I think we’re all too focused on getting instant wins. We’re too focused on breaking out. We expect every single piece of content we make to spread like wildfire, and we get fucking discouraged when that doesn’t happen. But it’s such a nonsensical way to think about what we do. As makers, as writers, as creatives, we can’t be chasing flash in the pan, overnight success.
That’s the kind of short term approach that never pays off. There is no way to predict that kind of viral success, and anyone who thinks they can reach for it in any kind of repeatable format is going to be wrong. There’s no algorithm that can predict it.
In my experience making content, writing stories and producing work online, I have learned one thing. You can’t count on much more than the power of consistency. You can’t count on much more than just showing the hell up, day after day, and organically, faithfully building your audience.
Showing up gives you the chance to actually grow.
When you’re working on your craft, it’s actually easier than you’d think to stagnate. It happens to the best of us, it happens to the worst of us and it happens to everyone in between. Stagnation is the death of the artist. It means that your audience are going to get bored of you, get bored of how you create, and start to lose interest in your pursuit of mundanity.
And when all you’re doing is trying to push for instant success, there is just no way you’ll be able to avoid that stagnation. Because you won’t be listening to your audience. You won’t be listening to their passions and their needs. All you’re going to do is watch the numbers. Watch them rise and fall, and sacrifice any creative spark you had to the data.
If you build that slow, that long term, that dedicated relationship with the people who actively give a shit about what you do — that’s something else. That’s where you create a career of worth and a body of work that matters. The way to do that? Showing up. Showing up with your whole self, showing up with your values and beliefs, showing up with what makes you unique, but above all — showing up with consistency.
The consistency lets people understand what the fuck you’re about.
The first time someone interacts with you, they don’t know who the hell you are. The first time someone consumes a piece of content that you’ve made, they don’t know what you’re about. You can’t communicate that in one piece of work, no matter how good it is. It can’t sum up the texture and the unique approach of how you make what you make.
By consistently working on creating regular content, you can provide context to your audience that takes them on a journey. Does that sound like bullshit? It’s the truth. Your role as a maker and a storyteller is to create a hero’s journey that allows someone to forge an emotional link to your message, your ideas and your creative brand. There is no way to do that if you can’t maintain a steady output of work.
When I look at how I’ve been able to grow my network, to grow my audience, to write for publications from Wired to the SF Chronicle, the act of showing up regularly is what has always made the difference. If I hadn’t done that, if I’d been laser focused on trying to break through instead of build, there’s no way I could be where I am today.
The key to building an audience is showing up. Showing up will give you the foundation you need to have a career and a craft. Anything else is never going to work.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.