August 8th, 2011 / 11:19 am
Craft Notes

Would You Keep Writing If No One Was Ever Going To Read Your Work Ever Again?

Some thoughts on this question.

1. When posed to a musician friend of mine, he thinks for a while and looks serious and sad, like we’ve just seen a small animal die. Then he says, “I think I would still make music but it would sound much different.” Then he says, “Lets go get ice cream.”

2. We talk a lot about the work being the reward in itself and that’s true because I think having the time to write can feel sometimes really exciting, but it’s also really grim and lonely and makes me angry, morose, anxious, etc. And yet I keep doing it and I feel like my life depends on whether or not I get enough time to work in any given week.

3. One of the most awesome things ever is finding out that a story you published was read and enjoyed and understood by someone, but we don’t talk about the underside to this– that others may have read it and felt disconnected, isolated, ambivalent. I don’t think you can help but think about those people sometimes and feel sad about it.

4. The publishing high lasts about fourteen seconds for me. Then the anxiety about all the stuff I haven’t finished comes back.

5. For the five-ish hours I ideally get to spend writing, I get about twenty cumulative minutes of sincere satisfaction with a specific sentence, passage or phrase and the rest of the time is spent being mildly irritated that I can’t get that sincere satisfaction to stay.

6. Maybe people who make shit really just want to be alone and then for people to later come along and appreciate the product of their aloneness. Maybe this is a way to confirm that being human and necessarily isolated in your own body and mind is ok.

7. Everything I wrote from when I was a little kid (maybe 7) until I was about 20 was for myself. I didn’t want anyone to read it at all. It was its own reward. I wanted to become a psychologist and I never wanted to publish anything. Then I started wanting to publish stuff and then the writing became much more anxious and every paragraph seemed crucial to something.

8. I would keep writing if no one was ever going to read what I had written but I think I’d have to find some other outlet for myself– some creative endeavor or occupation that made me feel like I was reaching someone with something authentic. Writing would become a totally different habit, and I’d probably write less. I would need to read more, too.


  1. Juan Murillo

      Great post. Worth serious consideration, perhaps as an ethics to writing.

  2. Benjamin Grislic

      Number six. Yep.

  3. Paul Jessup

      These days I feel like no one ever will read my writing again. And in that, I find freedom to say fuck all and write what i want.

  4. Courtney Thom Vance

      Good shit right here. I agree with number one especially, that if no one were reading, the creative product would be much different. Because while I do write for me, I like to entertain and reach people. It’s a performance. It’s dancing alone in your room verses in a club.

      And yes, always, let’s go get ice cream.

  5. Rohin Bhargava

      I feel writing is personal. I don’t care if anyone reads or my writing gets published. Knowing that I can be in a world I created is a satisfaction in itself. If somebody wants to be a part of it more than welcome but I don’t seek them.

  6. Dawn.

      Interesting question. I would definitely continue writing, but I assume all of the anxiety around it would go away. I’m only anxious when I’m not writing. I feel restless, crabby, disappointed in myself whenever I’m not writing. When I’m actually writing, that all melts away. It’s hard to explain how it feels. It’s fucking fabulous. I think that’s one of the two reasons I write–that feeling. The other reason being a variation on #6. Wanting to be alone and wanting to connect with someone. I think we all just wanna have our cake and eat it too.

  7. Lincoln Michel

      There is definitely a disconnect between two ideas all writers/artists are supposed to have: that writing is all about communication / connecting with other people and that writing should be totally personal and that you should write even if you would never be read.

      The idea of making art that no one would ever seen (literally no one, not even a few trusted friends or peers) seems odd to me. I’ve never kept a diary either though.

  8. Trey

      Forever? Forever ever? For*ever* ever?

      I think the noble answer is for the writer to say that he or she would keep writing. But I think I wouldn’t keep writing if no one was ever, really ever, going to read it. I like the idea that what I write could be part of a chain that leads to great art. Like probably my poems won’t be heralded as important art now or in 200 years, but if person B is reading my poems and writes poems that on some level respond to them just like I’m writing poems that on some level respond to poets I like, and person C responds to person B, etc. there’s a chance to be a part of a poetic conversation that leads to something good. That is a huge reason for me to write and publish poems.

      If I knew no one was going to read them, I’d do something else. probably drink more.

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  10. c2k

      Sell your stock now!

  11. Shannon

      I would keep writing. Nobody read it when I started and frankly I don’t feel right when I’m not writing at all. Being published is pretty much just gravy at this point for me being that I am neither famous nor infamous and I don’t get paid a lot.

  12. bitchmade

      “write like no one is ever going to read this” is damn good advice, i think. 

