The Truth About Going Viral: What I Did After 1 Million People Stopped By My Blog

Everyone wants to be famous for something. We all want to do something epic, something worth remembering. But maybe fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I have good reason to believe that it’s not.

Going Viral
Photo credit: SCA (Creative Commons)

An archived post of mine recently caught some traction and went viral, sending over a million people to my blog in a week. It’s causing me to rethink why I do this work and whether or not we as artists should chase our audiences.

Here’s what happened:

  1. An article I wrote about traveling while you’re young was picked up randomly by a student leader in Singapore one year after it was published.
  2. That person shared it on Facebook with a travel group he led on campus.
  3. Each person in the group shared this with their respective networks, and it spread to similar student groups in the Philippines and Malaysia.
  4. In about 24 hours, the post had made it all the way around the world, finishing its tour in Brazil.

The first time this happened, 0ver 150,000 people visited the blog. The second time, it was about half that amount. And then the third time, it reach over 1 million visitors and was shared via Facebook over 250,000 times — all in about a week.

Pretty crazy.

The craziest part: None of that matters

After the article went viral, I was confused and anxious. What did this mean, if anything?

Should I change what I write about, focusing more on this topic of travel? Should I try to keep as many of those visitors as possible? And what would I do when Monday rolled around, and I had to start blogging again?

The next week, I hit the old grindstone again, and the Internet had already forgotten about me. My traffic spike had mellowed out, and I was back to zero, forced to earn people’s attention all over again.

I tried to drag out the success, of course, tried to prolong that temporary feeling of fulfillment that fame brings. But for some reason, it wasn’t enough. And through the process, I learned something:

Every week I go back to zero. And so do you.

No single creative success can be sustained. That’s why you can’t create solely for profit or praise. In the end, the thrill never lasts. If you want to be an artist, there has to be something more than fame that sustains you.

Just ask Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert was an inexplicable, runaway success. After she wrote the book and it raced up the bestsellers lists, people asked her a cruel question:

Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to be able to top that?

The answer, not surprisingly, was: Yes.

She worried she’d never be able to write another book that achieved such success. In an amazing TED Talk, she said, “It’s exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me.”

This worry held her back, caused her to hesitate and wait years before writing and publishing another book. But eventually she did. And how she did it was unique. Courageous, even.

She went to work, anyway. She treated her life’s work as just that — a job. She started believing in the idea of a Muse, a spirit that indwells artists. She resigned to a more mystical, creative process, and began to understand that “success” wasn’t up to her.

No. Her job was to show up.

We must do the same

No matter how amazing you are today, you have to get up and put the hours in tomorrow. And the next day. (And so on…)

Because that thing inside of you that causes you to create already forgot yesterday’s successes. It’s hungry. And if you don’t feed it something new, it will eat you alive.

That, my friends, is why artists kill themselves, why they get depressed after a monumental success and never create anything again. After going BIG with some huge, mega success that plummets them into instant stardom, they seemingly have nowhere left to go.

But that isn’t why they got into the game in the first place. And it’s not why you and I are in it, either. At least, I hope not.

Fame is not enough

Doing creative work for mass consumption is not fulfilling. Sure, it’s a nice byproduct, but it can’t be the focus.

This is why I write (and often) every day. Not for the fans and followers. But for me. Because if I do not, I feel like something is missing. The accolades never seem to completely satisfy.

Only creating can fulfill you after the fanfare fades.

So do something creative today. Scribble a note in your notebook. Snap a photo. Bang out a few chords on the guitar. Hit “publish” on that blog post you’ve been stalling to write.

Show up and do your work.

Whatever you do, please, don’t live in the past. And don’t wait for the future. Now is all you have. So, artist, create. It’s what you were made to do.

By the way, if you’ve never read my short eBook, The Writer’s Manifesto, you should check it out. It’ll only take you five minutes, and it’s completely free. Get your copy here.

And be sure to check out that talk by Elizabeth Gilbert I mentioned:

Do you struggle with this? Has your work ever achieved viral success? What did you do? Share your experiences in the comments.

192 thoughts on “The Truth About Going Viral: What I Did After 1 Million People Stopped By My Blog

  1. Jeff, this is one of my very favorite posts. It’s not enough, is it? If it’s for fame or for money – there’s always MORE MORE MORE and someone else always has more or less. Being true to the reason we write has to be the core. For me – it’s a purpose given by God. I’m not a great writer, but I’m learning. The best part for me – is when a Mom stops me and just says Thank you. That lets me know – my mission to encourage Moms to grow for the perfection we were created for…are being encouraged and me – I’m finding that journey created for me!

