I Wrote a Story That Got 0 Views

What we can learn from failure.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

That’s right, I wrote a story on Medium that got a whopping zero views. Honestly, I didn’t even know it was possible to perform that poorly.

Full disclosure, I didn’t share the story on any social media platforms (I quit social media for November), nor did I submit the story to any publications.

I wrote it, and I published it.

Now, I don’t have a particularly large following here on Medium — at the time of writing I have 139 followers; in fact, modest would be an overstatement. I didn’t expect the story to do particularly well, especially considering that I wrote about a relatively niche topic: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

But wow, zero views.

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What’s the advice they give (they, of course, being the people who are successful and offer advice to also be successful)? Oh, right:

Fail often.

You know, or some other variation of that phrase. Sometimes its written as a commandment: THOU SHALT FAIL OFTEN — then usually followed by some sage-like mantra of “but you have to keep going.”

It often feels like rejection is a writer’s best friend but in a frenemy sort of way. Or maybe we all just have a strange case of authorial Stockholm Syndrome: we spend so much time around rejection that we learn to love it and tell others to love it the same.

It’s not baseless advice, though. Failure makes us stronger. Failure teaches us resilience, humility, knowledge, and provides us the opportunity to grow.

To liken success to a sport I very much enjoy: if you’re a rock climber and all you ever climb are V0s then you’ll be very good at climbing ladders up and, if you’re frisky, back down, but that’s about it. If you want to start climbing mountains, you’re going to have to fall a few times. Each time you fall, however, you realize something new: “Oh, I missed a hold there!” or “I was super off-balance.”

It’s the same for writing. Writing exists at the strange intersection of art and business, but as with both of those things, it is a skill that must be developed. Also, like art and business, writing can be a massive ego and popularity contest.

You’re not as great (or as bad) as you think you are.

Everyone wants to get an article to go viral — that’s how you make a ton of money and gather a bunch of followers who will go on to read your other articles and continue to help you make money.

So you sit down at your laptop (or tablet; I don’t know how you write) and write an article that hits all the marks: it’s topical, it’s the right amount of niche, it’s been run through Grammarly, commas have been added, sentences have been cut, and you’ve made a nice little listicle in an easy-to-follow format so everyone can follow along:

“The __ Habits of __ People.”

Nailed it. You submit it to some of the larger publications, and you wait. And wait. And wait. And nobody’s said anything so you’re still waiting. A few weeks of waiting go by, and you finally receive the dreaded, “Sorry, we’re going to pass” email.

Maybe you submit to a few more publications until you find one that accepts your story — in which case, good job! Or maybe you’re like me and you hadn’t posted anything else that week, so you impatiently publish it on your own with a couple of tags and nothing else.

Then, you might write an article called “I Wrote a Story That Got 0 Views” so you can complain about how nobody’s reading your stuff. Perhaps, you think, you can turn this negative into a positive.

But the truth of the matter, honestly, is that we’re both our own worst critics and our biggest supporters. Of course, we don’t really think the article we’ve written is the worst thing ever and we should just quit. If that were true, we wouldn’t publish it at all. At the same time, we might overdo it and convince ourselves that we’re the best writer on the planet and everything we write is gold.

Really, it’s somewhere in the middle. You’re probably not the world’s worst writer, and you’re likely not the best. It’s important, at the end of the day, to remember the subjectivity of the media we create.

Write with purpose and set realistic goals.

The other issue with striving for virality is that it is an unpredictable beast, much more attuned to the laws of chaos than order. If we could predict virality, it wouldn’t be held on a pedestal. Even then, the thing I’ve noticed about most viral articles is that they are written from an honest perspective, first and foremost.

The first thing you should ask yourself before you start writing anything is, “Why am I writing this?”

If the answer is, “To go viral,” then nix the idea. There are so many reasons to write: to entertain, to inform, to persuade, to help, to share an experience — but it should always come from an honest place. I’ve, for example, struggled with and learned a lot from my mental health issues, so I like to share that experience often to help and encourage other people who might be going through something similar.

I’ve seen many other writers talk about abusive relationships, polyamory, entrepreneurship, the death of a loved one, travel, and a litany of other subjects that I’ve never experienced, but they have. Their shared experience opens up a gateway, for a time, into a whole new world for the reader and, more importantly, encourages empathy.

The goal should not be to blow up from one article; the goal should be to write words that will leave an impact on the reader’s day, in whatever way you see fit.

Learn the rules.

Even if you are writing honestly, that doesn’t mean views and followers galore will come. As I said, I wrote a story that got zero views, even though I wrote it from an honest place — because I was impatient, and I didn’t play by Medium’s rules.

With the new “relational” update to how Medium works, writers are encouraged to submit to publications and interact more with one another. Before this, I’d never even had an article curated. I deleted many of my old posts, but I was on this platform attempting to, essentially, write a personal blog.

That’s not going to fly here.

Even beyond Medium, you have to know the rules of where you’re playing. If you’re on Upwork, you have to know how to write a great proposal. If you’re submitting to magazines, then take a look at their submission guidelines and the kind of writing they put out. If you’re making YouTube videos, well, have fun with that algorithm.

I’m not an expert, but I am a failure. A proud failure. I’m happy to try and fail because that means I get to try again, and hopefully, I’ll be better when I do. Trust me, I know how easy it is to get down on yourself and want to give up. I also know how easy it is to let your ego take over and get angry about things.

Stop that. Nobody is perfect, and nothing we make will ever be perfect. The only thing we can ever be is a little bit better than the day before.

A human trying his best | he/him | https://linktr.ee/austincharvey

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