Last week I wrote a little article entitled “Maybe you should do less ‘work’”. I posted it on hacker news and it did numbers. An hour after posting it, it had one upvote. This was already a bigger success than anything else I’ve written. Then suddenly it was near the top of the homepage. And then it quickly blew through the limits of the analytics tool I use.
When I saw this, I felt the same kind of rush that I felt when I used to post semi-popular things on Instagram. If you've used any kind of externally facing social media, you know what I mean. A weird anxious excitement. The realisation that you are in the minds of more people than you’re evolved to be able to understand. A desire to keep looking at the numbers - in case they’ve gotten bigger.
The biggest difference between doing well on hacker news and doing well on Instagram, is that you can easily pour more of your time into reading comments. This can keep the dopamine flowing, and make the eventual crash worse.
I enjoy writing, and I enjoyed writing the article. But the way that I felt seeing that people were reading it was way stronger than those feelings. It's easy to imagine that trying to regain that feeling could come to dominate my previous motivation for writing. Being noticed is addictive. This is, I suppose, why you see people write buzz-feed like click-bait on personal blogs. Why writers and artists of all kinds at some point start trying to recreate whatever was the biggest hit for them. And, in a time when almost all hobbies become oriented around sharing the results online, this is how the joy can drop out of anything you do.
So how do you avoid a kind of emotional dependency on the feedback you get from sharing your writing, or other 'creative' work? Well, you could produce things that no one will ever be interested in. You could deliberately never share what you create. You could share it, and make sure that there is no possible way for anyone to contact you. All of these approaches are obviously bad. I’m convinced that on some level it’s good to have other people engage with your work and to engage with you. If that doesn’t happen, then at best you might become an outsider artist. But outsider artists never seem to have much fun.
The solution that I want to work towards, is to reach a level of popularity such that I know anything I write or do will be a huge success, enjoyed by people around the world. Enough people that the specifics and numbers become meaningless At this point all the feedback systems and social media responses will become predictable, not exciting, and then I can stop looking. How to reach that point remains an open question.
Want to get updates and new posts via email?