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January 27, 2011

Dance Like EVERYONE Is Watching

Kate Hart
You know that saying "dance like no one's watching"? I can barely type it without rolling my eyes. Yes, yes, I get the concept. Self-esteem is great. Don't let others hold you back. That's all very nice and good. But as an overall life philosophy?

It sucks.

In junior high, I didn't hate being
on the dance team, but I didn't love it.
I did love creative writing.
Dancing, like writing, is fine to do for yourself. Fantastic, even. I highly recommend impromptu dance parties with your hairbrush as a microphone, just like I highly recommend keeping a journal.

But if you love dancing, or you are passionate about writing, then "like no one's watching" just lets you off the hook. "It's okay to be mediocre," says the speshul snowflake. "I don't need to improve because I'm writing for meeee."  

If you really want to excel-- not entertain yourself, but actually work toward a professional goal-- you practice like crazy. You learn the steps, and then you go over them a gazillion times, and it's exhausting. You're tired of this chapter. Your characters won't cooperate. You know how to spin, you're sick of this song, why the hell did we let Sunshine pick a Britney Spears song...

wait. That was a college dance team flashback.
(And sadly a true story. The irony of making mistakes to "Oops I Did It Again" was not lost on me.)

The problem with dancing "like no one is watching" is that no one ever makes you perform "full out." In dance terms, that means you put everything you have into the performance. You hit every beat, extend your arms, jump as high as you can-- you put the finishing touches on that make it a show. Nobody wants to watch this:

Limp, bloodless, boring work. They know what they're doing-- but who cares? Those girls are "marking" it (a dance term for "going through the motions"). And they know it, from the title of the video. They're dancing like no one is watching. And no one is.

(Did you watch the whole thing? Me neither.)

As writers, we can't videotape ourselves to find missteps. We have to find the places we "marked" it and mark it again-- in red pen. People may clap politely at our effort, but no one's going to cheer unless our work is sharp and clean and every second has energy.

I'm pretty content with dancing in my living room. It's best if my singing is limited to the bathroom mirror. But when it comes to writing, screw that "nobody's watching" business.

Go full out.


  1. "It's okay to be mediocre," says the speshul snowflake. "I don't need to improve because I'm writing for meeee."
    bwaha. so true. while writing for yourself can be fun, it isn't exactly very productive. its actually kind of strange, because in a way you ARE writing for yourself (because, you know, you love to) but you don't want to be writing crap no one wants to read. like you said, go full out!
    great post!
    and boy, making mistakes on 'oops did it again' sounds like something id do if im ever in the mood to torture myself.

  2. I so have a picture frame with that line, among other cheesy ones, written on it lol.

    In the beginning of my writing I think 'writing like no one was watching' did help, though. I held back and it got me nowhere. Imagining those words would never see the light of day were what got me past that. However, once I really started working on my writing, I definitely started holding myself more accountable.

  3. Great comparison, Kate. I remember going through the motions for dance, but I never have with writing.

  4. I love this comparison. Dancing that isn't full out is absolutely no fun to watch. And I love the caption for your picture. I was the same way - I danced all the way through middle school and high school, but mostly just because it was required that I do SOMETHING. I never came close to caring about it or loving it as much as writing though. Now, if only high school would create creative writing clubs or something, all would be well!

  5. Ohh, I love this post! I think it is important to always consider our audience/readers. Of course, you want to write what makes you happy--but it's okay to knock someone else's socks off in the process. :)

  6. Awesome comparison. Usually I can feel and see the difference in my own writing, but occasionally marking and full out can look pretty similar. Which is where my alpha reader comes in--she can say "yes, that jump was technically high enough, but I've seen you jump before, and I know you can jump higher."

    And way to bring the jr high pic. :)

  7. Ooooh just the words of inspiration I needed lately. So very true, sometimes you just have to buckle down and work work work. Exhausting, but so worth it in the end.

  8. Gotta say, I was kind of hoping for a video of someone Writing Like Someone is Watching -- complete with flailing muppet arms and extremeconcentrationface. Or is that just what I look like while writing...??

    LOVE the analogy. Have ALWAYS disliked that advice, and you pinpointed exactly why.

  9. Maybe it's just my age, but I still listen to Britney Spears. :P
    I think your advice is right. Improve so you can show somebody your dancing! (Or writing!)

  10. Dude, this brings back memories of my cheerleading days. Yikes. I'm with you. I always hated that expression.

  11. Wonderful analogy, Kate. I couldn't agree more. It's strange though that now that I'm writing my second book, I find it a bit unnerving to feel that EVERYONE (or at least my agent and editor. Hehe) is watching. Now that I know what they are expecting, I need to learn how to strike a balance between the voices in my head and in my heart. Great post :)

  12. It's a great analogy and the difference is commitment. That's what gets the college team to totally complete each move to their fingertips.

    For me the difference is knowing when I'm marking it (the first rough draft), when I do tell myself no one is watching. After that, it becomes rehearsals (revisions) knowing that I want the audience to be thrilled with the performace (whatever stage I let them see).

  13. Holy-Freaking-Straight-Leg-Foutes-Changing-Spot-In-Perfect-Synchronization! Did Minnesota win?

    And from a former dancer (not like you can ever actually be 'former' your audience gets younger and less picky) it's always better to dance in front of a crowd. Writing...yeah, that's a little more like burlesque. But what's the point of doing it, if you can't share it?

    Love, love, love this post!! I'm a follower now!

  14. Thanks everyone-- and welcome new faces! So glad to have you! :)

    Amanda, I knew that would happen. LOL I probably pissed off as many people as I inspired. But at least I did it hard core, right? :P

  15. As an aspiring writer and dancer I can fully relate to this analogy. While still in the "no one watching me so I can make as many mistakes as I want phase" I'm secretly hoping that everyone is. The problem lies in myself, because I fear that I don't have enough formal training to stop making these mistakes, or compete with those writer that do. I'm going to go full out. There is no sense in selling myself short.

    This excerpt was fantastic; I'm totally bookmarking it! So, now every time I attempt to write an article, a blog, or a term paper I always put my best foot forward. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for helping me to be honest with myself.


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