How to Write like No One is Watching

How to Write like No One is Watching

I sat there, my hands edging towards the keyboard… but I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. I felt that as soon as I tapped out a few faltering words, any hope of perfection would be gone forever.

Your opening won’t be strong enough. Why would anyone read this anyway? How could you think that THIS was worth writing down?

Being a writer isn’t just about knowing how to construct a great sentence or how to format a blog post so that readers can engage easily. Being a writer is about sharing your thoughts, ideas and experiences with the world.

And that can be a pretty daunting task.

Traditional print markets like magazines and books have a long time lag between initial composition and final publication – the online world moves much faster.

The post you write at 9am might be out there for all to see by 3pm. That ebook you’re frantically finishing off this week could be launched and on sale next Monday.

No wonder you freeze up when you sit down to write.

So what do you do? Give up? Turn to something easier and safer – like writing in your private journal or working on the novel you’ve been fiddling with for a decade?

You could.

Or you could take a deep breath and write like no one is watching. Here’s how:

Step #1: Find a Safe Place to Write

Your current writing environment probably isn’t exactly dangerous. I assume you’re not sitting in a tree with your laptop while a pack of hungry wolves snap at your ankles.

But do you feel truly safe where you write?

I can’t bring myself to write if anyone’s looking at my screen. In fact, I can’t even write if there’s a possibility that someone might see the words I’m putting down. If I’m in a room with other people and have to write, I make sure I have my back to a wall.

For you, writing in a safe place might mean:

  • Working in a room where you can close the door and keep family/housemates away.
  • Working near disinterested strangers like coffee shop patrons rather than nosy colleagues
  • Surrounding yourself with other writers (try a meet-up or a library)
  • Using a notebook that you can shield with your arm instead of a wide-open laptop
  • Switching to a small or hard-to-read font to write (You can change it afterwards)

It doesn’t matter what your writing environment looks like. What’s important is that you feel as safe and secure as possible while you write.

You can’t write well if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder or feeling unsettled.

Step #2: Forget About the Reader

This might sound heretical, but when you’re in the throes of composition, you don’t want to keep thinking about your reader.

Yes, the reader matters. When you’re writing for your blog or your client or a magazine or a book, you need to target your work to a particular audience.

But you don’t need to constantly second-guess every single sentence that you write based on what your readers might think.

When writing, focus on getting the message out. Don’t worry about whether your readers will appreciate that off-colour joke or whether they’ll understand an unfamiliar dialect word – you can make decisions about whether to keep or discard those later on when you’re editing.

Write it the way you want to write. You might even surprise yourself – some of my most popular posts are ones that I thought readers wouldn’t like at all.

Step #3: Get in the Zone

Do you ever have writing sessions where words just flow from your fingers? When writing feels effortless? Most writers experience this from time to time – and it feels great.

If you’re anything like me, though, you’re not always in the writing zone. Often, you’re in the, “Hey, I wonder what’s happening on Twitter?” zone.

Getting in the zone could mean:

  • Having music on – or writing in complete silence
  • Closing your eyes briefly while you write (this only really works if you can touch-type…)
  • Writing as fast as you can, perhaps with a timer running
  • Using a writing prompt to warm up at the start of a session
  • Burning incense or scented candles
  • Wearing a particular t-shirt or hat – or your pyjamas

When you’re in the zone, you don’t feel self-conscious. You stop being so aware of yourself – you lose track of time, and the writing is all that matters.

Today, write like nobody’s watching. Write the piece that you don’t quite dare to start. Pick up a project that you set aside months ago. Find somewhere safe and comfortable, and stop worrying about your readers.

It’s just you and the words.

Now write.

Post by Ali Luke

Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach from the UK, with an accent to match. She blogs over at Aliventures: if you want to get more writing done, start with her post How to Write Thousands of Words Every Single Week.

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  1. “Often, you’re in the, “Hey, I wonder what’s happening on Twitter?” zone.” LOL – how did you KNOW?!

    It’s so easy to become self-conscious when writing. I find I’m at my most productive when I have something I really want to say. But for that to happen, I find I need inspiration. Sitting down at the same desk every day isn’t very inspiring. It becomes a rut and a chore. To ‘get in the zone’ I find I need to change my space (like playing music, as you suggest) or move my space and go somewhere else entirely.

