It’s not a popularity contest.

This post is not directed at any individual. It’s more an amalgam of responses from several individuals, in several different contexts, heard over a sustained period. Again, this is not about you. If anything, this is about why you’re not alone.

I have been publishing stuff online since I was 11.

I normally take this fact for granted. After all, it wasn’t very good stuff. I wrote my first fanfiction at the age of 7 (it was featured in my class’s library and I got some very serious reader reviews from my fellow 7-year-old classmates). I finished my first novel at 16. By the age of 20, I was writing at least one short story a week, often in addition to recurring serials, while also gainfully employed and a full-time student. I am only barely exaggerating when I say I’ve broken my back over getting the approval and attention of readers, and I know from quite a bit of first-hand experience that the harder I tried, the more it backfired. In one particularly dreadful instance, this overwhelming need for attention led to hospitalization (the less said about that, the better).

Again, I usually take this for granted, and at times I forget that the people I interact with aren’t as seasoned with the mad, mad world of Putting Words On The Internet. It doesn’t even all come down to publishing; I’m just very accustomed to interacting with writers, especially of the amateur stock.

Now, “amateur” is an unfairly stigmatized word. Writing done out of passion can be the best writing on the planet. Some of my favorite works of fiction have the prefix “fan-” appended to them and I will not hear a single derogatory word about it. Likewise I don’t mind a whit what you do in your spare time on your own blog. But when you submit something for peer review, “amateur” isn’t simply a work born out of love which is beyond criticism; it means you’re a non-professional entering into an arena where professionals also exist.

Does being a non-professional blogger deserve some leverage? Sure. “Professionalism” is often used as a gatekeeping tactic to serve the privileged and keep outsiders from breaking into a field. As much as I can, I want to challenge that. At the same time, I want to heavily discourage the kind of drama-laden behavior I grew well and truly sick of from my time in amateur writing circles– things I’ve done, in addition to things I’ve had directed at me. And it all essentially comes down to one thing:

Don’t Depend on Someone Else for Your Self-Esteem

I could tell you such horror stories. The all-night benders, the sore tailbones, the pulsating eyestrain, the tears, the aching wrists. All so I could hit “Publish” before some self-imposed deadline. Then the waiting game would begin, reloading the page, checking my inbox. I might’ve been up for three days straight at that point, but I couldn’t sleep without seeing who was talking about it, who liked it. They had to like it! I spent so much time on it!

I have had very public meltdowns as a result of not getting adequate traffic on a particular serialized novel. Thankfully, I was a teenager and posting under a pseudonym, or I probably couldn’t be as candid about it all these days. I’m embarrassed by how I behaved, but I also know why I behaved that way: I was exhausted, stressed out, and I had just put to rest a story I had spent nine straight months writing at near breakneck pace, with very little prep time. Moreover, I had convinced myself that the only way I could prove my “worth” was if I was constantly the object of everyone’s attention. Anything less than floods of praise made me miserable and suicidal. (I also had undiagnosed major depression.)

It took a few very patient friends to reassure me of two very important things, bits of wisdom which I’ve kept with me ever since:

1) The people who comment on your work represent a small minority of those who read and enjoyed it. There are no exceptions to this.

2) You will never please everyone. In fact, you don’t want to please everyone. Pleasing everyone means you aren’t saying anything worth a lasting impression.

You will get excluded or overlooked at some point in your life– probably many times. It’s not a campaign against you and most of the time it’s not even conscious, far less deliberate. It cannot be taken personally. If you think I’m just saying this as a curator for This Week in Videogame Blogging, you’re wrong; all of us, in our capacity as bloggers, critics, journalists, et cetera, grapple constantly with getting acknowledgement and credit for our work in a culture which is often enough forgetful, easily distracted, and capricious, and I am no exception in that struggle. Quite frankly, whatever number of years you might cite feeling ignored and even invisible to your peers, I’m fairly certain I could double it, due simply to how long I’ve been doing this in one way or another. And I know no advice for how to overcome that feeling except to put yourself out there as often as possible and stick to your guns once you’re out there.

Your self-esteem should not depend on the actions of others. It’s an easy way to get hurt, and believe me, I’ve gotten hurt that way. The alternative is not to shut off the outside world and dismiss it as inherently negative and worthless, but you do need to find a more sustainable middle ground. It’s unreasonable to expect anyone, in any community online or off, to be responsible for your happiness. We all take pride in our work and enjoy it when others like it as well. But the only one you have to prove anything to is yourself (and well, maybe your close friends). The only one who can give you confidence is you.

(I would appreciate art sources for the various wonderful Wheatley fanart I’ve used here. I’d love to credit you!)

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  • Dan Cox  On 03.03.12 at 11:09 pm

    While I would like to think you weren’t completely talking to me (in parts), I have been one of the more vocal people lately, I feel, about the struggle to find attention and to get that pat on the head we all want.

    It’s rough. And I’m learning that the hard way. I have been told, not unlike you set out here, that the feeling that your work might be overlooked is very normal. You just have to keep going.

    A number of different people have spoken to me in private conversations with the same advice I am about to echo: write, make and produce what you love. If you only do it for others, it will eat you up and you will never be happy.

    So, in other words, thanks for saying this. I doesn’t seem to get said enough in all the crazy to find the next story and the latest controversy to write about tomorrow. Thank you, Kris.

  • Mark  On 03.04.12 at 3:35 am

    Thanks for writing that :)

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