Joshua Keel

Writing For Likes

May 24, 2018

I used to spend untold hours on Facebook each week. I was heavily involved in Facebook groups, always chatting on Messenger, and much of my social life revolved around people I only knew online. I didn’t have a lot of friends in the real world. But as I began going out and meeting new people, I lost interest in constantly being online. Not that I stopped caring about any of my online friends, but I realized it was probably better for all of us if we engaged with the outside world more than the online one.

These days, I hardly use Facebook at all, mostly for events and as a contact list. I don’t browse the News Feed (although I do sometimes get briefly sucked in when I visit), and I don’t pay too much attention to notifications. There is so much noise in the signal. But one thing I always liked about Facebook is being able to post thought-provoking status updates, and watching the comments and likes come in. I enjoyed interacting with people, having a conversation about what I had said. I felt like I had accomplished something: crafted a thought, made it the best it could be, and sent it out into the world to see what would happen.

But this is a game I soon grew tired of. Writing a status update or a tweet is a poor substitute for really fleshing out an idea. I would congratulate myself for having a cool thought, not realizing that cool thoughts are a dime a dozen. Cool thoughts aren’t necessarily well-formed or particularly enlightening. It takes hard work to make a cool thought into something worth thinking about.

I realized I was just toying around with myself by writing Facebook status updates and thinking I had pulled off some creative feat. Having a thought and writing it as a status update was just a way to avoid the real work of fully thinking through the idea, considering it from many angles, and understanding what I actually had to say about the issue, not just what sounded cool for 15 seconds.

What I needed was to do the work. The hard work of agonizing over words, of spewing my thoughts onto paper in a first draft—a messy, shitty, first draft—that makes me despair of ever being worthy of a readership. And then crafting that, line by line, into something beautiful and resonant.

So I’m not writing for the quick win anymore. I’m not writing for likes. I’m writing to express myself well and deeply and thoughtfully, and I’m writing to create something meaningful in the world, something valuable and extraordinary. I’m under no illusions that this path is easy, but I trust it will be worth it. Will you join me?