If A Tree Falls In The Forest, Are You Still A Writer?

“No one reads your blog” my sister said sharply. Her words cut me, mostly because they were true. I had been reflecting on the sad state of my blog’s readership well before my sister stated the truth so bluntly. The situation made me think of the philosophical question – “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Only as the question pertained to me – If a person publishes their work and no one reads it, are they still a writer?

Four years ago, when I started this blog, I had grand plans; I was going to be a celebrated writer. Like Kurt Vonnegut but less beardy. Like Jenny Lawson, only with fewer taxidermy bobcats. All I had to do was practice my craft, and wait for the world to recognize the brilliance of my prose. So I wrote and waited. Then I wrote some more and waited but still neither WordPress, nor the Huffington Post chose my work. And Oprah wasn’t declaring my blog to be one of her favourite things either. But through all those posts and those couple of years, I held to my dream of being a professional writer, of making it big, of being paid to tell stories and do what I love.

In that time, a funny thing happened; two of my friends became professional writers. One chased down and caught her dream of being paid to travel and write. The other, an accomplished scientist who happened to have an exquisite way with words, landed a position creating a magazine. From the sidelines I watched them, their success but also how their relationship with words changed – both ceased to write for fun. That seemed like a small tragedy to me because recording my stories and antics brings me endless joy, I would mourn losing that.

As my interest in the publishing and literary world grew, so did my knowledge of it. I learned how book talks are given, and the rigors of traveling to promote one’s work. Jenny Lawson, creator of “The Bloggess”, frequently recounts the horror and exhaustion which comes with being forced to overcome one’s introverted qualities and tout her work to the world. I also read how John Grogan’s meteoric rise to fame from a weekly column writer to celebrated author of “Marley and Me” affected his family; how deeply his children missed him while he traveled around enjoying the fruits of his success.

Through that time, my blog continued along, I continued to do ridiculous things like create absurd letters to my upstairs neighbours about what I’d do to them if I was a mermaid or a robot and then I would write about it. After watching my friends give up writing for leisure and learning more about the associated work of being a paid writer, I came to a surprising and slightly sad conclusion – I didn’t want to do this as a job.

This decision coincided with the worst month for my page views that I had ever had. Quite literally no one was reading my work. I had mistakenly thought that after nearly four years, I would have built a dedicated readership. Instead, even the people who had once routinely read and celebrated my blog, no longer would mention posts to me. My three hundredth post was met with little fanfare; to me this was an incredible achievement but the world didn’t bat an eye. It was then that I asked myself who I was writing for. The answer was and always will be- me. Suddenly my page stats and number of readers weren’t as important.

In deciding to let go of both my dreams of being a professional writer, and also my need for an audience, it makes me question myself. Along the lines of “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”, if a person publishes their work and no one reads it, are they still a writer?

A writer is someone who enjoys stories and communicating, someone who feels compelled to record their thoughts. A writer is anyone who takes the time to sit down and assemble words into sentences. At three thirty in the morning, I pulled myself out of bed to type this post because the words refused to remain in my head any longer. I can’t answer the question about the tree, but I do know regardless of who, or how many people read this, I am still a writer.