  2. This was an incredible post! I’ll admit that Travel Blog is what introduced me to your work, my CD shared that post with our team and since then I’ve bookmarked your blog and check it several times a week.

    So I’m happy to say that you have retained my attention from your success and I’ve shared your blog with many other family and friends. Keep it up, we all need some extra inspiration from time-to-time!

  3. Great post, Jeff. Showing up is huge. Justin Zoradi talks about this, too. Sometimes showing up is the most life-changing thing we can do. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. This post reminded me of Harper Lee.
    To this day I can’t believe that To Kill a Mocking Bird was really the only thing she had in her.

    I just returned from a trip to Africa where I heard a new worship song. Your post reminded me of one line: Yesterday is gone, a new day has come, do something new in my life today Lord. If I don’t want God to rest on His laurels; how can I justify resting on mine?
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. This reminded me of Stella Gibbons and her hit first novel Cold Comfort Farm (1932).

    Later in her life when referring to Cold Comfort Farm she said, “The old monster has also overlain all my other books” and “some unignorable old uncle, to whom you have to be grateful because he makes you a handsome allowance, but who is often and embarrassment and a bore.”

    It’s a little sad that her following 23 books where never as successful and it obviously bothered her; but still she kept writing. Eighty years later a 26 year old finds her book hilarious.

    Is it better to peak later or at least in the middle of your career? What would Stella say?

  6. As a newcomer to blogging, I needed this post.

    I recently had a post that gave me a spike in activity, far less than 1 million, but by the end of the week my activity was back down. The post was about an event I attended with several people and not about content. I posted during the uptick hoping to hang on to some of those new visitors, but no luck.

    My experience didn’t involve internet fame, it was just fame within my circle of influence. But I needed to hear the words, “Every week I go back to zero. And so do you.” Thanks, Jeff, for helping me normalize. Honest & helpful post!

  7. Wow! Very poignant thoughts! I agree that the thrill of success (whatever level that may be) is fleeting, and we need something deeper driving us.

  8. that speech Elizabeth Gilbert gave helped me to solidify some personal writing goals i have… making art a searchable reference is a work in progress. good post Jeff. good post.

  9. Good encouragement, Jeff. Thanx! Just taking a break from writing about mentoring as it’s never been done before. Having the time of my olde life!!! Keep on! You inspire. Thanks for doing your job so well.

  10. I learned your message a while ago and it’s not like I’ve ever had the big hits you’ve had. But every so often I get some very solid pikes in traffic but after 3-4 weeks it’s fallen off – so I understand now how the term fame is fleeting came to be. Back to work it is. Enjoyed the read.

  11. Excellent post! Thank you for the challenge, the charge to do something creative every day. I have been working on finding a creative rhythm after a long hiatus, and it has been fun to get my “hands dirty” again.

  12. Love this post! What a good reminder. Thanks so much for sharing. I will be passing this along…have a great week!

  13. Love this! It reminds me of a quote I heard once, I think it was Rory Vaden. He says, “success is never owned, its only rented, and the rent is due everyday.”

  14. What a lovely article. Such a good reminder. I feel like a lot of artists lose their staying power because they forsake he actual art and get too busy with fame and people pleasing. So many musicians seem to do this these days.

  15. I wrote a blog post once on whether it is possible to eat slugs, and how they should be cooked. It went viral in a modest way, and because of that, my now virtually dead blog always has a little life in it; it’s sobering to learn just how many people have thought of, or are thinking of, eating slugs.

    As for basking in the limelight, I like that line from Kipling about triumph and disaster both being impostors. Whether you’re famous or totally unknown, you’re still yourself. And at the end of the day, you still have to wash your own dishes and clean the toilet–which is a good thing to remember. 🙂

  16. I’m a graphic designer and while I was early in the game as compared to my other peers who consider me really good, I never admit I am. There are really good clients with names that come by my way and people are more than impressed to see those names down my portfolio. It’s great success for somebody in my field.

    Further down I built my own graphic designer apparel line and made illustrations for myself rather than for clients. Eventually I saw posts being liked, shared, and shirts being ordered by people I don’t know. A specific one even shared a hundred times and worn by local celebrities. I considered that great success. And while a lot of my designs after that one didn’t really make much of an impact, nowhere near that one, I don’t stop.

    If there’s one thing I think of a lot and would like to share, it’s for people to never ever think they’re on top of the game. There are always more people better than you. I’m not saying put yourself down – not at all. But when you’re in this kind of mind set, you always look for room to grow, you always strive to create more and more things and in the end, you improve and progress your craft onto a higher level.

