Skip to main content
Writing Thoughts

I stopped checking my subscriber count and here’s what happened next…

By March 14, 2024No Comments

Nothing. Nothing happened. Maybe my number of subscribers went up. Maybe it went down. Maybe it stayed the same. I have no idea, because, you know, I stopped looking.

I think the last time I looked at my subscriber count was maybe three weeks ago. It was definitely before I went on vacation to the beach for a week, where not checking my subscriber count was easier. Since I’ve been back, it’s a little harder. I spend more time on my computer. When I get a little bored or when I’m writing something and it’s hard to stay focused, my inclination is to go check my subscriber count. See what’s happened there. But so far, I’ve resisted.

This also means that every time I go to my dashboard to send out a newsletter, I have to literally hold my hand over the part of the screen where I know the subscriber count is so that I can’t see it. This might seem extreme, but I’m pretty committed to not knowing that count.

For a while I was checking the count maybe twice a week (or three times or four times). I told myself this was a way to assess whether the effort of writing a newsletter was worth it. If the count went up, then that was a message to keep going. If the count went down, it might be a good reason to stop. Or slow down. Or whatever.

person using MacBook pro
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

I mean, if you’re not growing, what’s the point, right? Everything that doesn’t increase your reach is pointless. It’s all a ladder and if you’re not climbing it, you better figure out something else or jump the fuck off.

Even before I stopped checking my subscriber count, I had started asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” What do I believe that count is telling me? The last time I looked I had about six hundred subscribers and at one point, I calculated, given my average rate of growth, how long it would take me to get to 1,000, which seems like a magic number. Or at least, it seemed important. A nice round number. A good sense of accomplishment, as if I had earned that through my good work or something.1

Would my life change if I had a thousand newsletter subscribers? No. I can say this with a great deal of certainty because there are so many events that have not changed my life. Getting my very first short story publication did not change my life. Publishing my first book did not change my life. My life did not change when that book won an award. My life did not change when that book failed to earn out. My life did not change when I published my second book and it also didn’t really change when I lost my agent.

Through all of those ups and downs, I was still me. I was still the same old person with the same old anxieties and the same old belief that if only THIS ONE THING would happen, my whole life would be different. I would be happier or richer or my depression would magically disappear. I would carry around my success like some kind of shield against all the uncertainties of life. I would be transformed. I would be complete.

Nope. Didn’t happen. Not going to happen. Never going to happen.

Psychologists have words for this phenomenon. Setpoint theory or dynamic equilibrium or the hedonic treadmill. Things that we believe will make us much happier generally do not. The same is true for things that we believe will make us much sadder. Adam Mastroianni over at Experimental History has an interesting theory for why this might be the case.

I guess what’s interesting to me is how difficult it is to convince ourselves that THAT ONE THING will not actually make us happier. For about the past six months or so, I was either dealing with the aftermath of dental surgery or dreading coming dental surgery. It was a constant state of anxiety and it was a lot and I told myself that when it was over, I would never again take it for granted how lovely it is not to be worrying about my teeth. But, of course, that was a lie. I don’t walk around now in a state of bliss about how much better my mouth feels. I take it for granted. Same old, same old.

The idea that having a thousand subscribers would make my life better is even harder to escape because everyone else also seems to be convinced that this is true. The numbers may be different, but everyone is set on the path of eternal growth. More subscribers. More followers. More sales. More money. More and more and more.

It is, as Ross Gay points out in an amazing footnote in Inciting Joy, a form of insanity. It’s a form of insanity that we treat as normal and expected and, you know, healthy. But that doesn’t make it any less sane.

Nothing can or should grow exponentially. Nature doesn’t work that way. Nothing keeps growing forever. Why do we expect our economies or our profits or our subscriber count to keep growing forever? I don’t know. I just know that it’s sort of an insane way to live.

Has the urge to check my subscriber count gone away? Sadly, no. At least once a day, I think to myself like an addict, “You could check it now. It wouldn’t hurt anything.” Then some other voice answers, “But what does it matter? What possible difference does that number make to me or my life?”

Of course, there are still a whole bunch of other things I still check obsessively. The status of my submissions on Submittable. Whether or not agents I’ve e-mailed queries to have read my e-mail or not (I have a free e-mail tracking app for my gmail account and it is both the best thing ever and the worst thing ever).

But I’m also making a list of other things I might obsessively check. I might obsessively check in with how my body feels at this particular moment—whether it needs a drink or a snack or a nap or a walk. I might obsessively check where my cats have settled, almost always in a patch of sunlight. I might check on the height of the lettuce I planted back in the fall which survived the few cold snaps under our row covers and with the warm weather, might be big enough to cut and eat soon. I might watch in slow, intimate detail as the nectarine blossoms on our tree unfold. I might check in on the pattern of sunlight across our living room floor or the movement of clouds or the splatter of raindrops. I might watch the birds—no, I mean, really watch the birds. I might obsess over what they’re doing and why. I might pay very close attention, like Karen Davis does over at  Life in the Real World and see things like the amazing patterns the wind and water make in the sand. I might check in with what’s happening inside my head or with my breathing. I might obsessively check in on, you know, life. That’s the idea, anyway.

I stopped checking my subscriber count and what happened next? Okay, not nothing. Hopefully, I started living the tiniest bit more.

Leave a Reply