Why More Writers Should Learn to Embrace Obscurity

What happens when you create outside the limelight

Shailaja V
Jun 22 · 4 min read
Woman holding a bunch of flowers obscuring her face
Photo by Kyle Sudu on Unsplash

J.D. Salinger, Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, Aravind Adiga, Ruskin Bond, Bill Watterson — what do all of these people have in common?

  1. They were/are prolific creators and artists in their own right
  2. They guarded their right to privacy and the need to create their art in seclusion

As someone who created outside the limelight for the first 6 years of her blogging career and was then creating with an audience over the next 7 years, it’s almost as if life has come full circle again.

Maybe it’s age or perhaps it’s the jaded feeling I have in my mid-40s that not everything has to be shared with the world at large. More importantly, here’s why I am learning to embrace at least partial obscurity when it comes to the creative process.

Obscurity Allows You to Create without Limits

Everyday, I have a simple creative practice — show up and write. That’s it. Sometimes I write 500 words; other times it can become a 2000-word piece. Sometimes I publish it (maybe here on Medium or on my website) and sometimes I just let it lie in my drafts, simmering and stewing, as it were.

One of the reasons I embarked on my 60-day social media sabbatical was the need to gently move away from the process of validation. Social media limits your creativity in a number of ways. This can range from character count restrictions on different platforms to reducing your value to the number of likes, comments, saves and shares that you receive on your work.

As a creator, you owe it to yourself to create without limits

Stepping away from social media gave me a chance to return to relative obscurity as a creator. I say relative because I do have an audience — my newsletter subscribers — who faithfully read my content each week.

As a result of this decision, in the last 26 days since I embarked on my sabbatical, I’ve created 26 pieces of content (27, if you include this one). I’ve not shared a single one of those pieces on social media, yet they have an audience.

A true and loyal audience who enjoys the work that is created.

Obscurity Allows you to Explore Discomfort

Whenever you create for an audience, there’s a part of you that always expects, anticipates and believes that you should hold something back. Let’s face it. There’s that tiny little voice inside you that whispers:

Wait, should you really be saying that out loud? Maybe tone it down a bit?

I remember posting an update about my daily Yoga practice about a year ago, on my Instagram channel. I’d been at it for a little over a week and I was simply delighted with the idea of showing up everyday on the mat, after what seemed like months of inactivity.

There was praise that followed, almost inevitably as it does on social media. But there was a darker side to it too. I stumbled upon a comment by someone who sarcastically pointed out that a week of Yoga wouldn’t turn me into a yogi. In other words, I shouldn’t be singing my own praises after just 7 days of a yoga practice.

That single comment derailed my motivation to ever post about my personal wellness routine on social media.

But there was a lesson in the discomfort and an important one too. Not everything that you do needs to be shared with the world when it happens. As my mother told me a few years ago —

‘Be wary about sharing what you do with the world. Not everyone will be truly happy for you and your growth.’

What obscurity gifts you with, however, is the knowledge that you are expressing the highest version of your true self. You create content and you speak your truth without worrying about what people will think about you.

In other words, if I were to ever write a long-form post in obscurity, about my wellness routine, I’d now be able to do it and not worry about the backlash or the negativity that comes with it.

Learning to Embrace the Silence

I’ve spent the better part of the last 8 years marketing my work online. From social media updates to blogging awards, I’ve gone through the whole gamut of public visibility for my work.

Today, as I come up on the 14th anniversary of the day I launched my blog in August 2007, there’s an important message that presents itself to me every single day.

Sit with the Silence; Create for its own sake.

Am I worried about the possibility that nobody will read my work? Perhaps I will fade from memory if I am not present every single day, talking about my writing. It’s a crowded marketplace, after all. People have short memories.

But that’s the beauty of it, if you think about it.

When you create quietly, deeply, silently, the focus is not on you- the creator. It’s on the work that you create.

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