No one cares if I write.
No one’s waiting for me to publish my next essay. No one’s waiting for me to overcome my low self-esteem or manage my depression and anxiety or move through my fears or stop doubting myself or get a good night’s sleep and drink enough water and caffeinate sufficiently to sit down and write. No one was waiting for me to quit my day job when I did a few months ago, and stop putting off what I most love to do and make the time in my life to do it.
I don’t have an agent or an editor expecting the completion of my manuscript, no publishers are wooing me with six-figure advances for a book deal, and nothing I’ve written has ever gone viral. No one is compulsively refreshing my website, checking for my next blog post to be published. I don’t even have an article assignment or deadline at the moment.
I write pieces and send them out. Sometimes I will get rejections, which are usually very gentle and non-personal—it wasn’t right for them, and please submit again. Most of the time though, I never hear back at all. I just send and send and send into the void.
Occasionally something I pitch will get accepted (hooray!). But wait—when it’s published there are stats, an abundance of metrics to show me exactly how little everyone cares. How few people open my newsletter, how low my website traffic is, how small the engagement was for my latest Twitter or Facebook post. All the data there to prove just how much no one cares.
I’ve been writing for a long time and I’m not famous or hugely successful or even moderately well-known. Thirteen years ago I had my first article published—a music profile in Interview Magazine. I brought a copy of that issue to my chiropractor and she said, “I can just feel it, you’re about to take off, like a rocket ship!”
I didn’t. But I kept writing. Through running out of money multiple times and then taking day jobs each time so I could support myself, even though those jobs often sapped my energy and depleted my spirit. So I’d write less, but I didn’t stop.
It feels personal—that editors aren’t leaping to respond to my emails as soon as they arrive in their inboxes, that millions of people aren’t clicking on my stories and tweeting them and sharing them on Facebook.
It feels personal, but it’s not. When he received a MacArthur fellow “genius” grant last fall, Ta-Nehisi Coates said in an interview with The Guardian, “You can never be prepared for it, right. I’ve been doing this basically for 20 years now, and the majority of your career you write and nobody cares.”
It’s just what it is to be a writer—toiling away in obscurity most of the time.
So how do you not give up, when you’re working so hard doing something you care so deeply about, and it feels like no one else cares at all?
Have a greater purpose
Right after college I went to acting school, and as part of the curriculum, I had to take modern dance class. The dance teacher told us that if we wanted to be actors, we had to have a greater purpose; we could not just strive for our own fame or we would burn out. She suggested doing 108 sun salutations first thing every morning to connect with this higher cause.
Vigorous early morning yoga is not my thing. But I do think a lot about being of service, and how my writing can benefit others. I have a strong sense of what my mission is—to heal myself and others through my writing. Sometimes I stray from this and it slips from the forefront of my mind, because I also crave attention and recognition, and a not-small part of me wants to be famous. So I have to go back again and again and again to this sense of greater purpose to give me the strength, resilience, and hope to keep going, even when all signs point to giving up.
Have a life
Being a writer feels like an essential part of who I am, and often like it has to be the most important thing in my life. I have such a pressing need to write that I could easily spend my days, nights, and weekends doing almost only that, and in isolation.
Writing can be incredibly nourishing and energizing, but if I have nothing else going for me than my writing, if all my attention is invested in getting those acceptances and that validation from others, then the rejections hit even harder. If I go to yoga and spend time with friends and have a feeling of connection and community and of being “seen” in my life as well as in my writing, then I can have some perspective when I’ve sent out a slew of pitches and haven’t heard back about any of them, and not crumble when an editor who was interested in publishing an article I wrote and asked me to submit a revision has since ghosted me. Because if I have other things that matter to me besides writing, those disappointments won’t feel so crushing.
I don’t do this nearly enough—I frequently slip back into being laser-focused on my writing at the expense of everything else. But I notice that when I am connected to my life and other people in way that is meaningful to me, my writing feels lighter and not so weighted down by needing to make it work.
Don’t give up, because as bad as the rejection feels, not writing feels worse
I could give up. I could say that I’m sick of all the rejection and I want to do something else, something where I feel valued and appreciated. Something where there’s more of a direct correlation between what I put in and what I get out.
But as bad as the rejection and all the non-caring feels, not writing feels worse. I have to tell my stories and share my experiences, or I get angry and lethargic and depressed. Without writing, I feel powerless and like I don’t have a voice, like my thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter. I get frustrated when I’m sending out a piece that I love and it isn’t getting accepted anywhere and I’m yearning for it to be published so others can read it. I’d prefer if everything I wrote got accepted. But regardless, the actual process of writing is soothing, healing, and necessary for me to feel OK in the world. So I have to keep doing it.
Remember that somewhere, someone cares
When I’m feeling masochistic, I’ll toggle between my TinyLetter, Squarespace, and bitly analytics, and these stats tell me that relatively very few people give a shit about my writing.
But then I’ll get an email from someone who just found an article that I wrote, maybe even years ago, telling me that it made them feel less alone or more understood or gave them hope when they were feeling hopeless.
When you write something, you never know who it is going to affect, or how it could help someone who’s struggling and feeling alone, or how in a low moment in their life, desperately searching on Google for answers, they will come upon your words when they need them most. And despite what our culture will have us believe—that metrics and stats matter above all else, that the number of clicks tells the whole story—somehow, in some calculation, impacting one human being has got to be worth more than all the unique page views and Shares and Likes in the world.