    Hope that contributes a bit to the topic 🙂

  17. Great post, Jeff! I’ve learned that I’m not happy if I’m not continually growing. I try to write only about what speaks to me, and I look at whatever small successes I have as an opportunity to take one more step in that growth. It’s a difficult balance sometimes–having strong convictions while also remaining open-minded enough to grow and learn from others’ reactions to my work, both positive and negative. However, I was very lucky that my first published piece was on a subject I was extraordinarily passionate about. It certainly did not go viral, but over 3,000 people responded in some way, and I believe my perspective helped some of them in their own decision-making processes. Fame and fortune might be nice, but knowing you helped someone through a difficult time by sharing your own story–it just doesn’t get much better than that. On that note, thank you for continuing to share your stories for those of us just starting out on the writing path.

  18. Nevermind!

    Your article makes the point like a laser. We don’t create for the fame, fortune or any outside recognition (even though we do crave for SOMEONE to notice us!), but because it is part of the energy that gave us life in the first place. Eagles fly. Dogs bark and scratch. Fish swim. And artists bring forth and make physical what before only existed in their heads. The only lasting satisfaction we get is the momentary feeling of completeness that sweeps over us when we are finally finished creating.

    “And God looked at all he had made and behold it was very good.” Imageo dei. He created so we create.

  19. i love how you wrote it from the heart 🙂 btw.. how did you know how many shares you got? what tool are you using? i’m using http:/ it’s great, counts everything.. i’m also sending screenshots of it to publishers 🙂 what do you use?

  20. This is great information and so true. Whenever a blog post of mine does well, I am exceedingly aware of how infrequently I return to blogs that had “viral posts.” I go back to the blogs that are providing new content every day.

  21. “success” wasn’t up to her.

    No. Her job was to show up.

    Fame, accolades and praise – likes, retweets and subscriptions can’t sustain you and yet so easily we can slip into them being a motivation to produce. I’ve never really allowed myself to be just fulfilled by the creative process and instead have looked to the response of others to validate whether I had created anything worthy at all. I agree with you Jeff, “why artists kill themselves, why they get depressed after a monumental success and never create anything again.” I think this is probably true in many areas of life not just with writing – but very impactful truth. I’m reading the Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer and she talks a lot about being artistic and creative…she talks about the collaboration of the artist to share their work, how the artist wants to be seen, to be known and the vulnerability to put your stuff out there, take the risk. I’m learning that as a writer, I am artistic and creative and from that place I’m almost compelled to share what I’m learning, seeing, experiencing in the hope that it touches someone else and builds them up. But at the end of the day I’m not responsible for the response. I guess my job is just to show up. Really thank you so much for this post Jeff!

  22. Thanks Jeff! I remember watching Gilbert’s TED Talk a while back and totally understanding what she meant. I’m glad you found it inspiring as well! Thanks for sharing your vision with all of us.

  23. It’s teasing when I see the blog getting quickly shared by individuals that find me, but never enough to build a viral wave.

  24. This is great information and so true, thank you Jeff for this, I found this very encouraging!

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  26. Thanks for making sense out of this. One of my blog post is going viral as of writing this, which is the reason why I’m here. You’re right-business as usual. For me I’m not getting my hopes too high as I know this phenomenon will last only a few days. I’m just gonna move on and write my next post.
    Great association in the case of depressed artists-it all made sense.

  27. I actually just started taking snapchat vids a few days ago; just of me being me, it’s not braking the Internet or anything; but for me it’s just about being able to laugh, I love making people laugh!! I have an “affliction” that; doing these little vids is helping me channel. I’m just having fun and in about 24 hours 1.4K views. But I’m not after views I just want laughs. Cheers, thank you for this article, I feel inspired!

  28. Hey Friends
    I have gone through your post bro its really amazing to go throgh thanks alot.I am also trying to do the same amazing work
    Here are some great entertaining viral videos that i have collected just for you 🙂
    Keep watching
    Have a good day !

  29. I went viral this year on a custom product i create. It was damaging and expensive. Im almost done with finishing all the orders. The endless creative ways i had to keep them retained. The hard work… I show up everyday knowing i have to stay relevant next year also. And keep working and creating because its what I do. I keep my mind on surviving through the madness. I lost a few customers…but most are making repeat orders. With only me steering the ship and the only artist I’d say I did an awesome job
    Just worried that I won’t have that happen to me again…I’m just thankful and say to myself at least it happened to me once. Not a lot of people can say that

  30. A debt of gratitude is in order for partaking in subtle element. Your website is a motivation!

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