Back in the days of print journalism relatively few people let you know that you did something right. But oh, if you did something wrong – or simply not to the reader’s personal satisfaction – boy, would your phone ring!)
The idea for keeping the good letters came from a colleague, who called it her “stroke file.” Thus I labeled my folder “Ego Strokes” and kept it handy for dim days.
Now I write almost exclusively for online publications (except for a couple of women’s magazines from time to time), and readers find it a lot easier to respond. Sadly, some of those responding are trolls. But thoughtful, interesting and, yes, dissenting commenters exist as well.
That’s why I think every blogger should keep a stroke file. It’s a great antidote to troll-infested days. Even more important, it’s a good way to remind yourself why you do what you do.
I’ve been writing my personal website for more than five years. Sometimes I think about quitting, but I hate the thought of losing the reader community that’s developed there. Readers who leave comments like:
“I am weeping. Thank you for your honest wisdom.”
“You’ve been a wonderful source of encouragement for me.”
“You inspire me with your willingness to take chances and to change. I’m facing a similar need to change my life…and I’m taking a lesson from you to do the hard stuff.”
“Everything you write seems to speak directly to me. You seem to be a gift of guidance just for me.”
“You have been such a great friend to me when I needed one who understood my life challenges so well.”
I am rich in readers who are both eloquent and kind. They didn’t show up all at once, though. My audience grew over time. If I’d stopped writing, I never would have “met” the people who now visit regularly.
(I’ve even been fortunate enough to meet some of them in real life, when I travel to conferences.)
Write because it’s in you
Having positive feedback close at hand is a lovely thing, especially on days when you’re questioning why you write at all. Is anybody listening? Do my words matter?
Probably, and almost certainly.
Keep in mind that some readers feel too shy – or too moved/shaken by your writing – to comment. Sooner or later some of them will come around. Every so often I’ll get a response that begins something like this: “Long-time lurker but this time I just had to say…”
And your words do matter, if you put your heart into them. Sure, it’s frustrating to feel that you haven’t found an audience (or enough of an audience). But if it’s in you to write, then keep writing.
Keep that stroke file, too, even if it’s just a cut-and-paste of an e-mail that your former college roommate sent. (“Your post about graduation, with its complex mix of emotions and longings, made me cry – in a good way!”) The file will be there when second-guess your writing: How do I know if anyone will even read this?
Try looking at it this way: What if someone who really needs to read it finds your words and they change his or her day, or maybe even his or her life?