    • I definitely find that moving to a new space can help me get out of a rut. I particularly like libraries (because then I feel honour-bound to work … too many years of conditioning as a student!)

  2. Great article!

    I think this post really helps people get through a very crucial problem which most bloggers have!
    Good job Ali!


  3. Yes. The noise. Online noise, and especially the noise that occurs between the ears. The key for me has always been to find a way to push all that aside.

    Music is particularly helpful, like using a favourite song to replace an irritating ear worm. Good old-fashioned pen and paper have been a huge help, and what time of day I sit down can make a huge difference. There are certain periods in the day that my writing brain just doesn’t work.

    That safe place is critical. Thanks for articulating it so well.

  4. Great post, Ali. Writing can be incredibly intimidating, especially when you’re a newbie in the blogosphere (like me!).

    I love that you mention to forget about the reader – I always feel like my best writing is done when I’m just writing exactly what I want and not thinking about how others will perceive it.

    Thanks again for your insights. Your posts are always incredibly helpful, entertaining and well written.

  5. Ali never fails to deliver. Reading your post is again always a pleasure and most especially this, since I’m quite new in writing and never really had much experience at it aside from the usual writing tasks in the Academe.

    Though I was like “Whaat???” on step 2, it proved to be quite true after fully reading it since if you think of your readers all the time, you would never hit that “Publish” button because you’ll be doing endless revisions. If you think too much, you’re bound to overdo it, hence just do Step 2!

    I easily get distracted so writing with music on is a definite “NO-NO!” for me. I tend to enjoy the silence since it helps keep me focused, though it’s sometimes good to start off with some music to get some inspiration or to get your creativity juices flowing.

    • I thought Step 2 might raise some eyebrows..! It’s often extremely helpful to keep the reader firmly in mind — but often not during the initial drafting stage.

      Writers seem to differ a lot on music vs silence. Most of the time, I stick with silence too. I can normally write with instrumental music on; anything with lyrics is tougher (I tend to want to sing along…) unless I’m *really* in the zone.

      • Yeah, I’m with Ali on the “think of your readers” – don’t do it! Write for yourself first, always. If it pleases your readers too, then great! (And it should. After all, they’re reading because they like what you’ve done so far, right?)

        Stressing over “what will THEY say? Will THEY like it?” is a sure path to mental blockage. Who’s THEY, specifically? And are they authorities on the subject that actually matter?

        Usually, the answer is no. Write for you. And have fun with it.

  6. I love the first statement. For years my co-workers all thought I was crazy. I couldn’t actually ‘write’ at work. I would gather, research, and test. But the writing, I did all of that at home. I can’t have people walking in and out of my office or sitting beside me chatting, and the most annoying thing was the microwave that sat right next to my cubicle where everyone gathered throughout the day. I have to be alone to write and edit. Haven’t been able to change that.

    It took me a long time to stop trying to be perfect on the first go. Now I create an outline of points I need to include and go. Then I set it aside for an hour to a day. Then I edit and post. Seems to work for me.

    • Not crazy at all! I’ve heard a lot of writers say that they really cannot write when someone’s watching (or even when someone *might* be watching).

      I find that an outline, then draft, then edit works well for me too. The outline is crucial — it’s easy to get stuck without it.

    • While many people like to think they can freehand… Freehand writing is for experts. And by experts, I mean real masters who’ve been doing it for a long, long time. (Even a bunch of experts could use an outline!)

      Outlining articles and blog posts ahead of time really fast tracks your success and keeps you focused on what you want to write. Pick one, and away you go!

      There’s also a sneaky trick about how to build an outline from just three sentences, but I can’t share that one yet – it’ll be revealed in my upcoming writing course!

  7. Nice one, Ali. I especially like the “Forget about the Reader” (for a moment) thought. Being a perfectionist, I just can’t do that often enough; it’s as if an imaginary cynical friend is sitting on my left shoulder, calling everything I write a piece of you know what. My writing coach called him “my inner critic” and advised me to embrace him. I understand, but…

    At one point, I found that the geezer goes away somewhere between the second and the third glasses of quality red. I’ve written my best chapters in that zone, I believe, which also almost didn’t need editing.

