Writing for No Audience

I started this “snippets” section of my website just a few days ago with the intention of being able to write without needing to put polish on a piece before publishing it.

My thinking was that I would be able to put small notes there, and half-baked ideas, and not have to worry about diluting the quality of the content of my main website. I could put high quality posts on the main site, and a whole range of both good and bad posts in the snippets section. This way, assuming I do a good job, readers could come to expect that any post on the main website would be high quality. Curious people looking for additional content could come here to the snippets section if they wanted to, but more often posts here would either (1) almost never get read, or (2) be linked to directly, e.g. if they were relevent in some other context.

I’ve been surprised and delighted by the effect that having this “No Audience” section of the website has had on my writing. Writing for no one is so much easier than writing for someone.

On a few occasions (and it’s only been a few days since I started this section), I’ve started writing snippets intending for them to be brief thoughts meant for no one but myself. Then, after starting, it has felt natural to expand the post into something more substantial than I originally intended, e.g. answering questions that a hypothetical reader might have.

On one occasion I even decided to bump the post up in importance after getting started, placing it in the main section of the website rather than relegating it to the mostly hidden snippets section.

To anyone out there who does end up reading this, and there may very well be none of you: if you’re having trouble getting started with writing, write for no audience.

The Different Degrees of “No Audience”

I actually write for No Audience in two different contexts.

(1) The snippets section of my website
(2) Using shh-shell at night

The snippets section of my website is public, but with no built-in broadcasting. People can read it if they choose to, but I’m not putting it in people’s faces (by default; I will if it’s appropriate in context). Contrast this with the writing I do with the shh-shell. This is more personal writing that I do half-asleep as I drift off at night, and so I don’t make it public; I expect almost no one will ever read it. This writing, I suppose is for No Audience to an even more extreme degree. I recommend both practices: public writing for no audience, and private writing for no audience.

Social Media Doesn’t Cut It

Now that I’ve discovered this practice and am quite fond of it, I think it could be a promising addition to social media.

No social media platform, to my knowledge, has given people a place to write public posts with an option to publish but not share them. The absense of such a feature makes sense; social media platforms need you to share for them to succeed, so how would giving you a space to publish-but-not-share help them? The answer lies in the psychology of the many social-media lurkers. There is a significant market segment of people who perhaps consume, but do not post, on social media. An option to publish-but-not-broadcast might help to convert some of that segment into sharers.

As a social media consumer, but infrequent producer, I can tell you I am hesitant even to Like something on Twitter, because I know Twitter often treats Likes like Retweets, and will put the content I hearted in front of my followers with my name attached, and that’s not something I want.

If a feature for publishing-without-sharing were added to Facebook or Twitter, perhaps others would have an experience like mine over the last few days. Having the option to publish-but-not-share has significantly reduced the barrier to start writing for me. Then, once I’ve started writing, I’ve often changed my mind and decided I want to share what I’ve written after all.

If other social-media lurkers are like me, a feature enabling this behavior could help “break the ice” so to speak, and could make social media platforms more relevant to them.

Next Steps

I’m going to continue building this snippets section for myself, with the default behavior being no-broadcasting as I add snippets. For snippets I’m fond of, I may choose to broadcast (e.g. by posting about the post on social media). Contrast this with the main posts section of my website; for new posts there, I will generally always broadcast the post, at least a little bit.

If you’d like to receive such broadcasts, e.g. when I write a post that I’m particularly keen on sharing, please consider subscribing:

Ironically, you are also welcome to follow the snippets section with RSS. Don’t tell me if you do though, since I would like to continue to feel like I’m writing for No Audience. You can follow the posts section with RSS as well.

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