When a Blog Post Goes Viral

I received a bit of a jolt yesterday morning when visiting my WordPress dashboard. The vertical blue bars showing daily page views were all but nonexistent. Then I realized it was because the scale had changed. The bar on the far right, showing that day’s views, was climbing right off of my screen.

My latest blog post on a writer’s must-read list had just gone viral. I watched, with a few clicks of the refresh button, as it hit 200, 300, 500. Within an hour it had hit 1,000. At the end of the day it had reached 4,000, and it’s continuing to get hits on its second day as I type this. (Update: While slowing, the clicks continue. As of 8 am ET on Wednesday the 20th we’re approaching 8,000).

That big blue bar of views was as dramatic in its rise, and as surprising in its appearance, as the state capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska, I encountered on my cross-country road trip interviewing artists.

This is startling. While I love traffic to my blog (what blogger doesn’t?) my primary motivation isn’t hits. I’m not selling anything with this blog. I don’t run ads. I don’t search-engine optimize posts and headlines. So what was going on?

A quick investigation gave much of the credit to The Huffington Post, which featured the post in their Books section. I believe Huffington Post discovered it as a result of it being tweeted by “Advice to Writers” author Jon Winokur, whose Twitter feed @AdvicetoWriters has 71,136 followers and, perhaps more importantly, is on 4,710 lists (including my WritingInspired list). His tweet was then retweeted like nobody’s business, as was one from the Huffington Post. Later that day it was tweeted by @randomhouse. Yup, they’ve got a few followers.

What has this been like? Exciting. Surprising. Confusing. Embarrassing. (That last one stems from the fact that while pleased enough with it the post to upload it, it’s hardly the one I would have chosen to introduce myself to the universe. I didn’t even bother to include my signature touch, a photo that is only marginally relevant with an unorthodox caption.)

The post had been doing pretty well on its own. It had received just under 500 views from Friday (the day I uploaded it) through Sunday, putting it in my top quartile of my posts to date. But this is an entirely different scale, as the disappearing blue bars for Friday, Saturday and Sunday attest.

The Artist’s Road is less than a year old, but I blogged for six years prior to this on two other blogs, and was blessed to see a handful of posts go viral. A post I wrote for a now-defunct think tank’s blog about my personal experience with inaccuracies on Wikipedia spread once it was promoted by Pulitzer-Prize finalist Nicholas Carr.

In perhaps my proudest moment of blogging, a post I wrote for my previous employer the Copyright Alliance went viral to positive results. I blogged about an online “magazine” titled, cheekily enough, “Pilfered,” consisting solely of photographs stolen online and reprinted without compensation of the photographers, or credit, or permission. My post spread through the photographic community, prompting a barrage of pressure on the magazine, and I believe I played some role in the magazine shutting itself down shortly thereafter.

Perhaps a better analogy for that blue bar stretching to the sky would be one of these windmills I saw rising out of Minnesota farmland.

This latest viral phenomenon comes right at a moment when I was thinking of shutting down this blog.

I absolutely love writing it — I’ve enjoyed using it as an exercise to grow as a writer, to provide resources to creative peers, and to learn how to de-program the journalist in me and put more of myself into my writing.

I’ve particularly valued the virtual friendships I have formed through this blog, and am so grateful to its loyal readers (some of whom I thank by name at the end of this post).

But on Sunday, after spending hours on the first “packet” due to my MFA instructor (30 pages of original creative writing and a 7-page critical essay), I wondered if it was reasonable to continue to indulge myself with this blog. It requires time and creative energy. Perhaps it was best to put it on ice for awhile.

But by Monday morning, when my browser opened to my WordPress dashboard, I had already decided to stick with it awhile longer. My compromise with myself was to blog a little less often, two days a week rather than three. But I realized this blog is now part of my creative path. My life mission right now is reconnecting with my muse, and stepping away from The Artist’s Road would be stepping off of that path.

So seeing that ever-rising vertical blue bar, I believe, was my muse’s way of telling me I’m right to stick with it. After all, I’m not chasing clicks. I receive qualitative value by having an outlet to flex creative muscles and a way to connect with creative and supportive peers. But it still feels nice to get quantitative feedback, especially when it’s positive.

My only regret is that once this bubble bursts, until that tall blue bar rotates off of the little chart through the passage of time, my other bars will remain minuscule by comparison.

