After a year of being an unemployed copywriter and another year of being an underemployed copywriter and liquor salesman, I found myself with way too much time on my hands. So I did what all great writers do. Procrastinate. Overthink. Really, these are the same things. This mostly entailed reading dumb shit on the internet. I called it research, but asinine euphemisms come naturally to someone who’s written for marketing and advertising for close to fourteen years. Sometimes though, good things come from such stagnation. I found a few good voices. They had risen from obscure corners of the internet to amass followings in the tens of thousands. These voices often shared my thoughts and values, and I learned much from them. But I also found myself disagreeing with them often enough, so it wasn’t only agreement that attracted me to their blogs. They had something else. What really made them stick in my head was how they reasoned their way through things. I enjoyed their thought processes as much as their thoughts.
And now I’m thinking of a little blog I started six years ago and ignored for the last five years and six months. What if I had kept it going? Would I be one of these voices with followings in the tens of thousands?
This is not pessimism. True, lack of effort guarantees failure, and it could be that if I had merely continued posting I would have slowly gained an audience. Indeed, it did take years for the voices I found to build their followings. But I also know others that have posted consistently, and their blogs have gone nowhere. Perseverance is not enough. Maybe it’s my writing ability. But again, I know of blogs with rather piddling audiences that are both well written and updated consistently. Also, I did receive tons of positive feedback on my writing, and I have created the voices and content for numerous successful brands. I doubt a lack of craftsmanship would’ve been an issue. So if perseverance and ability are not sufficient to create a successful blog, what did these voices have that others, including myself, did not?
When I examine why I’m attracted to these voices (and assuming their followers think the same), I notice they all share several commonalities:
• An openness with a desire to understand and explain
• A disdain for bullshit
• An entertaining voice
Let’s compare these to my intentions with my first blog. Originally, I had no identifiable purpose, even to myself. I had some vague ideas, which generally fell into the following categories:
• Show off my writing ability
• Push a political/social point of view
• Self-consciously attempt to become a leading voice
With this comparison, I’m confident my first blog was doomed from the outset. I was trying to spew out a positive image of myself to the internet. And as I think further about where I was in my life — a difficult time when I felt like a failure — I was really posturing to gain the admiration of others. I was launching signal flares to the sky in the hope a flotilla would come rescue me. This doesn’t work.
And when I think about the successful voices, they weren’t agenda free. None of us are. But their agenda was more about exploring different aspects of our humanity and elucidating what they found. They maintained an interesting and honest point of view (and a healthy dose of sarcasm helped). They pontificated their conclusions, not their assumptions. They left room for doubt, which means they left room for discussion. But most importantly, they focused on improving situations instead of themselves. And in the process, they found the only true measure of success a blog can have — a following.
Followings are strange things. I had them before when I was a musician. And looking back at my own life, I’ve realized something. I had a following whenever I sought them least. Indeed, most of my successes came when I wasn’t seeking success. My actions were more rooted in experimentation. If I thought I understood something, I would reason that if I performed X action then Y should result. Then I did X to see if I was right. This mindset allowed me to act despite my fears, overcome my inhibitions, recover from my failures. But the ultimate goal of experimentation is understanding. Understanding presumes something that can be understood. We call this Truth. And it’s an understanding of Truth that will allow us to enrich our lives. This is what the successful voices I found have accomplished.
Putting this jumble of thoughts together, we have the proper way to approach this project. I can’t start a new blog with a social agenda, meaning I can’t try to impress people or try to be liked. To seek a following for it’s own sake is to hurl yourself off a cliff and shout back with a broad smile on your face about how exhilarating the fall is. No one with any brains is going to follow you, and the more wonderful you make it sound, the crazier you look. No. Think of this project as an experimentation lab to explore Truth so we can better understand ourselves and the world.
If my first blog was saying, “Hey! Look at me!” then this one should say, “Hey! Look what I found!”