Becoming the Living Poet

Invisible Readers

Posted on: July 24, 2009

Right now on my about page there are two underlined sections. There is the sentence fragment: you’ve definitely come to the wrong place near the top of the page. The fragment is at the end of the following sentence:

If you’re looking for sage advice from a famous poet who’s published a small library and won a host of prestigious awards then you’ve definitely come to the wrong place!

At the bottom of the page is this sentence:

I’m writing this blog for myself to an imaginary reader. If you exist, you can read along if you like…

Last week, immediately after identifying some literary magazines I’d like to submit to I threw myself headlong into another project which I didn’t write about here because I was, quite frankly, not sure if I was going to do it or not.

If you’re curious I haven’t yet submitted to the two lit mags I said I would submit to. I will check in with you next week about my progress. Sometimes I suspect that many of the projects I complete I do so in an attempt to put off other projects I’m avoiding, but that’s a musing for another time.

You know the thing I was working on, that I didn’t tell you about?

Well, I did it.

I entered the Art of Nonconformity’s Unconventional Writing Contest.

I don’t want to speculate about whether or not I’m going to win. Let time tell that. Either way you’ll get to read the entry. If I win I’ll post a link to the article, if I lose I’ll post the whole article.

I do want to talk about what I learned about how I feel about this blog after entering the contest.

I learned that, shock of shocks, despite the almost militant declarations on my about page that I don’t care if anyone is reading or what readers think, I want people to come to my blog and read what I’ve written. I want people to leave comments. I want people to retweet my links.

If I didn’t want that I wouldn’t have entered the contest.

And yet after I sent in the entry, after the initial blush of excitement over the article had faded, a little voice in my head let out a trembling whisper:

If you win this contest, you’ll lose all that’s left of your invisibility. They’ll be nowhere to hide. This blog won’t be safe anymore. It will be filled with readers!

I think it was two fears that initially caused me to latch-on to the concept of invisible readers:

1. That no on would read my blog and I’d feel embarrassed and blocked talking to myself.

2. That people would read my blog and find it simultaneously too academic and too emo. In short that people would read my blog and hate it.

The concept of ‘invisible readers’ was a wonderful safety net because it served as a reminder that even if no one showed up or everyone hated what I had written, the audience in my mind was more important than any living hostile audience.

I am grateful to my invisible readers because they gave me a comfort zone in which to start this blog and continue for as long as I have.

But gratitude aside it’s time to let the invisible readers go.

Why?

Because I have real readers now and I don’t feel that I can honor and connect with them properly if I keep referring to them as invisible readers.

I also don’t think it’s healthy to assume that all real readers will be hostile and bored.

It’s time to stand up and say I’m a nonconformist and an academic and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m ok with other people thinking I’m too weird and too serious.

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of being my rambly, over-analytical, insecure self in this space and it’s felt good.

It’s time to acknowledge that this might not be an empty room and that’s ok.

Or this might be a party that no one shows up to and that’s ok.

I think the most important thing I can do both for myself and this blog right now is to stop trying to rigidly control what it’s for.

While I was thinking about and working on this post I reread several of Havi’s Blogging Therapy posts, the series that pretty much got me here. (The two above links are from that series.)

Something she says in the Why Even Bother When Other People Are Doing It Better? post always comforts me:

You can’t see how useful it is for other people to know that stuff is hard for you too or that you’re also going through things that they experience.

But the rest of us know. We, your “right people”, can see it. And we need you.

So I’m going to make two very small changes to this site:

1. I’m going to change the about page to be more welcoming to potential readers.

2. I’m going to try to be brave enough to acknowledge the possibility of a real living audience when I write.

Maybe I’ll even leave questions for people to comment on from time to time. I’ve been terrified of doing that for fear that no one would comment and I would feel alone and vulnerable, but I think in the last three months of blogging I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can give myself the validation that I need without being defensive about it.

I don’t need to announce every few lines that I don’t care if anyone comments or not to know that I’ll be ok if no one comments. I’ll be ecstatic if they do comment, but I’m no longer afraid that it will wound me if they don’t.

I realize writing this post won’t be a magic spell that generates traffic and commenters, but I want to acknowledge aloud that readers are welcome, commenters are welcome, and that I would be open to this site someday becoming a community.

In the next couple of weeks I’m going to start thinking about who this blog’s ‘right people’ are and share that information with you when I’ve fleshed out some ideas.

My resolution: I will strive to not be so dominated by my fear of being harmed by false hopes that I risk killing the true ones.

You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith. -Mary Manin Morrissey

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9 Responses to "Invisible Readers"

Wow. Big stuff.

Also: I love reading about the process of how you figured out that you’re ready for a new “about” page. Like shedding a snake skin and finding out what the new pretty layer is.

Hi Havi,
Thanks for stopping by.

It does feel a bit like shedding a snake skin or perhaps like shedding a cloak of invisibility. I feel like I’ve been wearing the cloak and popping my head or my hands out when I want to be seen or perhaps just talking through the cloak when I want to be heard. Writing this blog has really helped me to recognize that there’s even a cloak there and contemplate what it might be like to take it off.

Er, but – if you define the “right people” what will happen to those of us who turn out to be the wrong ones???

Btw I just got here for the first time because Jessie Carty listed you as one of her “faves”. Interesting enough already for me to be moved to comment!

Ah, I didn’t mean it to sound like that.

‘Right people’ is more like a target audience, people who I think I might be writing to because reading what I’ve written might help them.

If people other than ‘right people’ comment and say they enjoy reading the blog then I can go back and redefine who my ‘right people’ are because the original definition was too narrow.

Basically if you’re here and you’re digging at least some of the posts, then you’re ‘right people’.

Does that make any sense?

I’m curious. Since you found me on twitter, what’s your twitter name? Would love to follow you.

(Just popping back in to add that — in my opinion, at least — anyone who likes you is “right”, so none of us have to worry about being left behind because as long as we like you and like hanging out here, we get to be at least on the fringes of your Right People.

Blogging is a funny thing in how it really can relate to your “other” writing life.

When I started blogging just over 2 years ago I was totally talking to myself, same with when I started vlogging but it is like we are all little tribbles who eventually find each other – we find our audiences and our friends.

I found you on Twitter who knew!

[…] About Becoming the Living Poet Invisible Readers […]

Whoa. Are you inside my head? I keep finding myself doing the same thing. Thinking, “ah well no one is reading so I’m writing to nobody, whatever”…and you just made me realize that it’s a total defense mechanism, and a little alienating to actual real life readers. So I’m blocking potential connections. I definitely feel called to work on this now, I had never really thought of it like that. My mind=blown. Thank you! 🙂

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