Now comes shout-outs to some of my most loyal blog readers and Twitter pals in no particular order; like in an Oscar speech, I must note that I’m sure I’m leaving some folks out, and my sincerest apologies to those individuals. If you’re one of them, call me out in the comment field below.

A huge whoop to Milli (@fearofwriting), Amy (@AmyBuchheit), Charlotte (@wordstrumpet), Kate (@KateArmsRoberts), Sue (@Sue_Mitchell), Tanner (@tannerc), Jessica (@JMcCannWriter), Cheryl (@CherylRWrites), Carrie (@ArtistThink), Bell (@startyournovel), Melanie (@DoseofCre8ivity), Jolina (@Jolina_Joy), Paige (@PCrutcher), Liz (@lizmassey68), Mari (@mischief_mari), Elizabeth (@elizabethscraig) Anita (@anitabondi), Melissa (@CrytzerFry), Callie (Notes From Naptime), David (@DavidBGoldstein), Ollin (@OllinMorales), Ian (@IanAspin), Sion (@parisimperfect), Carolyn (@carolynsolares), and Danielle (@Danielle_Meitiv).

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

47 Responses to “When a Blog Post Goes Viral”

  1. Amazing, Patrick! I’m so glad you got some (well-deserved!) attention and that you’re sticking with “The Artist’s Road” for awhile. Though whatever you need to do to prioritize the writing you want to focus on (oh! I know how demanding packets can be!) would of course be understandable. Scaling back the number of posts per week seems totally reasonable.

    I’ve never had a post go viral in the way you’ve just experienced (HuffPo isn’t onto me yet), but I have had posts I wouldn’t have ever imagined would capture a lot of attention get picked up by larger outlets. It can be kind of a weird feeling as you mention to have a post you wouldn’t necessarily use as your introduction to the world go out to a bigger audience.

    But hey, a good reminder that we should make sure we’re happy with whatever we put out there. I do like to balance that with why I started blogging in the first place, though – just having fun and loosening up my writing. I was such a perfectionist before that I wanted to put myself in a position where I would just “let it flow” more easily. (I hope by putting “imperfect” in the title, I’ve covered all the bases!)

    Congratulations again!

    • Hi Sion! Thanks so much for this comment, and for sharing the genesis of your own blog. I could see where a blog would really be helpful in forcing yourself to just put it out there, and you’ve done it very well. FYI, there’s a link to your blog now in this post that remains viral. If you look in the comments field, I give a shout-out to your graduate student lecture on James Baldwin.

  2. Lavender Water: A Writing Blog by Christy Farmer Reply July 19, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Congratulations Patrick. I think most, if not all bloggers can identify with continuing blogging or not. Blogging is never about chasing stats or traffic but to enjoy what you are doing. As long as bloggers are enjoying blogging, then they are already successful.

    • Thank you, Christy, for this comment and the Twitter shout-out! Great to hear words of wisdom like that from a fellow blogger. I’d also venture that, just like with any other writing, if the writer’s love and passion is in the words, readers will connect with that and be more inclined to come back to read more.

  3. Congratulations, Patrick! That’s awesome, but not surprising. Your posts (and your other writing as well) are thoughtful, well-written, and personable. I’m sorry I don’t comment more, but your writing sticks with me and leaves me with a lot to think about.

    And thanks for the shout out!

  4. Hi Patrick,
    I’m so glad you received some amazing reinforcement to keep your blog going! It is really hard to keep at it with so many other obligations, I think we all feel that way. It is so great to read your posts and keep abreast of your creative journey. Thank you for the mention and I can’t wait to read more good news🙂

  5. Yeah! Love when that happens!

  6. Whew! You had me worried there for a minute that you were going to put this blog on ice. So glad to hear you’re not.

    Your blog’s name, The Artist’s Road, is a perfect one for a blog that will evolve as you do. If Creativity Tweets of the Week, for example, is too time-consuming, maybe it will be replaced with a one-paragraph MFA Musing of the Week, LOL.We’ll take whatever ya got!

    Congratulations on your viral post!

    • Thanks, Sue! Funny you mention CTW. What’s good about that obligation is it makes sure I spend a little time each week on Twitter, finding and sending good links. I get a lot out of that, finding great resources, resources that can help me personally. But thanks for advance permission to change as needed!🙂

      • Loved Sue’s idea of “a one-paragraph MFA Musing of the Week.” Good be just the thing for those weeks when the MFA packets are sucking up all your available time. ;~)

  7. Hi Patrick, thanks for including me in your shout-out. I’m honored to be one of your Twitter pals and to be among such great company. And may I echo some of the other commenters’ sentiments here when I say, “PHEW!” that you’ll keep this blog going. Only you can decide how many posts you’ve got in you and what your creativity can sustain, but we’ll be delighted when you throw us a bone every now and then.

