Writers’ Ambrosia: Readers

When 46K people read my post on Medium

When I first decided to write “Choosing Minecraft Over Disney,” I had modest aspirations. I hoped that a couple of my Facebook friends who are parents would read it; decide that my perspective had merit; resist the urge to bash me with special character keystrokes for letting my daughter, Ava, have screen time at all (as she should be outside building a wilderness fort with native grasses); and think, maybe their kids’ misbehavior wasn’t learned on the school playground, but from an unexpected source: Disney, the trusted icon of children’s programming, and its competitor, Nickelodeon.

Still, I wasn’t convinced anyone would read it, much less agree with me, since it was pretty bold to admit to the Internet that I’d rather my kid play a video game where she builds stuff and fights zombies, pig men, and zombie pig men (and watch YouTube videos of others doing this), than be mesmerized by the contemptuous behavior of well coiffed twenty-somethings masquerading as tweens and teens.

This is the story of what happened when I published my story on Medium, and 46,700 people read it.

“Choosing Minecraft” had been tickling me in the creative juices for a while. I had dumped a disheveled, meandering first draft into my (physical, gasp) writing notebook and regurgitated a semi-cleaned up copy into an email for my writing partner, Becky, to review. Her response wasn’t shocking: I know this topic is important to you, but your story is all over the place.

I poked at the story a bit more, revising and paring down, trying to find its true essence. Then I got an invite to write for Medium, and a few rewrites later, I published my first story. “Choosing Minecraft” was live on Medium and the Internet.

I figured it was my responsibility to get some readers, so I did what someone who does not play on Twitter does: I posted a link to my story on Facebook, which I do use. I prepared for the onslaught of bashing keystrokes, and hoped that one or two or a dozen of my 300+ FB friends would read it. I figured at least my Mom would read it (she did), and a couple of my closest friends (they did too).

Because what this writer wants, more than anything in the world, except perhaps an uninterrupted Saturday morning with an unlimited flow of coherent ideas, is to be read.

I also tweeted my story, because I figured my 20 followers would be amused that I’d tweeted for the first time since 2001.

Bless the hearts, offspring, and web browsers of my FB friends, because they did read the story! I got a few likes, a couple comments, and saw on Medium that about 30 people had read my story. Writer’s ambrosia: I had readers!

I had this nagging suspicion, the day after I released my story to the world, that I should check Twitter. Good thing I remembered that seldom-used password, because what I saw delighted me:

My tweet was re-tweeted by @Minecraft! And @Minecraft’s followers were RT’ing my story! This was awesomeness encapsulated in fewer than 140 characters, until later that day it was one-upped by another tweet:

@SkyDoesMinecraf was browsing @Medium and found a post by @Unagicat. Thought it might make your day :)

This tweet not only made my day, it also made my tomorrow, and every day back to my teenage years of writing angst-y poetry on a typewriter with a dirty ribbon, wondering if I’d ever have an audience.

The best part, however, was telling my daughter that none other than @SkyDoesMinecraf had read my story. My parental cred skyrocketed! Her room got cleaned without complaint! She never asked to watch Disney or Nickelodeon again! Okay, I made those last two things up.

I thought my story had made its rounds and had wandered off to take a well-deserved nap. Thirty readers was good enough, I thought, for my first story on Medium, and much better than my infrequently updated blog.

But then I noticed that my reader count had doubled: from 30 to 60. I checked the stats for my story and whoa!

It had been chosen for Medium’s Editor’s Picks, which is like the Medium equivalent of NYT’s Recommended for You list (or so it felt to me).

But that wasn’t all. Back over at Twitter, “Choosing Minecraft” had been tweeted by Evan Hansen (an editor at Medium) and Jon Stokes (the editor-in-chief of Wired), both agreeing, publicly, with my soliloquy. My gratitude was immense and uplifting. I jitterbugged around my office, incapable of subtlety.

Over the first weekend, interest in my story exploded. I wish I had a better word than exploded, but I don’t, so I’ll give you numbers instead:

Saturday morning: 164 people had read “Choosing Minecraft;” my story was #21 on the front page of Medium. My excitement could have rivaled winning SuperLotto, until:

Sunday morning: 1,111 readers, and I was THIRD on the front page of Medium, right after two stories I enjoyed: “What I Learned Building Medium So Far” by Ev Williams, and “How to Attend a Funeral” by Mike Montiero. I didn’t win the writers’ audience SuperLotto, I had won the Mega Millions!

That Sunday, my story ascended on a trajectory I can only describe as consuming. Every time I checked the reader stats on my phone, another two or three thousand people had read my story.

“I thought you didn’t care how many readers you had,” my husband teased me.

“I never said I didn’t care,” I shrugged, “I only said I was trying not to check my phone every five minutes to see how many more.”

And over on Twitter, folks were RT’ing, leaving me notes on how my story reminded them of their households, and acknowledged me as a parent for choosing to have Ava play an active game instead of watching passive TV programming. They get it, I thought, with unrestrained glee.

Between Sunday breakfast and dinner, the number of readers had increased to 27,161.

I realized, shockingly, that I don’t know twenty-seven thousand people.

I stopped counting the tweets and RTs. I found out later that another parent at my daughter’s school had heard of my story indirectly from three of his friends on Twitter, none of whom I knew. Was it too much to hope that my 536-word piece could influence children’s TV programming? A writer can dream.

I also realized that a lot of parents saw the benefits of letting their kids play Minecraft and the maligning protests I anticipated never arrived.

After spending most of that first Sunday trying not to check my phone constantly, I had branched out from jitterbugging into samba and swing, but was running out of dance steps to keep my delight fresh. I was almost relieved when my story fell off the front page so I could focus enough to make dinner.

The next Saturday, after a week of watching a less-rapid ascent of readers and tweets, I got up, smiling, made coffee, still smiling, and settled down to my almost daily free-writing practice. I played with a couple ideas for my (plug alert) novel-in-progress, and then this story you are reading jumped up and down: Pick me! Pick me! It erupted from my pen, into my unlined 8 x 11 artist’s sketchbook.

My daughter wandered out from her room, slow and sleepy. She nodded yes to my offer of hot chocolate, and as we sat at the table together, I told her there was something I wanted her to do before iPad time. She looked at me, skeptical and suspicious, like I was going to ask her to do my laundry. I was about to see how much parental cred I had banked.

“You know that diary you have?”

She nodded, warily.

“I want you to write down the thoughts in your head.”

She frowned.

“Just three sentences.”

Reluctance. Annoyance.

I was not above bribery. “Okay. One sentence and today’s date. And then you can have iPad time.”

I brought out her small book, with its tiny lock and key, protecting the private thoughts of my child, along with a quintet of colorful pens (also a bribe). She agreed. One sentence.

“Do you know why I want you to do this?” I asked her.

Head shake: no.

“Because in ten years, or twenty years, you will love that you can read what you were thinking when you were nine. It will be better,” I paused, dramatically, “than gold, or even butter.” She smiled at butter, like it’s a secret we shared. “Do you believe me?”

She nodded.

Minutes later she told me she wrote three sentences and the date, and did I want to hear them?

“Absolutely, my love, absolutely.”