Write As If No One’s Watching

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They probably aren’t.

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One of the best books on my infinite reading list is Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It by Steven Pressfield.

The title says it all.

Most writers want to fix it. Most desperately want their work to be read. Some build a business or life around it.

I’m no different, I guess. But I have an additional constraint I find myself fighting: there are certain people I’d love to know are “reading my sh*t”.

Yet I know they’re not.

I don’t quite bare my soul, but…

A personal blog is personal expression.

I’ve written a lot here and in a few other places. Many are snippets sharing aspects of myself; my experiences, my feelings, my opinions, my coping mechanisms, my processing death & loss, and more. It’s even part historical record.

It’s hypocritical, I know, but even though I claim to write for myself, I’m often disappointed at who’s not reading what I write.

Note, I’m not saying I’m disappointed at the number of people reading or not. It’s specific cohorts — friends and family — that I don’t hear from and don’t see on my mailing lists that bothers me.

Oh, there are a few friends and family on my lists (Hi!) but not nearly as many as I apparently want to see.

It totally shouldn’t matter. I’m not writing for them.

And yet.

Life is full for everyone

Rationally I totally get it; I really do. Everyone’s life is full. Not everyone wants yet-another-blog to read, another opinion piece to get irritated by, or yet-another-curated-newsletter to sort through. Besides, there are plenty of others much more qualified at all of those than I.

It’s a struggle I face myself. There are only so many hours in the day. There are only so many ways someone can spend the most valuable of all resources: time. Priorities matter, and it makes total sense that I’m not a priority.

It shouldn’t matter.

And yet.

Damn that ego, anyway

It’s my fragile ego, of course, that’s scared. If my friends don’t read my sh*t, are they really my friends?

Of course, they are.

But the ego worries. The ego’s still playing highschool popularity games. “Does so-and-so still like me?”

They do. They just have priorities other than reading every word that falls from your keyboard.

They can be your closest friends and just see your writing as a part of your life they choose not to interact with.

Kicking the ego aside

It’s not easy, but if you can convince your ego to shut the f up for a moment, something interesting happens.

It’s freeing.

There are techniques, of course, to build an audience. They’re important techniques, even, particularly if you’re attempting to build a business around your writing. (I see that writing as different than, say, a personal blog. In the case of a business you’re explicitly writing for a specific audience.)

Ultimately, though, it’s all still out of your control.

You write the words, you do the techniques, and set your work loose upon the world. What happens after that is out of your control. You may gain a small following or a large one. Your friends and family may jump on board, or not. There’s nothing you can do about it.

So, let it go.

Without the constraints of worrying about who is in the audience or how big it is, you can allow yourself to return to the goal more easily: writing for yourself.

Note that I said “you”. I’m still working on it all, myself.

Write. The. Words.

By writing for yourself you’ll have thought through issues in ways you hadn’t before. You’ll have taken ideas and formed them into (hopefully) coherent words.

They may be found later by others who need them, or for whom they resonate.

Or it may just mean you’ll be able to talk more effectively with the people you care about when you meet face to face.

It’s (not) all about me

It’s a struggle, to be sure. I still want my friends to read my sh*t, but that’s still all about me.

It’s wanting them to care about me more. It’s wanting them to read and agree with my opinions.

It’s a very selfish turn of a very personal act.

Letting go of the desire to be read, and the specific desired to be read by your friends and acquaintances remains a struggle.

What is the goal of writing? To be read? That’s out of your control.  Is it to process your ideas? That’s more realistic because it’s completely in your control. It’s something simultaneously hard to do, and yet important.

When you have no expectations of your audience, you have no constraints; no need to self-censor.

Write as if no one is watching.

Your results will be better for it.

5 thoughts on “Write As If No One’s Watching”

  1. When we lived in the Netherlands for a few years, I did just that. Every so often I’d write a piece about our travels or just about what was happening in town which was so different from our lives in the U.S. I’d mail the first paragraph to a bunch of people with the link to the rest. Some wrote back, some didn’t. But I had a ball doing it and now, about 13 years after our return home, I go through it occasionally and have great remembrances. My favorite is the one call Tijuana Jail.

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  2. Hi Leo,

    I know just how you feel. When I moved to Ecuador from Woodinville nearly 6 years ago, I continued a newsletter I had been sending to opted-in friends and family for years before the move. Some were local, including family and others were in different parts of the world.

    The feedback was generous until I was a great distance away physically and curiously, psychologically. I heard from fewer and fewer. But, those who remained tuned-in were faithful readers so I have continued to write about my Ecuador adventures. It is not a travelogue, however. It is more about the people here and the culture. I educate myself, I think, as I ponder the differences and the similarities and then write about them. So, I will say that I write for myself and it has helped me roll with things and avoid doing the “gringo thing” as my son describes a tendency of foreigners here to set everybody straight who does things differently—roughly most of Ecuador. (By the way, the term is not considered rude here, unlike in Mexico.)

    I had not noticed you have this blog. As for writing: I read every word of your other one and thank you many times for saving my hash.

    Speaking of computers, recently I had quite an experience. I bought a desktop built for an acquaintance who lives in a large city. She uses her laptop for her online English language classes for kids in China. She thought a desktop would be good to have too. Later, she thought better of the idea and advertised the desktop on a website called, Gringo Post. I recognized her phone number and called to ask about it. “Do you have the product key?” She did not but she called the man and got it. I bought the computer.

    The computer was slow. She later said her laptop is also so she didn’t pick up on that when she used the new desktop. I set it up with an ethernet cable that was ancient so I ordered a new one. It made no difference. The screen showed the watermark, “Activate Windows” but the product key did not work to do it. Windows 10 was working despite that until I got a blue screen that said, “Your computer needs repair.” Basically, no operating system associated…” Then, use recovery media to boot the machine, etc. ‘That did not exist. I had not loaded much of anything.

    A local knowledgeable friend got in and was able to activate Windows 10. During the inside exploration, he discovered that the guy installed a Windows 7 (2011) processor on the machine. “Muy antigua” (very old), sez he. I let the seller know, as information, which she appreciated. She didn’t like the guy, she reported after the fact. Oh great. She had no paperwork of any kind, including a receipt. Why she went forward with him I will never know. So, I surmise he didn’t want any record of income. The corker was when she asked him how to set her laptop for use with wifi he said he could do that for her “only 35.00.” She discovered how to do it herself, which was easy peasy.

    So, the desktop is working well, although it loads programs slowly. I aim to call the builder and speak calmly and blandly as I recount the internal evidence of his shady dealings. I have a list of details. How many others has he deceived? And so it goes…

    Take care, Leo.

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