5 Things I Learned From Going Viral
5 Things I Learned From Going Viral On The Internet
by N'tima Preusser
When my husband and I started discussing the desire to start trying to have a baby out loud to his parents, I’ll never forget what my mother in law said. She was pinching her belly, whining about it being impossible to ever get a six pack and said, “Oh no.. don’t have a baby. They ruin your body.”
About three years later, I had a two-month-old baby, and a gelatinous belly of my own staring back at me in the mirror, but instead of feeling “ruined,” I felt completed. I felt angry and ashamed at my mother-in-law’s words ringing in my head, and passionate and grateful for what my body had given me. I felt so much, all at once ... so I decided to write about it. I remember pressing publish on my Blogspot late one night, and getting maybe six comments on the post from people I didn’t know before I went to bed. It was strange, as my following was slim (60 some people,) and there was usually hardly any interaction. By the next morning it had been seen over a million times—in a couple days time, it was close to 7 million. It ended up everywhere and I couldn’t keep up with the attention. I got emails asking to repost the piece on several different sites, and different companies wanting to do interviews.
At first, I said yes to almost anyone. I gave away my work, for free. There were mean people. Women who made online forums to talk about how much they hated me, men who scoffed at my stretch marks and linea nigra. Googling my name made me sick to my stomach. There was a really dark, and ugly side to going viral. But there was a lot of beauty too. I had the privilege of seeing my words published in a magazine all the way in New Zealand, read in couple’s vows, and tattooed on people’s bodies. I was connected to movements like The Beautiful Body Project and invited to speak on Steve Harvey’s daytime television show (that unfortunately didn’t work out, due to last minute circumstances.) The top of that list though? I was found by my boss, mentor, and friend, Ashlee Gadd, then was invited to start writing for Coffee + Crumbs; and now we are writing a book together! Amazing, life changing things. All because I pressed “publish” one December night before I went to sleep.
Which brings me to 5 Things I Learned From Going Viral on the Internet:
1. The Internet is Ruthless. For the love of all things holy, do. not. read. the. comments. You will want to and it will be really hard to look away, and scroll on, but your heart will be better off not knowing that a jealous stranger on the internet was mocking you mindlessly at two in the morning. And definitely do not Google your name. If you are writing with sincerity, if you feel good about the words you are putting on the page, if your writing is healing you, or making someone else feel less alone—then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It will be impossible to make everyone happy. Do not waste your voice trying to write a disclaimer for every scenario because there will inevitably be misunderstandings. Make peace with that.
2. Don’t Write to Go Viral. Every single piece I wrote for a year after my initial viral essay was not good enough to me because it didn’t go viral, too. I tried so hard to be relatable. I tried so hard to keep an audience. I wasted so much time trying to stay relevant instead of being authentic. I hated writing. I hated blogging. And people catch onto that, you know? My words felt forced and safe and boring. They lacked depth because I was equal parts terrified of the Internet’s eyes on me, and lusting after the attention. My writing suffered because I wasn’t writing for myself. Write bravely for yourself.
3. Find Your Own Style and Voice. There are writers who can make you laugh, there are writers who can make you cry, and there are writers that can make you do both. The ones that can make you do both are the best kind in my opinion (all hail the writers of Parenthood, am I right?), but I am just not one of those writers. I am not funny (not in my writing, anyway) and I was wrecked over my inability to be so for quite awhile. I would force jokes that would take away from the strength of my pieces. I would try too hard to be lighthearted. I was afraid of sounding too dramatic. I realized I wanted to be a writer, not a blogger and I had to work with that difference. What matters is that your writing makes you think and feel and heal. What matters is being brave and writing your story in the most honest way that you can tell it. Just because you write differently than a writer you love doesn’t take away from your value. Find your style, be proud of it, perfect it, and protect it.
4. Be Selective About Sharing. When my post went crazy online, and people wanted to share it, I said yes and yes and yes. I gave permission to nearly everyone who asked, and in turn I lost out on some pretty big opportunities (both monetarily and professionally) and I really regret that. Because I said yes too soon, others changed their minds about working with me. You have to decipher the difference between those that believe in you, and those looking for click bait. Your words are worth their weight, so don’t give them away. And on the flip side, do not say yes to something that you do not believe in purely for the paycheck or the fame. Be selective, and know your rights.
5. Don’t Stop Writing, but Give Yourself Space. I needed space after writing something that over 7 million people read and shared. I needed to find my voice again amidst all the noise. I was scared away from it, and I stopped —really writing—for a stupidly long time. When Ashlee found me and gave me a reason to write again, it was excruciating. I hadn’t exercised my writing muscle in far too long and I really struggled to get back into it. So keep writing. Write the stuff that feels like crap. Write every time those words are bouncing around in your head. Write things and leave them unfinished until you find your conclusions. Just write and write and write some more, but give yourself breathing room when you need it. You owe it to yourself to “use your gift.”