One of the fastest ways to get creatively blocked and stalled in your writing is to imagine your audience–a swarm of anonymous readers, ex-partners, and your mom–all judging and jeering from the sidelines.
The fear of what people will think is a sneaky, slippery fear because it can muddy the waters of a genuinely beneficial intention: how do I write what’s real?
The thing is, though, if you are writing as though someone is reading over your shoulder, whether it’s your Ideal Reader or your bitchy ex-coworker, your focus is split and your writing is censored.
One of my first mentors put it this way: you have to kill your parents. Violent? Maybe. But imagining that my parents were no longer on Planet Earth was the key to getting very real and very honest in my writing. Before that, I was tap dancing an uncomfortable line between honesty and safety, between real artistic risk and people-pleasing. How this manifested in my writing was a bunch of pulled punches and a stifled, stalled process.
Writing like no one is reading allows you to say what you need to say, honestly, powerfully, and without reservation.
Which is what you need to do in order to truly serve your readers.
You’re benefitting no one by staying safe and playing nice. Hemingway wasn’t kidding when he said: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” I’m not saying this to scare you. I am saying it to remind you that your readers (who, generally speaking, are not your mom, your judgemental aunt, your chorus of ex-lovers) need you. They need what you have to say. And what you have to say was gathered and filtered through your unique experiences and perspective.
Your life. Your wisdom. Your story. Those things belong to you and you have every right to write about them. You get to turn your own dross into gold. No one else. And if your father has a problem with it? Well, as Anne Lamott says, he should have behaved better.
The point isn’t to write some tell-all exposé about your family’s deepest secrets, but that your writing it at its most powerful when you are not self-censoring in any way, when you can leave the jeering masses outside your locked door and write from a place of pure honesty and abandon. “Nice” writing doesn’t help or protect anyone–it’s just half-assed. True, committed writing has the power to transform lives.
That is why we read. And why we write.
Stories have sustained us for millennia. Uncensored writing has saved the lives of readers and writers alike. We all crave the truth. We hunger for the resonance of real, raw human experience. We read to find ourselves reflected in writing. We write to call out from the isolation of our lives and say, “I’m here.” I lived, I existed, and this is what I saw.
Forget what other people might think. Write the truth as you know it. Write with wild abandon. Write to save your own life. Write what you needed when you were floating out there in the deep, cold water, tossed about by the waves. Write yourself a rope.
What are some strategies you use to release self-censorship and fearing what other people will think? Share your experiences in the comments below.