BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

I’m Trying to Build an Audience, But I’m Doing It All Wrong

A man's hands on his computer keyboard about to write

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

–Pablo Picasso

At the top of each page of the Five Minute Journal, the daily diary I use (read more about it here), is a quote.

The quote above was my quote today.

It couldn’t have been more fitting.

For quite some time, I have been doing that which I cannot do:

Build an audience for my writing.

It’s been a process full of ups and downs, of surges and stagnations (and the occasional regression), of dreams dashed with bouts of despair.

So to learn how to do it, yesterday I watched a few videos and read some articles from industry leaders, hoping their insights would steer me clear of any icebergs.

One of the articles I came across was on the website SmartBlogger, titled, “20 Ways to be Just Another Mediocre Blogger Nobody Gives a Crap About.”

Presumably, this post would show me what I should be doing by listing what I shouldn’t.

This was perfect, because I’ve always anguished over being Another Mediocre Blogger Nobody Gives a Crap About.

I write, and I (try to make myself) market, and I experiment with new strategies.

Yet I have little to show for it.

To be clear — I am incredibly appreciative of every email subscriber I have and anyone who’s taken the time to read my work. (If you’ve made it this far in the article, thank you.)

But often this whole endeavor reminds me of the drawn-out job searches I endured after college.

While I was relentless in applying for positions and following up with hiring managers, trying to get somebody’s — anybody’s — attention, it was as if I was shouting into the wind, my resumes emailed into a black hole, never to be seen again.

That same script has unfolded with my audience-building efforts. And when I clicked on this educational article, I was as fearful as I was fascinated.

Was I on the right track? Or was I headed in the wrong direction?

Turns out my fears were well-founded. And it didn’t take long to figure that out.

The first way to ensure you are a Another Mediocre Blogger Nobody Gives a Crap About is to:

Tell stories.

The reason being that most people aren’t any good at doing so.

“Telling a boring story is worse than not telling any stories at all,” the author writes.

That makes sense.

Unfortunately, I do nothing but tell stories. I’m telling a story right now.

I use stories not only to illustrate and drive home a larger point, but to connect with the reader, to expose my vulnerability and inner demons and let people know they’re not alone in their struggles.

If I were to stop telling stories, I’m not sure how I’d keep writing. Seriously. I’d no longer have my voice.

STRIKE ONE!

Somehow, I wasn’t (entirely) guilty of rules two and three.

But then I read rule four:

Write short posts.

Apparently, readers and Google favor longer articles while writers do not, meaning if you’re willing to write them, you’re more likely to stand out in every way possible.

Aside from my weekly advice column, I write nothing but short posts.

In fact, writing short posts has recently become a source of pride.

As I’ve mentioned before, my greatest insecurity as a writer is my speed, or lack thereof. It takes me forever to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it.

To strengthen this weakness, a few months ago I took on the challenge of writing an article every day for 100 consecutive days. Each story had to be at least 100 words long, which is not long at all.

(For reference, the previous four paragraphs, starting with “Aside from my weekly advice column…,” total 98 words.)

Upon completing the challenge last month, I was not only satisfied by what I had done, I had a newfound confidence in what I could now do.

I could now create quality content more frequently than before, which I’d always believed was the most important building block for building an audience.

But if only long content qualified as “quality content,” I was screwed.

As much as I have improved, and as much as my capacity has grown, I’m currently not capable of consistently writing long articles, and certainly not at the pace I can write shorter ones.

While I could write quickly enough to publish a story maybe once a week, the bigger challenge would be coming up with more complex topics that warrant the added length.

For the short posts I’ve been writing, I can take almost any topic that comes to me in the shower, or on my drive to work, or while waiting in line at the grocery store and get 400 words out of it.

“No beginning blogger should be publishing anything under 1,000 words. And really, 2,000 words should be your goal,” the article states.

And I have to reach that mark without telling stories???

STRIKE TWO!

This was jarring, because for the last couple weeks, I had been convinced I was making progress, especially given my recent spike in subscribers.

Now, an expert was not only invalidating that progress, but confirming my worst fears.

I was just Another Mediocre Blogger Nobody Cares About.

And it felt like I’d always be one.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with a knot in my stomach, draped in shame and defeat, as if someone had mocked my greatest insecurity, like my skinny chicken legs I hide beneath bloused-out jeans.

When I got home and told my wife what had happened, she heard me out and validated my feelings.

Then she offered some inspiration.

She explained that I had made progress, that I shouldn’t dismiss the confidence I’d gained, and that it was natural, in anything, to have to pivot your strategy repeatedly.

This was a process, and today was just part of it.

What’s funny is that her words echoed the close of the article that’d started this downward spiral.

The 20th way to ensure you are Another Mediocre Blogger Nobody Cares About reads:

Give up.

“There’s nothing wrong with you. Just. Keep. Going,” the writer implores.

Now that’s something I can do.

After all, I wrote this post in about a day.

It’s 1,074 words long.

 

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