I have a pet praying mantis named Clarisse. Clarisse is a giant Chinese praying mantis which means she is a very, very big bug. In fact, she is about the size of my open palm. How do I know? Because she crawls on it.
Clarisse loves to eat live crickets, flies, and every other disgusting thing that comes out of the most creepy crawly parts of New York City. She clinches them all in the crook of her front legs and munches on their faces until they die a slow and wriggly death. (Trust me, this does have something to do with writing eventually).
When Clarisse was a much younger baby praying mantis, we used to feed her maggots and aphids. Now that she’s bigger, she likes other delicacies, but when I found a bunch of aphids on a stem of broccoli in my little patio garden, I decided to bring her an aphid-infested broccoli leaf so she could have a little jelly bean-type-snack.
I put the leaf in her cage and when I returned, I was surprised to see one of her yet-to-be-eaten crickets chomping away on the broccoli leaf. Hmm. Who knew? Apparently, Clarisse gave no craps about her aphid snack, but her dinner cricket absolutely loved the broccoli leaf.
The moral of the story? You never know who will like your work until you put it out there.
Writing for an unseen audience
When you put your work out there as a New York freelance writer on a platform like this one, a personal blog, or on most other places on the internet, you don’t always have a good idea who is reading your work. Sure, you know who your target audience is, but there are so many other readers who may find your work.
One of your readers may like your work because of your practical self-improvement tips, another reader may enjoy your witty analogies, and a third reader may enjoy your articles that are geared toward finding new things in New York to do on the weekends. The point is, though, that your readers consume your content for different reasons.
The beauty of the internet is that we are, for all intents and purposes, writing for an unseen audience. Anyone in any corner of the world could find our articles through a simple internet search. And, like the cricket in my praying mantis cage, you never know what different people will like.
If you write a story that is meant for a praying mantis but you publish your story and a cricket consumes it, will you be grumpy about it? Heck no! A reader is a reader. And you never know if that cricket will tell his cricket friends and then you’ll have an orchestra of crickets (yes, that’s what they’re called) consuming your work faster than a pile of broccoli leaves.
You may think you know who your audience is, but what you don’t know is who your future audience is. So, every time you write a piece of content and save it for yourself because you don’t think it’s congruent with your brand, you’re eliminating the possibility of finding a new cricket in New York or in any other corner of the world.
Playing the virality lottery
If I had a nickel for every article I’ve seen about how to make your work “go viral,” I’d probably have more than it cost to turn Lincoln Center into New York's newest grassy knoll. Everyone wants to make every article a success. Every writer wants to hit every ball out of the park. The harsh reality is that it’s highly unlikely.
Most experts admit to not knowing exactly what makes an article go viral. An article in Lifewire says, “In reality, nobody knows the secret formula.” There are some things you can do to increase your chances of getting more views, but after a point, you can just do your best and then put it out there.
Creating an article that gains traction is a simple matter of generating more opportunities for yourself. Eventually, something will hit. That also means creating more content will give you more chances at finding which article gains the most traction.
And, perhaps most importantly, creating content in a vacuum is great for introspection, but that’s about it. If you want to be more successful at growing your audience, it is imperative to get that content out there so the crickets that love your specific type of broccoli can consume it.
The more content you get out there into the world, the more chances you give yourself to play what I call the “virality lottery.” Your chance of one article gaining popularity at an exponential rate is very, very small. Your chance of one in 100 articles going viral is significantly higher. The more types of vegetables you put into the praying mantis cage, the more likely one of the bugs in there is going to eat it.
I have a message for New York content creators - it is so easy to hem and haw so much over which articles to publish that you end up keeping your work to yourself. The truth is that, on the internet, you never know whose life you may impact with your words. Additionally, the more work you put out there, the more chances you give yourself to have an article that gains a lot of traction.
I know my analogy is a little bit icky (particularly for those who aren’t partial to invertebrates). But maybe, just maybe, my story was so icky that you’ll remember it when you are choosing whether to save your draft or to publish.