Writing by Numbers

It’s hard not to get seduced by the numbers: how many followers, how many pages viewed, how many books sold, how many re-tweets, how many church members, how many small groups, how many, how many, how many?

by sanickels
Numbers by sanickels, CC by 2.0

It’s hard not to wonder–what could I write to become the Seth Godin of my “spiritual practice, writing, reading, faith, and life” world? Can I double my current numbers? Triple them? Go viral?

Late one night/early one morning, just after midnight, I thought I might actually have a breakthrough. I was up late writing and noticed that my WordPress stats said 101 views–wow, just three minutes into the new day, and what a great start to my numbers! It was the middle of the night in Abbotsford, but maybe there were other night owls still wide awake and reading my blog. Or maybe readers in Australia and the Philippines and around the world were online and boosting my numbers.

But when I checked–ha!–all of those 101 page views were from ONE viewer in North America. I suppose some bot somewhere was having a field day with my website.

Numbers can be a helpful measure of connecting and engaging with others, but as I discovered, numbers can also be misleading. Sometimes the numbers look great. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I’m just fooling myself.

And ultimately, I know my blogging isn’t about the numbers. My writing isn’t about the numbers. My church ministry isn’t about the numbers.

Writer Madeleine L’Engle tells this story:

One day, a friend complained to me that at their church the night before there had been a famous visiting preacher. It was a horrid, rainy, nasty night and not many people turned out. And the famous visiting preacher scolded the faithful few for being so few. And my friend said to me, indignantly, “Our Lord said, ‘Feed my sheep,’ not count them!”

As an author of more than 50 books with many awards and honours for her writing, Madeleine L’Engle had great numbers. But she didn’t focus there. Instead, her writing credo was “to radiate hope, to bring healing, and to say ‘yes’ to life.”

That sounds good to me–a more worthy goal than writing by numbers and ultimately more satisfying.

So I haven’t let myself get distracted by numbers yet today (and yes, I know it’s early yet in my part of the world). But at least I want to begin my day à la  Madeleine L’Engle, with a view to radiating hope, bringing healing, and saying yes to life.

How do you handle being tempted by numbers?

4 thoughts on “Writing by Numbers

  1. I check my blog site stats every few days, not so much for the total number as to see which posts are getting the hits. I do want to write stuff that people care about so I may slightly bias future posts if I see that some topics do very well and others don’t get much at all. It’s also humbling when stats reveal that about 80% of my hits are either bots or just taking one of my images. Then again, I don’t currently have any monetization on my site so it doesn’t really matter; if I was monetizing – and I may go there soon – I probably would go a bit more out of my way to adjust behaviour based on the numbers.

    1. Ryan, I like the way you use your stats in a strategic way as an indicator of what people care about, not just for their own sake. I’ll think more about that for mine too–thanks!

  2. I appreciated this post. I love it: “feed my sheep, don’t count them!”. And if we can’t be trusted with little things, can we be trusted with more? Impact who you can wherever you are – even if it is just one person. In fact, if you think about it, much of Jesus’ ministry was him taking time for one person or working with his small group of disciples. Yes, Jesus had some crowd ministry too but more often I think of him taking time for the one.

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