A Creative's Internal Struggle: embracing the process in a numbers-focused world

Photo courtesy of  Creative Theory

Photo courtesy of Creative Theory

I know the feeling all too well. I stare at an empty Google Doc, fingertips hovering over the keyboard, as I struggle to figure out exactly where to start.

I know what I want to talk about, but haven’t quite figured out how to say it in a way that can truly give my audience a window into my thoughts. I start to question myself before I type a single word.

Is this idea even good enough to merit me writing about it?

Will these thoughts come across the wrong way?

What if I spend all this time writing this article, and no one even appreciates it?

Will people like this article as much as the last one I published?

It’s late - should I just go to sleep and try again tomorrow?

I haven’t even gotten far enough into the article to think about publishing, but I’m already thinking about quitting. This is not an imaginary scenario for me. This is a thought process I have to actively resist, at least a few times a month. I have a Google Drive full of half written articles, unfinished ideas, and half-baked thoughts. I have dozens of iPhone notes that about potential articles or Instagram captions that nobody else will ever be able to see.

Being selective about which articles or social media posts you publish is important. If you’re not ensuring that you release quality content, your voice holds less weight. On the other hand, letting fear stop you from writing, or from releasing, is just as dangerous of a thought process to embrace if you are looking to use your words for a purpose.

It’s easy to question yourself as a writer, especially when you’re writing about topics that you’re passionate about. We’re creatives, and we’re sensitive about our shit. Not only are we faced with the prospect of wading through the way we feel about our words and the experiences that we recollect - we also have to wonder how others will receive it. Social media amplifies our need to feel some sort of external acknowledgement.

Writing would be less gratifying if it were impossible for me to share my writing with another human being, but it would also relieve much of the self-imposed pressure that comes with publishing my work. Searching for validation from others is more difficult to avoid while on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. It’s empowering to know that we can reach people around the world with our writing, but it’s worrisome to know that we might not get the reaction that we were looking for the next time we publish an article or a social media post.

We are inspired by people whose success stories on these platforms have changed their lives tangibly, but wonder if we’ll ever see such a breakthrough for ourselves. We’ve heard phrases such as “comparison is the thief of joy,” and “stop comparing your behind the scenes with other people’s highlight reel.” No matter how much we agree with these statements in theory, fully embracing a mentality devoid of comparison is difficult.

Social media puts likes, comments, retweets, and other forms of user interaction in plain sight, and our feeds prioritize content that get the most interaction. By nature of these platforms and their algorithms, we’re most likely to see the most successful content within our networks every time we pick up our phone.

This merit-based system of content aggregation is great for boosting user engagement and retaining user loyalty, but it can cause us to view the most popular posts and articles within our network as “the norm,” and subsequently feel as if we’ve failed when our posts and articles don’t generate similar results.

You probably saw some of your friends’ most popular Instagram posts last week, but might not have even noticed the other posts they put up that didn't get as much interaction. You remember everything you posted, though - whether you got a strong reaction or not. You start to compare your content releases with the social media algorithm-curated highlight reel of popular content.

"Social media algorithms and the transparent nature of social media statistics can incentivize content creators to focus on the numbers and forget about the message."

(Click To Tweet)

Clickbait content is the most extreme form of this number-heavy focus, but it can manifest more subtly for writers and content creators who understand that building an audience and cultivating community is a key to their long term success.

How do we determine what “success” means to us outside of the way our work is received?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to create content that connects with people and is well received, but the most popular, most-clicked, most circulated content is not always the best content. We recognize empty clickbait when it comes from a stranger on a major platform that we don’t have a personal connection to. Our own quest for success in this social media era can push us to apply clickbait principles in more nuanced ways.

I’m not expressing these thoughts under the guise of being exempt to this thought process. I’m extremely susceptible. I’m a social media influencer who frequently seeks contracts with companies who base my worth on statistics - things like follower count and the number of “likes” that a post generates. In order to be successful in my field, I have to focus on the numbers.

It feels strange to be so analytic about platforms that were created for leisure, but it’s allowed me to build the foundation for a true dream career. I’ve been blessed to work with household brands and travel to different countries - all thanks to the audience that I've cultivated over the years. Five years ago, I didn’t even think this career path was possible. Today, I'm actively embracing it. That being said, recently I noticed that I was starting to focus on the numbers without giving myself space to consistently execute and release my ideas.

I came to terms with how harmful this mentality was becoming for me about a month ago, after I realized that it had been over two months since I had sent an email newsletter out or published an article. Over everything else, writing is what I do. It is my gift. Writing enables me to connect with like-minded people, tell my story better than anyone else ever will, and actualize my dreams. I’ve known that for years, but I allowed myself to stagnate due to fear of not receiving a reaction I would deem as sufficient from people on the internet. My desire to create quality content had shifted to a desire to be recognized for releasing quality content, which subsequently meant that my desire to be "great" was becoming more of a limiting factor than a motivating factor.

I’ve been working through this quandary over the past few weeks. Reassessing. Adjusting. After thinking things through, I decided to make an important commitment to myself and to the people who connect with my writing. As I write this article, it’s been just over four weeks since I publicly promised to send one email per week to everyone who’s subscribed to my #MakeEmailGreatAgain newsletter. Specifically, I’m including one article, one playlist, and one actionable social media tip in every single week’s newsletter.

I was nervous about the commitment when I made it, but gut instinct told me it would be worthwhile. Thus far, my instincts have been correct. It hasn't been easy to write an article every week, but that struggle has pushed me to get a better feel for what I'm capable of, and to tailor my writing accordingly.

Falling in love with my creative process and embracing a system that focuses on consistency has allowed me to disassociate myself from feeling pressured to make every article, publicly shared though, and social media post my “greatest hit” to date. It feels good to get a strong reaction, but either way I’ll be back to try again next week. I haven’t been able to disassociate myself entirely from a numbers-focused mentality, but I’ve managed to prioritize the process over the analytics.

I don’t need every article I write to get the most clicks of all time. I don’t need every email I send to get an exceptional open rate. I don’t need every tweet to be retweeted by the masses. I don’t need to get a billion “likes” on every Instagram post. I need to continue to embrace a system that gives me space for trial and error as I improve. I need to allow myself to feel the accomplishment of releasing my work without judging my success strictly off of factors that I can’t control.

I'm still very young in the grand scheme of things. I need to embrace every day as an opportunity to sharpen my skills, without fearing the growing pains that may arise. The reactions to my work will vary. The mediums that I utilize to accomplish my vision will change. That's immaterial. No matter the adjustments I have to make, I’ll continue to publicly embrace my gifts as I seek to help others through fulfillment of my purpose.

"I need to allow myself to feel the accomplishment of releasing my work without judging my success strictly off of factors that I can’t control."

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Who am I? I'm Michell. I help brands and entrepreneurs to position themselves for longterm success through thorough, value-focused social media planning.

Why should you work with me? Because I've learned enough from my failures to help people achieve success more quickly than I have thus far. Because I'm only teaching the things that I know will get you results. Because I'm not here to just tell you things you could have googled yourself - I'm focused on making a plan that you believe in enough to execute to the best of your ability. I've been building my online presence for 8+ years, and making a full time living off of it for over a year. I'm ready to help you achieve your goals on your own terms. Click here to learn how I can help.


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