Spoiler alert: the writer does
Lyle!! ❤️ I hear you and definitely felt the same way when I took an (unintentional) break from my writing. When I started writing again, I got a few messages from a couple loyal readers with comments like “you’re back!!”, etc. It did feel good to get noticed, but the thing that felt even better was remembering how much of this writing thing I do just for myself, my sanity.
Typical conversation in our house:
Me: I don't understand it. Nobody has liked or commented on my latest post, or emailed privately to say I'm the best writer they've ever come across.
Other half: Would that be the article you published two minutes ago?
If it's any consolation, I have discovered over the years that most people are lurkers, and that a lot more people remember what one writes than actually comment on it.
As a fellow writer, I get it. I try to comment on every 'stack I read, because I know what each comment means to the writer, that in fact they have been heard and seen.
In fact, a comment is a great opportunity for an asymmetrically positive action. The effort is small compared to the encouraging impact it has on the writer.
First, I noticed but figured you were eyeball-deep in Foster assistance and was THIS close to telling you congratulations for sharing your time there and not being chained to the consistency machine everyone is shoving down our throats. (Honest question for any writer: if consistency isn’t truly helping, why?)
Second, if you recall, I wrote about this “shouting into the void” in my “A Case for Inktober” essay. So you KNOW I feel this. In fact, my entire creative life (I’ve been an artist/designer from birth and by trade), the formula goes: The More Creative Effort I Put In + The More Democratized The Internet Becomes = The Less Anyone Cares About My Creative Effort. It’s bitter pill to swallow BUT far more healthy to acknowledge it in order to survive our current content-overload world.
When I had this ego-shattering reckoning in 2020, plus therapy, I finally started the long slog to separate my sense of self worth from my creativity. (Seriously it’s no wonder Creative types go mad.) I was writing essays like this one in 2019 and later admitted to my therapist (AND myself) that what I was really doing was crying for help... hoping someone would swoop in and somehow save me (with copious amounts of delicious validation). Which was obvs part of a much bigger childhood trauma issue that had nothing to do with my subscriber engagement. Turns out I was also addicted to my own victimhood, so also yikes.
Lovingly, he began treatment to help me fall back in love myself (as cringe as it sounds)... tools I still use three years later. I quite literally have to find innocent playful joy in the act of creating than in the results contingent on “eyeballs and hearts.” I am tested every time I post (a couple months ago I had a post I worked INCREDIBLY hard on --a Foster S3 post in fact-- that two people read. Those Before Times Emotions came roaring back.) But it scared me straight again, and I’m grateful for the test.
The frustrating truth is that SO many of my substack writers are complaining about this right now... and yet their hope that it’ll convince folks into more engagement is futile. Even as more subscribers and more commenters trickle in, the dopamine-starved self-worth monster can never be satiated. We can’t banish him, but we can stop feeding him.
I spend 3-4 hours each night on my drawings. And less than 10 people care. But each night is a little treasure... doing something creative, creating something for me, not a client, not an audience, just lil ol me.... it’s honestly magical. And I am grateful to the Creative muse for continuing to supply me with ideas and to the Time gods for providing me with such a luxury. (All therapists will give you the Gratitude power up mushroom.)
Also thank you Time gods for the luxury of engaging as much as I possibly can with my fellow writers. Although I will say that reading posts like this (and others out there right now), makes me feel like my support isn’t good enough. And it’s still impossible to clone me, sad as that is.
What you’ve posted here is honest and painful. And I see myself in between the lines. And I see almost all of my Substack writers there too. SO this is my very honest and painful (but loving) response: there HAS to be a better way. And more engagement isn’t and will never the answer. So we must, MUST, triple underline MUST do the gut wrenching side work of protecting of our mental health as much as possible. Whatever that looks like for you, please dive in head first. It’s shocking like a polar bear plunge but eventually you warm up to it.
TL;DR: I see you. I am you. But please, we have to save ourselves.
