That Crap Article You Crap Out is Going to Go Viral

We are the worst judges of our own quality

Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash

Articles you didn’t think much of will hit big. Articles that took your blood, sweat, and tears will fall flat. Hold up, what lessons are we supposed to be learning here?

Good writing comes out so easily that we might have missed it if we weren’t paying attention.

When writing feels hard, I’m proud of the work and it teaches me the most — but it usually doesn’t reach a large audience. It’s practice.

Good writing, on the other hand, comes out so easily that I might have missed it if I wasn’t paying attention. Those articles are the byproduct of all the hard work of writing the first type of article. You can’t have one without the other.

It’s similar to when a basketball player does a behind-the-back pass-to-alley-oop in the heat of a game. Until they watch it back on the tape, they often aren’t aware of what they even did. It was the result of years of practice.

Keep Writing The Best Stuff You Possibly Can

When an article hits big which we didn’t think much of, we come away with the wrong lesson. We think, “Damn, I guess I shouldn’t be trying so hard on all these articles with 12 views and 1 clap.”

It’s a trick of the psychological light.

…they come out so fluidly that our conscious mind is barely able to clock them.

What’s really going on is that the practice of all those hard-won articles are paying off in that one easy one.

You needed to learn and internalize a lot of explicit writing lessons until they become automatic. When they sink low enough that they can become automatic, they come out so fluidly that our conscious mind is barely able to clock them.

If we aren’t careful, we might never notice what exactly it is we have done.

Your Audience Doesn’t Have Poor Taste

That article went viral because you did a lay-up so gracefully that it felt like nothing to you. That moment was a gift.

It doesn’t mean that you made something crappier — because it was easier — and that your audience is just a bunch of dummies that don’t know good writing when they see it. That’s pure arrogance, and it’s a good way to guarantee you won’t have many of those magic moments of ease.

Be thankful that your audience is so perceptive of good writing that they can tell the subtle difference between you trying too hard and you working from a place of flow and ease.

You Can’t Plan For Viral

This work isn’t about going viral. It’s about writing words that matter to you.

Easy and effortless writing is about as elusive as trying to fall asleep. The harder you try to fall asleep, the harder it gets to do.

When you write an effortless article that goes viral, you are going to do everything you can to try to copy your own success. Was it the headline? The picture? My advice: don’t even try to recapture that lightning.

Many writers have gone mad trying to figure out what makes something go “viral.” While there have been some instances of success, usually what ends up happening is the person devolves into a cartoon of themselves. Avoid this trap by just getting back to work.

This work isn’t about going viral. It’s about writing words that matter to you.

Get Back to Work

I see a lot of writers become parodies of themselves. They circle the drain of simplicity until they are basically doing baby-talk.

Yes, when you hit the nail on the head, the story is going to be so simple that you can’t believe no one said it before. That’s how good ideas feel.

However, you can’t go thinking that all ideas are simple. You haven’t earned that. You are just trying to copy what worked. What you really need to do is go back to writing things that mean something to you. Don’t worry about what will go viral. Trust that another viral article is in you, but you can’t force it out. Keep writing the best stuff you possibly can.

The articles that don’t go viral might change the lives of people who do read them. Or maybe they will go viral much later. Or maybe they will impress an editor at the New York Times. You can’t plan for these things. All you can do is get back to work.

Don’t Get Resentful

I’ve seen writers complain until I unfollowed them.

Don’t get resentful toward your own audience, as we talked about, but also to other writers.

You are not them, and they are not you. If they write 10 articles in a row that go viral, good for them. That’s their path, not yours. Maybe one day, but today you have work to do. You have words to put on the page.

I’ve seen writers complain until I unfollowed them. I’ve watched their follower counts drop. They blame Medium, they blame the algorithm, they blame “dumb” readers. They need to forget the numbers and get back to work.

I’ve seen resentment cause once-great writers to churn out pathetic “clickbait” in a lame, and all-too-obvious “if you can’t beat ‘em…” attempt to get something to go viral. Incidentally, never seen it work.

People can tell on a subconscious level when writers hate them. Who wants to read a story from someone who thinks they can trick you into liking them? Not me.

Viral articles will fall out of you from time to time if you just keep writing what matters to you. When it does happen, don’t try to understand it. Just focus on why you started writing in the first place.

They are a gift, not a guarantee. Love them, and let them come and go.

You have work to do.

Written by

Lost southern boy learning to be a storyteller in Los Angeles. Interested in writing together?

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