Close your eyes and write: Writing, authenticity and audience

During my time spent teaching College English, I began each semester by writing on the board some wise words from Peter Elbow, best known for his influential work in writing theory, practice, and pedagogy.

In Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience, he writes…

Even when we write, alone in a room to an absent audience, there are occasions when we are struggling to figure something out and need to push aside awareness of those absent readers.

I wanted each of my students to read those words as they began the semester…I wanted them to write without worry.

Twice in recent months, I’ve heard friends speak of the role their readership plays in what they write.

Twice, I’ve been saddened to think that what is inside of them…what needs to come out…is being silenced by what they worry their readers will think.

Tonya, who writes over at Letters for Lucas, broke my heart this week with her words in her post That Girl

For those of you that have stuck in there with me, thank you! I appreciate all of the support, virtual hugs and kind comments. I pour my heart and soul into my posts and they are very therapeutic. I know in my case, the way my parents died is very unusual and part of the way I grieve is by writing. It has helped me survive something that could have dropped me to my knees for the rest of my life.

Loss is a part of life and while for my parents it was too instant and too soon, there will never be anything I can do to change it, so I write about and remember and heal a little bit each day.

Sherri, another dear friend, who writes Old Tweener, a beautiful and heartfelt blog, wrote about her son leaving for college last year in Family Tree. She expressed to me, after writing that piece, that she was concerned that her readers might stay away if she wrote too often about working through her emotions.  Then, like an echo of that concern, several months ago she received some feedback from a reader that she just couldn’t read her words anymore because they made her too emotional.

Both of these women write from a place of honesty.

They write to process, to heal, to express themselves.

And what do I say to the fact that they lost readers based on what they write about? I say let those readers go…they weren’t meant for you. Write from your heart and new readers will come…readers who want to hear your authentic voice, not a voice you’ve altered to please others.

I was told last year that I should talk about my father less, that I shouldn’t share so much of my grief with others because by doing so, I’m defining myself by my loss.

I cannot pretend that his death isn’t a huge part of who I am today. I cannot pretend that I’m not still grieving his loss through each and every stage of my life.

So, when I feel words tumbling around in my brain, needing to be expressed, that is what I will do.

That is what I encourage each of you to do.

Because once we’ve lost the honesty and authenticity in our words, we may as well close our laptops and call it a day.

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. –Maya Angelou



  1. yuliya

    Yes this. People connect with authenticity, real people that is. Those are the kind you want reading your words.

    Now can we turn in into an inspirational poster that I can take everywhere I go?

  2. midwestmomments

    Wonderfully said. And I think it's also important to note, that sometimes commenters are trying to help because they are concerned about the poster, but they need to remember that what is posted is not the writer in her entirety. It's only a slice of who she is. And sometimes, the part that needs to be shared here, is the part that suffers because she has to keep it together out there in the "real" world.

  3. Ash

    I'm flabbergasted by people being turned off by too much authentic emotion. Maybe it brings to mind too much of their own pain, I thoroughly understand that, but to just not like emotion? It's what makes me fully appreciate the writer whom I may never meet face to face. Another human trying to make it in this world. All good.

  4. Life As Wife

    My song lately has been about my mother (fatal disease) and tough times. I'm sure my posts seem Debbie-downer-ish but that is how I'm coping when I can barely hang on.

    Every blogger should keep singing their song. After all, if they don't sing it who will?

    Great post!

  5. aka_vinobaby

    Writing is therapy. Whether a writer is expressing anger, revealing heartbreak, working through stages of grief, or sharing unfettered joy, we should respect their words and feel privileged they are granting us this peek into their lives.

    It takes a strong person to stand before the world, naked, in all but words.

  6. julie gardner

    I am stunned. I can't imagine either Sherri or Tonya losing a loyal reader. In fact, I would expect people visit their blogs to get the special ingredient that each of them provides…

    Although the blogs I read of course touch on a variety of subjects, I know their writers. I am seeking something specific when I go there. Something I need. Something I want.

    And if I don't, I don't visit that day.

    I have worried, on occasion, about writing something light or self-deprecating when there is real suffering in the world; I've been reluctant to talk about my good fortune when others are struggling.

    But that is my authenticity. And I hope readers know what to expect when they drop by. If it's not the right tone for their day, they can catch me on another. Or not.

