Is anybody listening?

"I want to start a mailing list. I know the type of subject I want to write about and my target audience. How did you motivate yourself to consistently write a newsletter when initial reader numbers would have been low and it kind of feels like you're writing to no one?"
– Gavin

Writing can feel lonely in the beginning. It’s easy to feel unsatisfied when you write something you believe is really good, yet no one seems to read it or care. Finding the motivation to do so in spite of these feelings can be challenging.

First of all, you’re not writing to no one — you’re writing to your target audience. Whenever I sit down to write, I think of my ideal reader. How can what I write, benefit them in some way? I consider what questions they have and how I can provide answers through my writing. Whether or not that reader is actually reading the words isn’t of concern to me when I write. That reader exists out there — somewhere — and someday they’ll stumble upon those words and resonate with what I’ve written. I don’t write for the person who’ll read it today, I write for the person who’ll read it tomorrow.

You’ve already defined your target audience, so start writing for them! It goes without saying that everyone starts somewhere. At one point in their career Casey Neistat had zero subscribers, Julie Zhou had zero readers, and Gary V had zero followers. What did they do? They started creating content for their target audience despite that audience not yet existing. Regardless, they began to record, write and speak anyway. They knew that if they started doing so, the audience would follow. Their focus was in building momentum and creating value for their future audience.

It’s far more likely that someone will invest their interest in you if you have existing content than if you have none. If you’re trying to build an audience while providing them with zero value, your growth is going to be long and slow. Start providing value now and receive the payoff later. I’m sure that you, like me, tend to take a quick browse of someone’s past content, achievements or efforts before deciding whether to invest in following along. Their existing content is what we use to judge whether this person can provide us with value.

Look, you’re right. No one is going to read your first blog post. A couple of people might read your second. Building an audience requires you to build, which takes time and patience. What you’ll find as you start to grow is that growth isn’t linear. You’ll experience spikes and dips (just like I do), but if you’re speaking truth to your target audience, overtime you’ll only experience growth.


The truth about motivation

You asked about motivation, and it seems from your question that your motivation hinges on feedback. Is no one reading what you wrote? Has no one complimented you on your recent work? How do the answers to these questions make you feel?

If your level of motivation relies on the answers to these questions, you’ll never be satisfied and find yourself constantly playing a game of cat and mouse.

Relying on external forces and feedback to fuel motivation is not sustainable. Doing so puts your potential output and productivity at risk and at the expense of others satisfaction with your output. When you depend on others to fuel the fire inside your belly or keep your passion alive, you’re walking a dangerous line. The ugly truth is that no one sticks around forever. A reader you have today might lose interest tomorrow — and it’s probably not even be personal.

Finding motivation for anything requires effort. Relying on numbers as your fuel to your fire doesn’t work. As I write this it’s a few hours before I need to press publish to maintain my weekly output. Yesterday I spent three hours in a train from Paris to Amsterdam, so why didn’t I use that time productively to write? Despite having you, along with hundreds of other readers, the motivation wasn’t there. I was tired.

Your quantity of readers doesn’t magically boost motivation. Something in which we tend to believe is a switch we can control, is influenced by so many other factors. Your energy, interest, emotion, mindset, attitude, purpose, passion and more can affect your current level of motivation. Motivation starts from a place much more personal and powerful than numbers. It starts with why.


Understanding your why

Let’s take a step back for a second. Why do you want to write? Is it to grow an audience? Build authority? Connect with others? Starting with the why can help give clarity, direction and purpose to your efforts. This is what should drive you, provide you with momentum and motivation. If you define a why for yourself that you strongly believe in — a why that’s so strong it’s your calling or your must — then motivation will follow without effort.

Your Why is that tug at your heart that keeps you showing up everyday. It’s the internal fire in your belly that sparks excitement in you when you sit down to write, design, code or teach. Without having a why, your writing will lack purpose. Without purpose comes a decline in interest, productivity and motivation. My why for this newsletter is what keeps me showing up each week and writing these articles for you. It’s not about the numbers, for if it was I would have thrown in the towel long ago.