Write Like Nobody Will Read

Polish DancersDance like nobody’s watching,
Write like nobody will read.

These words darted into my monkey mind as I gazed at Christmas lights, thinking back to high school days when folk dancing was a favorite activity. A motley mixture of adults and teenagers gathered each week at the Rec Hall for a medley of line and couples’ dances from many nations. College kids home for Christmas made holiday dances especially festive.

There were never any lessons – you just picked the dances up as you went, with occasional pointers from old-timers. Any athletic ability in our family went to my sister and brother. I was one of those kids always picked last for whatever team was forming in P.E., so, although I loved the music and the dancing, I was never a picture of grace. On some level I knew this, but put it out of  mind. I was having fun. At least until the night Kelly gave me some startling advice.

“Quit trying to make like a ballerina,” she said with a sneer. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look?”

Ouch! Where’s the nearest hole? I fled to the ladies’ room to do battle with my Inner Critic.

Kelly was a couple of years older than I and home on break from college. She had studied ballet practically all her life, and she was good enough to turn pro. Undoubtedly watching my awkward attempts was painful for her, and tact had never been her strong suit. Perhaps she meant well, but her words stung. Fortunately she disappeared back to school, and I soon got over the humiliation and enjoyed dancing as much as ever, perhaps more.

I didn’t discount her message. After thinking it through, I did begin to relax into the music more, and seemed to move a bit more fluidly. If I was still a little awkward, so what? It didn’t seem to bother anyone but Kelly. We were there for the joy of dancing, not to put on a performance, and in general we were an accepting group.

Today as I recalled that horrific moment, I made the obvious connection to writing. There was a time when my writing was almost as awkward as my dancing. I have drafts of two short stories I wrote in 1978. They are utterly dreadful! I keep them as benchmarks for measuring progress. When I went to college I fell away from folk dancing, so I’ve had little opportunity to refine those skills. But I have continued writing for over thirty years now, and with lots of feedback, study and practice, I’ve made progress.

Today I often dance at home alone. I dance because I love to dance. I dance like nobody is watching, which is easy, because they aren’t. I write the same way. I write thousands of words nobody will ever see for every hundred I share. Maybe if I took up folk dancing again, I’d do better at it for all the private practice.

My advice for you: Forget the Kelly’s in life. Dance like nobody’s watching and write like nobody will read. If a Kelly wanders in, look for what you can learn and forget the rest.

Write now: about a Kelly experience in your life. How did you react? Did you shut down or keep slogging away? What did you learn then? What can you learn now for revisiting the event?

Image credit: Brendan Lally

10 comments :

Sarah Allen said...

What a fabulous mantra :) Its so true. I'm about to finish my very first novel, but that doesn't include the dozen of awful false starts that have been happening in my life for years. But we keep going and do it for the joy of it, right?

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

GRACE PETERSON said...

Ironically, exactly 5 minutes ago, I had a Kelly Moment in the form of a rejection email. It wasn't very nice either. She said "It's already been done before." Maybe but... okay whatever.

Thank you for your timely advice.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Sarah, absolutely. If we don't write for the joy of it, defining joy broadly enough to cover the tough stuff, readers are unlikely to become engaged with the story.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Oh dear, Grace. Call her Kelly for sure. James Bond has been done before too. If you subscribe to the school of thought that you have to collect 99 of those suckers before you score, you're that much closer.

BTW, do-it-yourself publishing is taking off, and doesn't have to involve a big cash outlay -- or even any. You do have options.

SuziCate said...

This is most excellent advice! This is also exactly how I shut up the inner critic and got through the November writing challenge. I wholeheartedly agree that not everything we write is meant to be read by others...and that which is we can edit!

Sharon Lippincott said...

SuziCate, I hope that much of what you wrote in November will be devoured by many eyeballs -- after you edit it. 2012 is the Year of the Memoir. You have twelve months to polish that stuff up.

Amber Lea Starfire said...

Sharon, all the time (it seems), in reference to the memoir I'm writing, I get the question, "Why should anyone care about your story?" As if because I'm not rich and famous my life has no interest or meaning. My answer? "I don't know. I only know I need to write it, and I believe that my story will resonate with others like me."

It's so important to have faith in oneself and one's work.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Omigosh Amber! I guess we can't always pick the people we talk to, but we can pick the people we pay attention to, and I know you know that. I can't wait to read your story. Hang onto that faith! 2012 will be the year.

kathleen said...

Sharon,
I love this advice! Right now, my Kelly moments have to do with getting past my inner critic as I move forward to shape all my vignettes into a story. I am so excited to be participating in the year of the memoir. It's time to keep dancing(writing)like nobody's watching. And I can relate to Amber's point about those agent questions "why would anyone be interested in my story? it's been done before" (I'll be pitching at Writer's Digest Conference in NYC in Jan)Well,darn, you haven't heard MY story yet!Thanks so much,Sharon,for inspiring me in this next step. Happy 2012!

Anonymous said...

wonderfully written...i imagine you dance wonderfully as well