    I can't be someone other than myself. And if I can brighten someone's day? All the better.
    I hope, too, that my friends would rally and support me in the event that I am struggling. Because inevitably we all face challenges.

    All of us.

    So thanks for posting this, Nichole. It's an important reminder that we do no one any favors by holding back our true selves.

    Especially ourselves.

  7. Elizabeth

    A simple, "Thank you!"

  8. This, Nichole. Exactly this. My heart hurt for Tonya when I read her post, but this helps a little. We, as bloggers, talk so much about community and friendship, and what is friendship if not sharing our hearts, both the joy and the sadness? You said it more eloquently than I ever could. They ate lucky to count on you as a friend. xoxo

  9. The three of you are wonderful writers and should never feel silenced. As I shared with Tonya, I lose readers every time I write about infertility. But then I get an email from someone struggling, and I remember that that's what's important. In healing our souls we help others. If that's too much for some to handle, then let them walk away.

  10. Kimberly

    Yes, exactly this. My heart broke for Tonya when I read her post. I am drawn to the blogs that write from their hearts, just like you do. If a writer can be honest, open, and sincere, so much emotion pours through their words. I feel like I am right there with them. This community is about friendship, and what type of friend would we be if we couldn't lean on others when we need to open our hearts?

  11. Kelly

    This makes me so sad to know readers were lost. Both Tonya and Sherri are fabulous writers. It is the readers loss, not theirs.

    If we did not write in our true voice, no one would listen anyway.
    Keep singing. All of you. Your song is beautiful, even if it is sad sometimes.

  12. Tayarra

    Love this. Maybe it will inspire me to write more.

  13. alishayarbrough

    and sometimes your words hit exactly where they need to…in this case, my heart. this is my struggle in blogging. not stats, sponsors, conferences…but will people respond, be revolted, care, relate to any of my "real" words. it comes out anyway, but it's my struggle. thank you for this. thank you thank you thank you.

  14. Alison l MWT

    Nichole, thank you for this. So many of us hesitate to hit publish when we write something we just know, might turn someone away. But you're right, those readers are not meant to be. The ones that are meant to be, will come. And come to love and embrace the honesty and heart that goes into these posts that are difficult but necessary to write.

    Tonya, Sherri, you're both beautiful writers. Do not ever change your voice.

  15. twertman

    Thank you for writing this, my dear sweet friend. I needed to hear it. xoxo

  16. @librajenn

    I love this. And I agree so much.

  17. Arnebya

    We have to be ourselves, first and foremost. Is it weird (it's weird; I know, you don't have to agree) I sometimes purposely look for loss posts/blogs? I feel like sometimes those at their most vulnerable are the ones who need us to bear witness, need us to live through it with them (vicariously or not) and let them know it is OK to just be yourself. Where you are at this moment is where I am, reading it, "living" it with you.

  18. I totally agree. I worry very, very little about what people will think when I address the hard, personal stuff. I write that for me, and for the others who find solace in it.

    I love that Tonya shares that piece of her, and while I've always loved Sherri and her writing I definitely loved – and identified with – her more when she started writing about her son.

  19. Mrs. Wonder

    Agree for the little inspirational poster, would be great for Pinteret!
    This is a beautiful post, and you took me back to my creative writing class, although I doubt you were as obsessed with the X-Files as my aging hippie creative writing teacher was. Thank you.

  20. Cate

    Write On!!! Thanks for posting. Good point about letting readers go and new ones that want honest, authentic writing will follow. As readership of my blog has been increasing, I have started second guessing some of my more opinionated posts. One of my favorite things about my blog is that it is MINE. Thanks again for reminding me.

  21. yuliya

    I was totally thinking Pinterest too!

  22. Great post and a great reminder to us all. One of my favorite quotes is “Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.” ~ Cyril Connolly

  23. Courtney

    This might be one of the most powerful and important messages any writer can learn. I had someone email me and say that perhaps i should stop dwelling on the trouble I've been having getting pregnant. That I should stop venting month in and month out when there are so many that have it worse. I think pouring out your heart and being honest in your emotions is what makes a powerful writer and a successful blogger. I would rather have readers who care about what I have to say that those who would rather I write to please them.

