audience participation

A couple of months or so ago, I noticed that I was getting increasingly obsessed with my blog stats – the number of views, comments and likes – day by day, and month to month.

Of course, it’s natural to care about this stuff, right? That’s what I told myself. But then I thought about why I’m blogging in the first place: I told myself that it wasn’t about trying to get famous or well-known – it was not about who did or did not read what I wrote. What was important was that I had this medium for writing, and for writing whatever the heck I wanted.

But the truth of the matter is that it’s not about me. If all that mattered was having this creative outlet, then I could just have a private blog. Here’s a revelation: I could write without a blog at all.

All throughout high school, in English, History, Economics, Media, etc – in all these subjects I studied, I was told (either by the teacher or, eventually, by myself) to always consider the intended audience of a text as I wrote it. I feel like this is something that has been so ingrained in me, that it’s now fundamental to everything I write.

I heard somewhere, some time ago, that those who read fiction are better at empathising with others. I can’t remember if this was backed up by any substantial evidence, but I think there is truth to it. It’s all something to do with being able to use your imagination to put yourself in another person’s position (even if they are a fictional person), and understand their thoughts and emotions. Perhaps this is another reason why people who read are good at writing – because they can perceive the audience’s reaction, and can thus manipulate their text to manipulate the audience.

Anyway, I digress. (Side note: I got a feeling of deja vu when writing the above paragraph about reading and empathising. Apologies if I’ve mentioned it in a previous post.)

While I noticed that I seemed to care a lot more about my blog stats than I did when I first started out on WordPress, I also noticed that I was thinking a lot more of my audience. I can’t even say this with certainty, but I’m quite sure that I used to just write whatever I wanted without a thought to who would read it; but now I have an idea of who my regular(-ish) readers are, and I care about writing posts that these readers would enjoy. (Yes, I’m talking about you.)

And, you know what, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this change in the way I blog.

The truth is, regardless of whether I have 2 readers or 2000 readers, I would still continue to write and publish posts on this blog. But I value my readers. In its own way, it’s encouraging and validating to know that there are people out there – perfect strangers, even – who would read what I’m writing – and some who even like or comment on my posts. It’s human nature to seek the approval of others, right?

These days, however, I avoid looking at the stats page. Correction: I resist looking at my blog stats as much as possible until curiosity gets the better of me. Does it help? Maybe.

In his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (one day I might stop referring to and mentioning this book, but I’m afraid that’s probably not going to be any time soon), Murakami also writes about his experiences owning and running a bar in Japan. What I found rather humbling was his “one-in-ten repeaters” philosophy. It revolves around the fact that you just can’t please everyone:

“If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive … it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar.” (p.38)

He applied this mentality to his writing as well, saying that having a number of devoted readers (the one-in-ten repeaters) made him happier than having a huge number of readers. He was not concerned about writing top-selling epics or being “literature’s top runner”. He just wrote what he wanted, how he wanted.

Although I suspect that my fraction is a bit smaller, maybe it is true that the “one-in-ten” is all I really need. And maybe I just need to keep writing what I want because I suppose that’s how I developed my readership in the first place. After all, I’m sure this blog wouldn’t be sustainable for me if I didn’t write whatever the heck I felt like writing.