  8. Wow, Patrick, congrats on the viral post! I’m not that surprised, though, as you’ve been churning out quality stuff regularly for a long while. Glad to see you finally getting the recognition and exposure you deserve.

    I’ll join the ‘chorus of relief’ about the news that you’re going to continue The Artist’s Road blog for now, with whatever post frequency you can manage.

    • Carole Jane, you make the top of the list of the folks I knew I was leaving out above. Thank you so much for this generous comment, and for your permission to post what I can, when I can!

  9. Wow, Patrick, this post was so riveting I devoured it by email. (I usually click to come read your posts onsite, which has a nicer feel than email.)

    Congrats on going viral! I loved your typical touches of humor while narrating that event.

    When I got to the part where you were thinking of shutting down this blog, I was alarmed, to say the least. But I understood your reasons for contemplating it even before you explained them.

    I’m glad you’ve decided to keep going and I love your reason for that:

    “I realized this blog is now part of my creative path. My life mission right now is reconnecting with my muse, and stepping away from The Artist’s Road would be stepping off of that path.”

    I totally agree with you on that point, and I think a compromise (posting less often) is a much better solution than letting go of that creative + friendship outlet.

    On a purely selfish basis, I’m relieved you’ve decided to stay online with The Artist’s Road!

    Thanks so much for including me in your whoops. I’m thrilled and honored.🙂

    ~ Milli

    P.S. I saw a new comment come through by email on the very first post I ever visited at your blog, which was Starting Down the Road. I grinned because the commenter (a brand new visitor) had the exact same reaction I did, which was “Are you going to write a book about this?” I enjoyed reading your response to Angela’s comment, and I’m eager to read that section of your book about the Virginia to Georgia leg of the trip you did with your daughter.

    • Hi Milli, perhaps my longest-reading and most loyal Artist’s Road friend!🙂

      If I find myself doubting the wisdom of continuing this blog in the future, I’ll just go back and read your supportive comments over the last few months. That should keep me going.

  10. It’s always great to get positive exposure from big people and places, congratulations on the big (albeit concise) exposure. Undoubtedly you’ll see more in the very near future, especially if you keep putting out such quality content.

    As always: thank you for sharing your ideas and insights with all of us.

  11. Well, I ‘m glad you didn’t shut it down. I really do enjoy reading your blog, especially Fridays. And congrats on the viral bug!

    Completely unrelated: Just this morning as I was searching for art of the Tennessee State Capitol, a co-worker from Nebraska had me take a look at his home state’s statehouse. He says it is also referred to as the (and you can figure this out by studying its shape, I feel sure) “P—- on the Plains.” :-/

    • 🙂

      I’ll confess I wasn’t familiar with the building before stumbling across it on my road trip (I was driving around downtown Lincoln killing time while my clothes spun in a washer in a local laundromat). LOVE the local reference, and probably wise you didn’t type it out; you spared this post from getting caught in some folks’ web filters!

  12. This is INCREDIBLE, Patrick. Wow. Wow. Wow. Now, of course, I’m going to have to go back and read all your other viral posts (most interesting, the one about pilfered images…). I think the ‘viral-ness’ of your MULTIPLE posts says so much about you as a writer (and that your journey into the MFA is a wonderful step in the right direction). So happy you aren’t shutting down your blog. Seems the inspiration (or should I say, the blue bars?) struck at JUST the right moment. Thank goodness for small favors. Good luck with your packet. I hear from Shelby quite frequently about the amount of work that goes into them each month. You can do it!

    • Three wows is right! And yes, the timing of the surge re: my reflections on the future of the blog were a bit eerie. Thank goodness for small favors, or whatever other universal forces were at work.

      The good news on the packet is that completion is within sight now, and it’s not due until Sunday. One down, a couple of dozen more over the next two years to go!

  13. Thx Patrick! You know we’d all miss you if you stopped writing here. We need your voice in the dialogue on creativity. Yours is one of intelligence and experience. If I can do it now for (almost) 5 years then you can too!

    And a hardy congrats for the Huff Post shout out🙂

    • Thanks, Melanie. I think I shared this with you when you were in D.C., but I am really impressed at how long you’ve maintained your blog, at a consistently high level. It’s a model for me, no doubt.

