How to Write When No One’s Watching | The Blank Page

Will you stop writing because no one is reading? Or will you keep writing until someone does?

The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.

Each note my violin makes bounces off the furniture and comes back to me. There is no one around to hear the music — not because I don’t want to be heard, but because practice is lonely. It has always been a solitary activity, not by choice, but by necessity.

I play to an empty room. I always play to this audience of walls.

We all want our efforts to be known. We want our notes to be heard, our words to be read. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with me filming each of my practice sessions and posting them on YouTube. Plenty of people do it. The fear of being judged — or playing to the void — isn’t the reason I refrain.

Perhaps what so many of us beginners miss out on is the benefit — and the beauty — of learning when no one’s watching. Of taking advantage of these quiet, audience-free moments to play all the wrong notes, work through the snags in our techniques, and put out the best possible work we can when we’re ready. If we’re ever ready.

All writers are afraid of making mistakes. So why not make all the mistakes you want and/or need to while your “view count,” so to speak, is stuck at zero?

Writers are people, and as people, we generally don’t love the idea of falling flat on our faces in public, or looking “stupid” in front of people we are desperately trying to impress. This is the reason so many writers are terrified of sharing their work with the masses, especially in the beginning (but later in their journeys as well — not everyone is fully immune to this particular form of anxiety, and that’s OK). They want their work to look perfect so that they don’t feel like they’ve somehow failed.

I’m not immune to this either. I still cringe when people point out typos in my blog posts (though I do appreciate it at the same time — thank you, keep doing it). But I’ve also found that the best way to desensitize yourself to the probability you’re going to mess up is to mess up a bunch of times in the privacy of your own writing space.

The same way I was able to practice my bow hold in the very early weeks of learning the violin, doing it wrong and getting frustrated until I finally figured it out and it stopped acting as a hurdle, writing without an audience can help you learn patience and allow yourself the permission you need to do things wrong over and over until you finally figure out how to do them correctly — or, often in the case of writing, “better.”

The only way to “get read” is to “have written.” Which, yes, sounds pretty obvious on the surface. But you’d be surprised how many aspiring writers stop writing after just a few months or even several weeks because they’ve done everything they know to do to get their work “out there” with zero results.

Despite the fact that growing an audience takes time — I still have a fairly small audience and this blog has existed for 11 years — it’s very typical for more readers to find you the more you’ve written. Mostly because the more you write, in general, the better your writing becomes. It’s usually subtle — you don’t notice the difference outright. But that’s why I preach consistency. Not daily practice, necessarily, just “regular” writing time. Whatever that means for you.

You need to practice. You need that experience. People can tell who has been writing for a long time and who hasn’t, most of the time. And most of the time, they’re going to gravitate toward the writer who has been in the game longer. You don’t need to catch up to them. You just need to build on your own experience over time.

You’re not doing this for other people … not yet. It’s understandable that some of your motivation for wanting to become a writer comes from wanting to share your work with other people — and yes, even the hope that you’ll receive a few pats on the back for your effort. There’s nothing wrong with this. Everyone wants to showcase what they can do, even those who are afraid to do so. Everyone wants to be known for being good at something.

But there is value in being able to do what you’re good at first and foremost for yourself — perhaps even more so than you know. Because there will be moments, especially in the beginning, when there isn’t anyone around to hear you play (read your work). Will you stop writing because no one is reading? Or will you keep writing until someone does — leaning on the fact that you love to write, and doing it makes you feel whole?

You have to build that foundation now, or else you’ll risk your entire tower of dreams crumbling before your very eyes. You have to be able to write for no reason other than it’s the thing you want to do.

I would love for someone to be able to listen to me play my violin someday. But I don’t play because I need other people to hear me. I play because it fills me with a kind of satisfaction, a sense of warmth not many other things can.

For many people, writing is their warmth, their satisfaction. We would all love to publish a novel that everyone reads. But even in the moments everything we write stays on our hard drives and never meets another’s gaze, we have to feel satisfied. It has to be enough. Otherwise, we’ll run out of reasons to keep going.

And in the beginning, when it feels like you’re writing stories to no one, you need every reason you can grasp to keep writing. Find those reasons to hold onto, and you’ll never be able to stop telling stories.

Just starting out as a writer or returning from an extended hiatus? Let me know how I can help. Just drop a comment below with your questions/concerns — I am here to serve.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.

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