On Rejection and the Struggles of Content Creation
Do you ever aspire to be a blogger? A podcaster? A Youtube star? Whatever content you plan on producing in 2020 and beyond, I am going to give you the best advice I can to get you started. But first, a story.
It was three years ago to the day that I decided to start Of Dollars And Data. Though I had no explicit goals for my 2017 New Years Resolution, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to change careers, build an audience, and meet lots of new friends just from writing on the internet. In 2019 alone, Of Dollars And Data received over 1 million pageviews, the most in a single year ever.
It’s easy to say this now given how well things have worked out for me, but it fails to take into account the path it took to get here. To be honest, if I had to do it over again, I’m not sure that I would. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t put myself through the mental anguish that I experienced during my first year as a blogger.
The thing that nobody tells you about being a content creator is that, when people don’t like your work, the response isn’t negativity, but silence. Cold, hard, uncaring silence. And that silence is deafening. As Elie Wiesel once said:
The opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference.
Anyone who has ever created content knows this well. They begin to understand the depths of rejection.
Because when people typically talk about rejection, it is almost always in the context of dating. Man approaches woman. Woman rejects man. Man moves on. However, that rejection is trivial compared to the form of rejection you get when you are producing content publicly for the world to see.
When you get turned down by a possible mate, there are a myriad of reasons that could have caused it. Maybe they weren’t attracted to you physically (facial structure, height, etc.), maybe they already have a partner, or maybe they aren’t in the right mindset to date right now. There are things related to your dismissal that could be outside of your control.
But, when you release a piece of work and no one likes it, there is no purer form of rejection. It’s all on you. “Your work sucks!” might as well be blaring at you from a megaphone. Not only that, but it sucks so badly that it isn’t worthy of a simple tap of the finger to signal to others that it doesn’t suck.
Now imagine this happening after spending 10 hours to write a blog post? Ten hours of your time and no one cares. You might as well have watched Netflix, because at least that would have been more productive, right?
Imagine this happening after you decided to leave a five year relationship because your partner didn’t support your work. Maybe she was right that your “stupid” blog wasn’t that good to begin with.
Imagine this rejection piling up week after week after week. Only then can you begin to understand the hell of being an unknown content creator.
But instead of telling you, let me show you. Here’s a tweet from early 2017 where I am practically begging for a Michael Batnick retweet (narrator: it didn’t work):
Same story here, except with Ramit Sethi:
See that 1 like? That’s from my Dad.
And it was like this for most of my first year. Dismissal. Silence. Indifference.
Yes, my Twitter etiquette got better over time (aka I stopped Tweeting like that), but it goes to show how lonely this road can be. If you decide to play this game, you will have to endure the same thing. You will become a rejection connoisseur.
So what’s the best advice that I can offer you if you decide to share your content with others? Produce the absolute highest quality work that you can, otherwise don’t even start. If you aren’t willing to give this your all, then quit now. Save yourself the pain. Trust me.
It might seem obvious to say “produce the highest quality work you can,” but this isn’t obvious to everyone. I am occasionally asked about my content distribution strategy, website design, among other things, and I honestly say that it doesn’t matter in comparison to the quality of your content.
I say this because I believe that cream eventually rises to the top. If you had good content, it will be found…eventually. I can’t say how popular you will get, but I am quite confident that most of the good content out there is found and distributed widely. Why?
Because the system we use to share content online incentives people to share great content of others. Of the 40,000+ Twitter followers I have, I’d estimate that half of them have come from me sharing other peoples’ content and the other half from sharing my own content.
Still I am asked about minor details of blogging that pale in comparison to creating amazing content. It reminds me of this piece from Paul Graham about what makes a startup a good investment (emphasis mine):
So I would explain that what makes a startup promising, not just in the eyes of investors but in fact, is growth. Ideally in revenue, but failing that in usage. What they needed to do was get lots of users.
How does one get lots of users? They had all kinds of ideas about that. They needed to do a big launch that would get them “exposure.” They needed influential people to talk about them. They even knew they needed to launch on a tuesday, because that’s when one gets the most attention.
No, I would explain, that is not how to get lots of users. The way you get lots of users is to make the product really great. Then people will not only use it but recommend it to their friends, so your growth will be exponential once you get it started.
At this point I’ve told the founders something you’d think would be completely obvious: that they should make a good company by making a good product.
Just like a good product makes a good startup, good content makes a good blog. That’s it.
Everyone learns this lesson eventually. Morgan Housel once told me, “I used to publish 2-3 posts a day. They were as bad as you’d expect.” It was until after Morgan stopped focusing on quantity and started focusing on quality that his writing took off.
A similar transition happened to me as well. The quality of my blog posts have improved over time due to my increased reading and writing frequency. While I do care about SEO, my email list, and other things, my main focus is writing better. I am still learning to how to improve quality even now.
What is “quality?” That’s a question that’s hard to answer. Creating quality content is far more art than science. I could write an entire blog post on how to define quality, but I will save you from that…for now. Though I know I won’t blog forever, while I can, I hope you continue to read along.
The Crazy Ones
If I haven’t scared you away from joining the ranks of bloggers, podcasters, and vloggers of the world, then you might just be able to push through the many obstacles you will face along your journey. As Steve Jobs once claimed:
The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.
After all, Of Dollars And Data started as a crazy dream just three years ago. So, what’s stopping you?
Happy New Year and thank you for reading!
This is post 156. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data