Hi Lyle! I did miss your post last week but I decided to wait until today under this premise: if you didn’t post anything today, that meant something wrong happened to you or Em or your family...fortunately your post appeared today. Thank you for taking the time to write your pieces. I do read them despite I don’t always post comments here.
Sometimes there are really good reasons that people don't notice things. I was planning my suicide last Saturday. There was nothing else on my radar. Fortunately [?] my therapist brought me back from the brink so I am reading you today.
What I like to think: I publish the Road2Elsewhere for the sheer pleasure of creating!
In my weak moments: oh Lookee! I passed [fill in milestone here]! People LOVE me more than I love myself!
On balance: can we ever divorce writing from ego? From the pathetic cry “notice me!!! Please!!!”
Can I get a “like” for that, people?
I get it - from my perspective, I'm subscribed to 100+ Substacks, so there's no way I would notice if one or more of them didn't publish in a given week. If there's a looooooong gap, like more than a month, I do notice--sometimes when they send their *next* newsletter ("Hmm, haven't heard from them in a while. Let's see what's up.")
A couple of years ago, I had far fewer newsletters coming in, and I was more focused on each individual one. Now it's like a stream that I let wash over the inbox. I don't think of it as saturation, more as individual entities blending into a whole, but it does mean I'd need a spreadsheet in order to notice missed weeks.
something Dan shared with us the other day as stayed with me:
"You have the right to work, but for the work's sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Never give way to Laziness, eitherWork done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahma. They who work selfishly for results are miserable."
- Bhagavad Gita
As Terry said, and so many here, I’ve learned that engagement isn’t a sign of appreciation necessarily. Many read without saying so. And another way to look at it is that your readers trust you. If you skipped a week, must be for good reason, so why pester the guy?
I usually don't comment because my thoughts on what I read on Substack are usually a simple either "yup" or "nope". When I am really affected by a piece, I may have more complex thoughts, but I don't want to share them publicly, because they will piss off somebody or another, one side or the other.
I’ve been reading all over Substack for a while, and just starting to show up in the comments and notes.
I love reading your posts. Thanks for the reminder that comments mean a lot. As I’m finding, showing up in the comments is meaningful to me as a reader, too, and fun.
Thanks Lyle, I appreciate what you do for us, get the pieces out whenever you want. We love them.
Oh gosh I kept going to your page and checking! I bet a lot of other “Lyle addicts”did that too! And I kept groaning to Alicia, “Lyle hasn’t posted!😢.” Instead of a new post, I saw the post about how to write stories in four easy steps, and I thought that was what you had posted as a re-post from 2021 instead of writing a new post. 🤔 (I’m an old fogey who gets easily confused!😅)
I've chosen to be zen about this. Up until recently, most of my 'writing', if you can call it that, has been tweets to my 20k+ followers and I've grown accustomed to expecting more than my fair share of likes, retweets and comments, flaring my nostrils self-importantly as I press post.
Now that I've started Substack, counting only a few sympathetic friends and social media acquaintances as subscribers, the tumbleweed my posts generate is taking some getting used to. Especially given the tweets took all of ten seconds, but a Substack post takes thought, research and execution that can burn the midnight oil right out.
This has, however, reminded me of a valuable lesson that I forgot. That the me that used to fill notebook after notebook with scribbles since childhood didn't do it for validation, or the dopamine hits from likes and interactions. I did it because I had to. The fantasy that one day millions will read our words will never go away, just as the guy with a guitar in a bedsit will always imagine rocking out at the Pyramid stage, and the lonely painter will picture a solo exhibition at the Tate. Just because reality comes round uninvited to point out that this will never happen, it doesn't make what we create any less a work of art.
Keep doing what you do because you have to x
Had not read you for a few weeks ... life gets in the way of even one's favorite pleasures. As a weekly-or-sometimes-more, but unscheduled 'Stacker, I will say I get feedback from a few readers but no one has ever asked me, after a longer-than-usual break, "where's your post?" But it does not mean they do not care. Enjoyed your personal introspection; I, too, am my main reader!