    What it takes, in my view, is to experience that liberating moment a few times. It’s like meditation; when you’ve achieved the perfect relaxation once, you’ll get there again faster. Eventually, even without firewater.

    • I’m a little wary of prescribing alcohol as a quick-fix, though it’s worked for many writers down the years… so hey, so long as it works for you and isn’t causing any health concerns, go for it.

      (Personally, the quality of my writing goes RAPIDLY downhill if I’ve got a glass of wine in hand!)

      The inner critic (I’ve also heard “inner editor”) can be incredibly helpful — just not at the drafting stage. Tell him to wait his turn, and let him have his say once you’ve got a draft and a red pen in hand. 🙂

  8. Hi Ali!

    Very uplifting post. I’ve learned a lot.

    Well I guess, I’m learning more about writing, most of the part. And reading your post here helps in motivating and empowering myself that I can do it. I’ve learned that writing a blog is somehow a bit different in writing for journals or mags. Connecting with the readers is just a must. So that’s tough at times. Putting balance for yourself and for your readers.

    But anyway, that’s for sharing your thoughts and ideas. May you keep inspiring us! 🙂


    • Thanks, Floricel, glad that this helped! And yep, it takes a while to get the hang of blog-style writing if you’re used to magazines or journals — I agree that connecting with readers is a must.

  9. Great article… I think it’s also best to LIVE like no one is watching.

    Just as with writing, that’s when your authenticity shines, and THAT makes all the difference.

  10. This blog post is just what the writing Dr. ordered. the perfect prescription. I am in this exact situation, almost as if you were just outside my window and watching my every move, every stroke of my keyboard. I feel like I am reaching to type the words, and as my shaky hands touch the keys the ideas in my head that were there just seconds ago just aimlessly walked out of my mind forever. The questions rush in exploding my mind asking will my readers read this, will I draw the following to my blog this week, fear, sweaty hands and nerves rightfully set in and I am not sure if I will be able to settle down and just get what I want to say out this time, then in the background is the sound of Disney movies that my daughter is watching which in itself is a complete distraction in itself. However, I still see the words that I wanted to write in my mind and make a second trip to the keyboard if only I could just tell it what I want it to do. Once I have some java and the afternoon settles in I am able to get something down. So thank you very much for this post, it really helped, and I even think I might bookmark it to come back to it when I get into one of these situations again.

    • Thanks Ritchie, so glad that this helped (and you’ve written a really powerful description there of how unsettling and even scary the writing process can be).

  11. I had to laugh at your title. My aweber account just came back from my last post and only 3 people opened and read it. So NO ONE IS Watching–and that’s the problem.

  12. I’m definitely one of those that can not, no way, write if anyone is looking at my screen. It just freezes me. Especially if it’s my husband who has a habit of pointing out the words I mistype the second I type them, even if I immediately back track to fix them. It drives me crazy! He thinks he is being helpful bless him but ….

    Today has been an ‘in zone’ day and I have managed to bring together 3 posts without too much stress. Tomorrow could be entirely different.

    Great post Ali. I thoroughly enjoy your writing and always hunt down your guest posts, as well as reading your blog. Keep up the great work!

  13. Having the right environment really goes a long way when it comes to being productive and feeling comfortable. I notice that I have a hard time writing around people I see everyday. I can ignore distractions from strangers much better than I can from those I know.

    Being in the right zone is also important. I remember being stuck in the twitter zone for a while, then on the what’s going on with everyone’s website but my own zone. LOL.

    Continued focus and the right environment are essential!

  14. I was, without realizing, not in the zone. And I have just realized I write better in my pj’s.

    And I mostly get stuck in the Tumblr zone, or the TV zone, which can be good for prompts, but not for actually getting on with the writing 😀

  15. Sometimes while writing I will look up and hours have passed. That is when I know I am in the zone. Music does help me.

  16. McPhizzle says:

    I completely agree. Getting in the zone definitely helps you create a better overall finished pieced through increased focus and determination.

  17. Joseoh Marthaler says:

    Music! If I want to write about love I put on a song that makes me remember that longing and sweetness (Colbie Caillat, Magic, currently). If I want to write about childhood adventure I put on a song that recalls hope and endless possibilities.


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