  13. Samuel Sargent

      A large portion of my writing has never been read by anyone else. Because I’m too lazy to send it to anyone. It’s currently sitting in one of two boxes beside this desk. Feel free to come over and read it if you want, but only when I’m getting up to poop so I don’t have to make a special trip across this tiny apartment just to unlock the door..

      If, when I was younger, I’d had people around to regularly read my shit, I’d have had little desire to create it in the first place. (These days, I do have people around who will read it, I’m just too lazy to dig it out of the box. (The last piece I completed was done on a typewriter.))

  14. Pacost4

      No one reads my work now, anyway.

  15. alanrossi

      to me, the key to this whole thing is here: dance with people as though you are dancing alone. 

  16. Guestagain

      Just try to stop writing though, or thinking about writing, or reading about writing, this is not possible, no matter how we rationalize or reorient our lives and no matter how much money is made or not, and no matter who is or is not reading, writing will remain in the background itching and tugging at you

  17. Ethan

      “6. Maybe people who make shit really just want to be alone and then for people to later come along and appreciate the product of their aloneness. Maybe this is a way to confirm that being human and necessarily isolated in your own body and mind is ok.”
      Well said. Great piece.

      It terrifies me to think that the stuff I write (and rewrite, and rewrite) and even the stuff I get published will never be read. And I worry that I’ll die before getting my best stuffed published, and then all those words will rot away on my hard drive, will die with me on my desktop.

      I do get some joy from reading my own unpublished writing, the stuff that keeps getting rejected or that I just don’t want to submit for whatever reason. Knowing I’ve stitched some sentences into stories gives my life meaning, but knowing other people appreciate those stories gives my life a whole lot more meaning.

  18. Mike Woods

      I have gotten a lot out of people reading and commenting and forcing me to rewrite and think about things in different ways and change sentences and improve voice. I guess if I had an instinct for that as good as any other reader’s fresh eyes then it wouldn’t matter, but I think that richness from others’ experience is too good.

  19. James Yeh

      I liked this post a lot, Catherine. But do we, ourselves, the writers, count? If nobody, not even me, could later read what I’ve written, I think writing would start to seem pointless and arbitrary. (Then again, so much of life is! Except, in certain cases, writing.) I write with an ideal reader in mind: myself, or somebody like me. If that person couldn’t read it after I was done, I’d find something else that would allow me to do that. I honestly feel like I’d just stop. It’d be besides the point of why I write.

  20. James Yeh

      If we’re to take “nobody reading your writing” to the entire “nobody seeing any of the art/shit you made” level, then I guess I’d take up something non-artistic that still does, or aspires to those things–to connect, remember, imagine, feel things–like a psychologist (or a shaman) or something.

  21. Carl

      man, you guys have a lot of typos on here.

      its, dude. not it’s.

  22. Dudebroman

      You are supposed to capitalize the first letter in a sentence, dude.

  23. Mj


  24. Mj


  25. alanrossi

      holy shit, did i really write that?  it sounds like it came from an inspirational poster with the word creativity at the bottom and a picture of a person dancing in crowd.

      anyway though, this is a good post, and i suppose i agree with my earlier day fever-laden self (an excuse!): just either write or don’t, i say.   

  26. selena anderson

      nobody knows what they would do.

  27. Catherine Lacey

      Good eye, Carl. In the interest of saving your time, I should tell you that my mom, a grammar ninja, texts me each time she catches one of my elementary typos, usually within minutes of the post going up. That said, this is a blog and the immediacy combined with the fact that you did not pay for this content means you’re going to see errors.

      At the same time, typos bother me a little too. (By the way you’ve got capitalization errors and sentence fragments in your grammar policing.)

  28. Mj


  29. Werdfert

      i sell my stories in booklet form on the streets of philadelphia. sometimes people will read the whole booklet without buying it. the last time this happened, the middle-class mom-type said, “it left me with a somewhat empty feeling.” i guess this is why i let people read my booklets without buying them, because i get feedback. otherwise i have no idea if anyone anywhere ever is reading anything i’ve written.

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  32. Marcus Speh

      thanks for the thoughtful post. 

      your point on comparing the time it takes to make it vs. the time the high from feedback lasts never occurred to me before. i suppose that i don’t believe i only write for the readers who read my work but that my work (stories, thoughts, creations, rants, whatever) join something larger, a field if you will, a secret canon of creations, a tapestry woven by everyone who creates—writers and non-writers. the pleasure to have contributed to that and have done it with others, nameless ones, but many, many others, does last a lifetime, i believe. this may of course be highfalutin’ hokey, but there, i’ve said it and you’ve read it.

      amanda deo quoted you over at thunderclappress where i left a longer reply, too. 

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  34. Henry_fry

      number 6 is seriously supreme. But I absolutely agree with all your other points as well!

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