  24. Teri

    I simply loved this. ;0)

  25. tracy@sellabitmum

    I completely and agree and love this. xo

  26. Jessica

    Can I wear this blog post as a shirt, maybe a tattoo? I could not agree more. Writing has been my lifeline, my LIFELINE, over the past four years. I have no idea where I would be without it, probably in bed more often than not. I'm sure there are people who don't like to hear about my grief all the time and I have thought of that before I publish many times but honestly I have to write through my feelings or I'm not being true to myself or my readers. Okay, I will stop writing now because this comment could get really long. Love to you.

  27. Yes. Yes. Yes.
    When we write from that sweet spot in our souls and our hearts, not only are we healing ourselves but we are healing others.
    The words that flow from a place of honestly and rawness are what draws people to listen. Those make the best posts and blogs in my opinion. I cling to every. single. word.

  28. JD @ Honest Mom

    Fantastic post. This is exactly why I just abandoned my old blog and started anew at Honest Mom. I need to be able to write freely and not worry about being judged by others in my small town. That worry affected so much of what I wrote. It's hard starting over but I know as long as I am authentic, the readers and commenters who like my style and content will come. :-)

  29. Kelly Tirman

    Totally agree with this. However do to the nature of the medium it is hard to separate the two. And honestly, because it is hard to separate that is the key ingredient that makes blogging and social media so powerful.

  30. Kelly Tirman

    You are a writer. It is what you do. If they don't like it because it is too honest or raw, there are plenty of blogs they can read written by PR and Marketing minds. Your blog is part of your process. Thanks for letting us into the mind and heart.

  31. alexandra

    So very true: writing saves my life daily.

    I get comments I have to delete: people that think I'm serious with my posts.

    I write humor b/c it saves me. I need the laughing on a daily basis with my depression.

    When I do post something serious…since I am clinically diagnosed with depression–I'll receive comments of "stick to humor" and " I thought this was supposed to be a humor blog."


    Don't need them back again.

    I know some humor writers stick only to humor..

    And I've often thought of a separate page on my blog for non humor posts.

    And of a blog only for surviving depression in a world that's made for the thick skinned.

    I don't know.

    I do know that I love Old Tweener, and I wish she posted more often on working through her emotions.

    My oldest will be leaving in two years, and I feel that if I can see her make it through, then I don't have to clutch at my soul with such fear at the thought of my boy going.

    So, to Old Tweener: more words from your heart, please, because…I know some feel they have to choose their genre, but I love the blogs that have it all.

    Thanks for the space here, Nicole.

    Hope all is going well.

  32. Sherri

    What a sweet comment…thank you for that!

  33. Sherri

    Oh Alexandra, I always know you are listening! How crazy is it that while people may enjoy our writing they at times want us to just conform?

    I love that your humor is what gets you ticking. Always funny, and when you do a post that's serious? It means that much more…

  34. Four words for you, lovely person…

    You. Are. My. Hero


  35. KeAnne

    Ah, good ol' Peter Elbow! Takes me right back to my English major roots :-) I completely agree. If we are to be authentic and honest, that means writing about the bad along with the good. I worry about this too because there are some crappy things going on in my life and my blog has been a bit of a downer right now. But that's my life right now & I'm not going to hide that. If that loses me readers, then those were not right for me to begin with.

  36. Beautiful. Thank you for saying this. I'm a freelance writer by profession, and so much of that is about writing to the audience or the editor. That overlaps into my blog, as there is incredible pressure to write to a specific topic or niche in order to get more readers. I've been told not to blog about politics or religion as readers don't want to hear that. Even the two topics of my blog – writing and motherhood – should, according to some experts, become two blogs. Yet I am me; I am a writer and a mother; I am Catholic and sometimes (but not very often) I have political opinions, and I want to share myself with my friends, family and blog readers. And I appreciate honesty from the women whose blogs I read as well. One woman has blogged almost exclusively about her daughter's heart problems and hospital visits, yet I keep going back to read because her story – the struggles of her family – tugs at my heart. So be yourself – in real life and in the blogosphere.

  37. Megan -Best of Fates

    I don't think I actually edit myself because of my readers, but I definitely do think about it when I post something that could get a negative backlash, just to prepare myself.

  38. John

    This world, be it "the real world" or "the blogging world" runs on authenticity.

    Sometimes, it's truly difficult to read something that isn't lighthearted – you need to invest yourself, emotionally. Some of us, well, we actually are looking to do just that . . . and that's why I hope there will always be posts like Tonya's & Sherri's around.

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