all the numbers and you want them now.
Eventually, you’re spending more time crunching numbers than putting words to page, all while wondering why more people aren’t reading your work.
How I Hit Bottom
This is exactly what happened to me. I was so elated when the first claps, likes, comments, and highlights came through. I wanted to chase that high. I wanted more of it.
I joined some writing groups on Facebook and there was all this chatter about stats. Know your stats. Check your stats. Earn followers. Build an email list. Attract fans. Use Pinterest/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram — anything and everything to get your work in front of the people. All the people, all the time.
I’m a full-time writer and a mom. My working hours are 9–3 (while the kiddo is at school) and then random snatches of hours throughout the evening and weekend. Maybe some pre-dinner writing here, some post-bedtime routine writing there.
I’m not a fast writer, so once my son is out of the house I do my best to write a few posts and send out a few pitches. But then there’s also email. And my fiction writing. Oh, and I should eat lunch. And now that publication is using Slack to communicate, so I should check that. I also need to do some reading. And I have to spend a bit of time responding to comments on my work. Then I need to make tweaks to my website. And I have to write and send my monthly newsletter. Plus, I shared a link to my post on that Facebook writer’s group thread, so now I have to read other members’ work. (Can’t expect them to read my work if I don’t read theirs!)
By the end of all this, I have no time left.
Point is, my days were already hectic with all these work-related “to dos,” so when I added stats chasing to the list, I over-complicated things. I placed far too much emphasis on data. I used large chunks of my (too-short) work days to refresh my Medium dashboard, update Excel, and market my work solely for the purpose of upping digits.
In the process, I grew resentful. My ego deflated every time I shared writing that didn’t generate instant applause. I felt sorry for myself if my reads dropped from one week to the next. I got angry when a fellow Medium writer shared that they earned more than I did.
My self-esteem tanked and I wondered if this writing thing was even worth it.
How I Reclaimed My Passion
After a few weeks of feeling like a total failure, I took a much-needed break. I went on vacation with my husband and my kid, and although I brought all my writing gear along, I didn’t use it. I jotted in my journal and read about the craft, but didn’t pen any blog posts, essays, or pitches.
But more importantly, I didn’t go online. No Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Medium.
I didn’t worry about my followers. I didn’t visit my stats page. I didn’t open that damn Excel spreadsheet. I didn’t even remember to check my Medium Partner Program payment that week.
A full seven days away was exactly what I needed to break the numbers habit. By the time I returned home, I longed to write. I was desperate to put my fingers on the keys. I was bursting with ideas. But I didn’t crave the data. I didn’t even want to check my stats. I knew that if I got sucked into that hole again, I’d go right back to being obsessed.
So, I wrote. I focused on craft. I read and read and read and read and then read some more.
And it’s been glorious!
I’m now in a good place. I think my Medium numbers are down. But I don’t know for sure because I haven’t checked. And honestly, I don’t care.
I submitted a pitch to two national outlets last week and got two very good responses. I have an essay waiting to be published in another (paying!) online outlet. I’m still getting really kind feedback from readers and every now and then I see a like or a re-Tweet or a clap for my work.
Best of all, I like writing again.
Don’t Let It Happen to You
If you’re a writer, write. Ignore the other stuff. Yes, “they” say that in order to get an agent or a publishing deal, you need a platform and followers, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But that can happen without checking your stats every day. It can happen without comparing your earnings to that of another writer. It can happen without stressing over your followers or fans or claps or reads.
It can’t happen, though, if you don’t write. So put pen to page or fingers to keys and work on your craft. Not only will you better your writing, but you’ll maintain your sanity and be happier as well.
Take it from someone who’s been there.