Being a blogger is a nasty business, I’ve learned.
I started writing this blog for myself, as a kind of spiritual journal. But it quickly drew attention of others.
And then I started to notice that the negative things I wrote drew a lot more attention than the positive things. So I wrote more negative pieces. And that drew more attention. And that trend has continued.
Let me give you an example: Since I left Patheos a little over a year ago, 8 of the 9 most popular posts on this blog were critiques of contemporary Paganism. They are (in decreasing order):
Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die
“You’re Not Fucking Gandalf”: 12 Movies to Remind You That Pagans Need to Grow Up
It’s been 50 years. And what have Pagans accomplished?
5 Ways Paganism Needs to Grow Up
Why Wiccans Get Made Fun Of
Nine Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became Pagan
These Things Aren’t True: Five Falsehoods in the Pagan Community
Why I’m Boycotting Lughnasadh Again
These essays were among the most critical and hyperbolic I wrote in the past year.
Meanwhile, the more positive pieces received a fraction of the traffic of the negative posts. Here are 8 posts that received very little attention (listed in decreasing order):
3 Reasons to Seek Out Profound Religious Experiences
10 Books that Shaped My Spiritual Journey (Paganism and Beyond)
I am an atheist when the wind is north-northwest.
Losing My Religion: The illusion of choice in religious leave-taking
Why Worldview Matters: A Response to Kimberly Kirner
An Unorthodox Eostur: The Mesopotamian Origins of Ostara?
The Wild Hunt for Justice: At the Intersection of Ritual and Protest
“An Inescapable Network of Mutuality”: Martin Luther King’s Ecological Thought
On average, these more thoughtful and balanced essays received fewer than 200 views, while the more provocative posts (those in the first list above) averaged over 4,000 views. That’s a difference of 1 to 20!
“You’re Not Fucking Gandalf” got over 9,000 views, while the analysis of Martin Luther King’s ecological thought (published on MLK day) got 18 views. 9,000 views versus 18 views!
What is a writer supposed to take away from this?
For years, I have continued to write the controversy-provoking posts because of the attention they drew. Attention is nice. There was lots of negative attention, of course (which I developed a perverse pleasure in). But there was an equal amount of attaboys and verbal pats on the back.
I justified writing like this by telling myself that the controversial posts drew traffic to my blog and that some of those people would end up reading the more substantive pieces. And there’s probably some truth to that.
But I wonder, does the end justify the means?
I do think contemporary Paganism needs more critical voices. But not all criticism is equal. Some forms of criticism actually drive people to deeper entrenchment, rather than opening their minds to consider alternative perspectives. And most of my more controversial writing probably falls in the former category.
And then there’s the personal impact. Writing provocative essays is easier and feels more cathartic than writing the more nuanced and tempered pieces. I get a rush of a adrenaline when I write a post like “Why Contemporary Paganism Deserves to Die“.
But I have to admit to myself that writing in this way has taken its toll on my soul. And I’m not just talking about the effect of reading the comments section. Writing in a negative, hyperbolic style requires less of me as a person. It reinforces my prejudices. It allows me to gloss over nuances. It doesn’t require me to see the objects of my critiques as real people. And so, I am less likely to grow as a person when I write in this way. Deconstruction comes easily to me, but creating space for growth is much harder.
I started this blog for myself. And I have to ask myself whether it is serving me any longer.
I’ve had several online friends reach out to me in the past few months to remark on the negativity of my writing. I appreciate all of those of you who did so, especially those who did so with a gentle touch (something which I have rarely manifested on this blog). I want you all to know that I have heard you. And for the most part, I agree with you.
I’m not sure what will become of The Allergic Pagan now. Over two years ago, I committed to writing in a different way. And I managed it for a little while. But then I fell back into my habitual way of writing. It started to wear on me again and I thought about shifting gears, but then the Patheos exodus happened and I went on a one-man crusade to highlight Patheos’ corporate connections to anti-LGBT groups.
I want to get back to that commitment I made before: to write about my own practice, rather than critiquing other peoples’.
Postscript: If past trends are any indication, this post will probably only get a few dozen views. But it will probably be exactly the few dozen of you who really care and who are not drawn by controversy. And that’s fine with me. Thank you for being here.