  14. Count me in as another who would be sad to see this blog go.

    I find it amusing that traffic to the “Writer’s Must-Read List” is the one that took off so hugely as it is one of the few that I read fully on email and didn’t bother to come to the website to read. Funnily enough, that post may have an an impact on what looks to be a change in my writing focus for the near future.

    I was just about to move “The Art of the Personal Essay” to my “I’m not going to read this in the near future and looking at it is making me feel guilty so it has to be hidden away” bookshelf, but I am reading it instead.

    Combined with some other experiences I have had over the past few months, I can see that I have some non-fiction in me that needs to be written.

    Congrats on the attention. I hope some of the recent visitors stick around.

    Kate

    • Hi Kate, I guess that means your read of the post didn’t get registered as a view then!🙂

      Interesting to hear you say you have some non-fiction in you that needs to be written, I seem to recall us discussing that awhile back, what would you put in fiction form and what would you express through creative nonfiction. Good luck with that, and if my blog prompts you to read a shelved book and that helps with the writing, then it’s all to the good.

      As to sticking around, I’m seeing a modest uptick in blog subscriptions. If some of these people take a deeper look at the blog and find value in it, then I’m happy to have them, regardless of how many there are.

  15. Thanks for the mention. 🙂 It was a great post.

  16. Hi Patrick,

    I’m so thrilled for you! And so thrilled that you are encouraged to keep going. As someone who’s just starting my own chronicling of my own creative journey, your blog has certainly been an inspiration.🙂

    Go go go!

    Jenny
    http://www.creativelifepod.com

  17. So very cool that it went viral, Patrick, congratulations!!! 😀 It is a topic that an entire worldwide community of writers of every ilk, skill level and background would be interested in. And you are a good writer, who researched the topic before creating the post. Makes sense to me that it would be passed around. And … everything happens for a reason. The Universe is telling you something. Great job that you are listening! 🙂

    • Yes, for once the Universe (or whatever it is out there) spoke and I actually listened. There’s a first time for everything, right?🙂

      • (Universe = safe word for whatever anyone looks to spiritually)

        Hehehe … well, I for one am glad you listened!

        I am facing the same potential dilemma with my blog, once I get a job. For me, it may make sense to stop (since my main medium is something else, that I’ll need time to get to). For you … it is the same medium. For both, it is a way to connect with people around the world.

        One thing is for sure … it is a commitment! I’m down to twice monthly …. would LIKE to continue. We shall see …

  18. I’d like to give a shout out to the thousands of artists who are Copyright Advocates and part of the one voice network of the Copyright Alliance. They are writers, photographers, musicians, painters, filmmakers, and others who fueled the viral nature that ultimately shut down the Pilfered Magazine. Artists and creators all over the world were disgusted by the actions of the magazine and came together to speak up for creators’ rights. This outcry in turn gave the magazine no choice but to admit to its wrongdoing and cease production.

    Thanks to all of those in the creative community who are serious about protecting their rights and protecting the rights of others.

  19. Hi Patrick, I’m an inconsistent visitor but I’ve always found your posts valuable. Am so glad that at least one is getting some serious attention. Am glad you’ll keep writing too. I’m also a journalist writing fiction on the side and I started my blog on a dare and haven’t looked back. But there are days when I doubt my ability to keep going with it – there are just SO many words in my life. Glad the universe spoke to you. Allison

    • Hi Allison, I am an inconsistent visitor to your blog as well but enjoy it, and marvel at how you are able to post solid pieces of writing almost daily. Thank you for the kind words about the blog, that means a lot coming from a journalist focused on creative writing.

  20. Good for you Patrick! I am thinking you are on a roll with all the wonderful events unfolding in your creative life!

    Your blog and twitter feed has been a wonderful source of inspiration for me. You deserve all the viral posts, accolades, and more! Congrats!

    • Thanks, Marianne! Seeing how you are a cultivator of creativity in others, I’m touched by your encouragement. As for my creative life, it’s miraculous the energy I’m thriving in right now, and I wonder why I waited so long to allow myself to come to fully embrace this life!

  21. Congrats! That’s awesome.

  22. I was intrigued by this blog, but based on the 8,000 views your other one got, I’m not sure it helps me. I have only posted 9 sports related blog’s since I started mine, none with more than 20 views. However, the one I posted yesterday is already at 112,000 views. Not sure what it means for me. I am dumbfounded.

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