Have you ever lived through a moment when your writing went dormant? One morning, you wake up and realize you need a sweater. Next thing you know, you’re unpacking your parka and wondering where all the wildflowers went. Or if they’ll ever be back.
The worst part? There’s no calendar where you can neatly cross off squares until you reach the first day of spring. I know because I once went 5 years without sharing my writing. The leaves dropped off like this:
No more hosting writer’s groups with clinking pitchers of iced white tea and the latest chapter of my novel. No more family writing circle with critiques traversing oceans with love, encouragement. No more blog about life in a new country, nourishing old friendships and forging new ones. No articles submitted for publication, no guest posts. No more reaching out to others through writing.
Today, each time I send a shoot up to the light and share my writing, it feels like a romp through the dandelions. Part of me just wants to forget all about that dormant period.
But when we struggle, we learn.
You see, all that time underground, I was writing--for an audience of one. Myself. And I’ve learned this:
As much as I need to send the hopeful, green shoots of my writing into the world, some of my writing has to take place underground.
So I’d like to invite you below, to this place I’ve discovered and still need to visit from time to time. (And let me be the first to reassure you, the wildflowers will be back.)
Writing only for myself changed me (and my writing) forever.
Sharing your writing matters. But writing in public is like shuffling barefoot over loose, black earth. It’s delicious and all-consuming—an experience not to be missed. But sometimes it’s worth diving in a little deeper. An entire world is wriggling, pulsing and expanding just under your toes.
The world opens up under your feet when you start writing alone. When you keep a tiny bit of your writing only for you--without publishing, sharing or showing.
I get it, the time you spend on your journal is time you can’t spend on the writing you need to share: your blog, your memoir, your poetry, your book. It’s time you’re not cultivating relationships with other writers, readers, adventurers of the written word.
But the time you spend writing only for yourself changes what you do share in ways that are hard to believe until you try.
And the relationship you cultivate with yourself? I learned that’s worth something too.
When you write alone, you surprise yourself.
You write anything that comes to mind, in any order. Sometimes you will babble. The craziest ideas will bubble up--ideas that would have been strangled if you’d been following an outline or wondering if your audience cares about your subject.
The writing you do by yourself is your place to write it all. Even if you think it’s weird. Especially if you think it’s weird.
Personally, I think that’s some of my best writing. The stuff that I discovered while rummaging around underground, that I once thought I’d never share.
You will write what (really) terrifies and embarrasses you.
You know, I see a lot of people sharing some amazing things online. Things I’ll admit I wouldn’t be brave enough to put out there. But all my reading plus my underground writing habit leads me to suspect something:
We all stop somewhere. There is no such thing as a ‘tell-all.’
Think of ‘reality’ TV--one of the most artificial experiences you can delve into. If an author (or TV personality) tells me I know everything about her or that her life is an ‘open book,’ it leaves me scratching my head. In the end, there’s always something held back, unexplored.
My underground writing habit has taught me that sometimes we’re blind to our own inner workings. But they are there.
My most beloved writers (fiction, non-fiction, famous and the still ‘under-the-radar’) are the clearest on who they are. Who have honed the art of being themselves and accepting the occasional ugly, crusty truth. Is that really something you can do in the limelight?
Writing alone develops your honesty and teaches you about yourself. And it will make you a different kind of writer in public too: the kind of writer you want to be. Not the one who knows everyone is watching.
Writing alone gives me permission to write more than I actually share. I think you deserve the same. Which brings me to the next point...
Writing for yourself teaches you to filter (but not discard.)
If doing some of your writing in secret allows you to tap into an earthy world of honesty, it also helps you make wiser choices about what shoots you send up to the surface.
I’m not saying you have something to hide. Or that some of your stories must remain underground because they aren’t worthy.
Sometimes subjects that pull at us and intrigue us are simply not ready to see the light of day. (Yet) Or not right for our current audience. (For now.)
That’s the beauty of writing only for yourself. Any of the ideas that unearth in that quiet, dark place? You’re not banishing, burying them, or letting them rot. You can turn them over, explore them, let them develop into something you might share later.
Or they might remain below the surface and develop into something even more powerful than the shoots you send up and into the light...
When you write alone, you create an entire universe --and you invite your reader to create alongside you.
If you’re reading this, you probably love books. (Seriously, that’s likely to be how we met--book club? Voracious reading habit...I know you from somewhere).
You’ve probably already thought about the way the best books make every reader the accomplice, the co-author.
How do books work this magic?
With everything the person who penned the story leaves out.
The spaces in between. The meanings she never spelled out, but that exist in a dark, earthy space under the surface. Sinewy depths we can’t ignore. Ideas that grow, twist, curl, take on new shape and meaning underground--long after the text has reached its final form.
All of these underground spaces invite you, the reader, to complete the ideas with your own imagination. And the meanings and truths you create alongside the author? Well, they become the most powerful part of the story.
Where does the subtext come from? From the lessons learned, wisdom, moments captured.
The unsaid, the unwritten transform your writing--lets your reader meet you halfway and fill in what you left out.
But that underground world can’t nourish your writing if you don’t plant it under the earth, spill the water and let it grow.
So grab your pen and notebook, sink your feet deep into the soil and create an unspoken universe that will change your writing forever.
And in that silence? You’re not alone. I’ll be there too. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that writing alone is something I can’t do without.
Want to meet me halfway?
Help me create meaning from the muddy stuff of words and tell me if any part of your writing takes place underground. Or if you’re about to grab a pen and spill a little ink just for yourself.