Deepest Fear? The Blank Page.

Why do I understand where Elbow is coming from? Easy. Because what you see below these lines will drive me to do everything but write. I will clean my house. I will walk my brother’s dog. I will catch up with friends that moved away long ago. I will rearrange my furniture. Anything but write. And in reality, it’s not the blank page that’s driving me to do so. It’s the people that will see this page in all of it’s printed glory (or horror) when it’s all said and done.

Imagine Cruella DeVille laughing.

Peter Elbow begins “Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience” by outlining the ways in which considering audience from the very beginning of the writing process can, in fact, inhibit audience. Essentially, Elbow outlined the way I’ve approached creative writing so far this semester. Given an exercise in class, knowing that I will not have to read what comes out, I can write pages and pages. Sitting in front of the computer, determined to get to work on my story idea, the blank page reminds me that this is a graduate writing class, that there are people (besides the professor) who have been published, that some of them are second years, and some of them are Ph. D. students. My resolve to write crumbles because it does make me nervous for them to read my work. Elbow has a point.

As a teacher of freshman composition, I think we will have to face this hurdle. Students think they have nothing to write about or are so concerned about mechanics that every sentence they produce is subsequently deleted because it’s not perfect. Elbow outlines what I think is a useful approach to thinking about audience:

It’s not that writers should never think about their audience. It’s a question of when. An audience is a field of force. The closer we come—the more we think about these readers—the stronger the pull they exert on the contents of our minds. The practical question, then, is always whether a particular audience function as a helpful field of force or one that confuses or inhibits us. (336)

Ignoring audience, for a time, can lead to better writing. Uninhibited writing is, as Elbow says, often the strongest. While I have no doubt that some students will find audience helpful, I find Elbow intriguing because a writer is not at fault for not appreciating the ominous presence of a vague audience. He even says, “What most readers value in really excellent writing is not prose that is right for readers but prose that is right for thinking, right for language or right for the subject being written about” (339). We want our students to be thoughtful writers first.

The challenge becomes, then, to figure out when and how an audience fits into the teaching of composition. It would be unfair to begin with audience does not matter and then later say that it does. It would also be unfair to ask them to create an audience, because that makes “audience” vast and vague, which is not useful. The best advice I received in undergrad was to “make [my paper] relevant.” I was not asked to think about the teacher, or the masses that will not ever actually read my paper. I was asked to make a point. In a way, it made the world my audience, but at the same time,  it removed the personal element of audience for me. I was writing about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. My paper focused on the antithetical rivers. In the conference, my professor read my draft, set it down, turned toward me with folded hands and said “so what?” So what? I thought. So what! I made a pretty awesome connection is what! In thinking about it later though, I did find a “so what” that challenged the reader to consider why this little book that is one hundred years old can still be useful. The impersonal audience approach worked for me, and I think that is what Elbow is getting at, but like I said, the challenge is how. How do we find the balance of audience relevancy in the classroom?


About michelleh7040

I'm a grad student studying creative writing and learning how to teach writing (of all sorts).
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175 Responses to Deepest Fear? The Blank Page.

  1. Interesting perspective here: As a freelance writer by passion and profession, I’m always asked to “consider my audience” first and foremost. But as a blogger about my personal life, the crazy aftermath of a blindsiding divorce and the new realities of my seemingly Made-for-Lifetime-Channel life, is the audience a significant consideration? Or is it about my personal journey toward self-discovery and awareness — essentially, therapy without the $150/hour price tag?

    And as a former teacher of writing myself, I can see the point of your struggle as well!

    Ultimately, even in the blogosphere, the audience is in mind. Always. For me, at least. But it is a fine balance, a delicate walk between two opposing forces.

    And really, isn’t writing one of the most personal (and perhaps, selfish) processes there is?

    Great post. I wish you luck finding the balance.

  2. littlebirdwm says:

    Well this is exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks!

  3. Lakia Gordon says:

    Great post! I enjoyed your material and remember the days when my professor of English told me to “make my paper relevant!” I really hated that saying back then, but it’s true.

  4. N says:

    An interesting post! It’s true, for me, that when I think of specific people reading my writing, it’s always “not quite right” in my mind. The way I write best is if I write for myself, with the idea of an audience, but not focusing on them. Thank you.

  5. etomczyk says:

    Thank you so much for this post — it was really helpful. I wrestle with this constantly because I am transitioning out of a worldview that I no longer think is totally accurate and finding my voice during my retirement years. I have had to ignore the people looking over my shoulder from the past (they are a hurtful and self-righteous bunch), but not capitulate to the audience of my future (I’m not quite sure who they are; they are still forming). What has helped is establishing where I want to end up “truthwise” at the end of my pieces and then working backwards. I think I have a bit more wiggle room as a humorist — especially when I’m the fodder. We’ll see. Great post!

  6. wadingacross says:

    When it comes to blogging, I don’t fear the blank page. I fear taking too long and saying something that is incorrect (having a different opinion is something else). Blogging often takes me hours to craft a single post. I have an audience in mind, mostly, but for the most part blogging is for myself. Since a whole variety of people from starkly different perspectives can and do read my posts, I have to write for myself, unless a singular post dictates otherwise – which normally don’t. You note this is what we should do – to have a point, and thus be available for anyone’s perusal. So, I write for me, for all and for no one. Quite often I won’t blog because it’s either really not that important and/or I have much more important things to do. Blogging for me is a frill, that has become part of my addiction which is the internet. Blogging is a love/hate relationship for me. There are times I think about completely deleting the whole thing.

    Now, writing in my children’s memory journals… that I fear the blank page. That I’d rather find something else to do, even though I came up with the idea of writing in little journals for my children to give to them when they’re older.

    And then there’s the idea for a novel that’s been sitting in the back of my head for two decades now… the blank page scares me, because I have no idea how to put my concept onto paper – story, plot, characters, etc., etc.

    • I understand where you are coming from. I have deleted blogs in the past. I keep a notebook for my daily, working out my writing kind of stuff. I would encourage you to try and work out some of the writing you really want to do, like the journals and the novels in a notebook, or in a blog that no one knows about. The best way I’ve found to work out my stories (only short stories so far) is to sit down and write. I scrap plenty of it, but the more I write, the better chance I have of coming out with something good.

      Thanks for reading! And for giving me more to think about!

      • I’ve seen multiple people writing that their blogs take hours to craft. I spend about 30 minutes on mine, with a brief touch-up once I’ve looked over the preview…I haven’t had complaints about my posts. What matters to me is saving time to work on my stories and essays.

        When it comes to audience, I’m still figuring that out! Right now I’m trying to write stories that I would want to read, and am hoping that means I’m targeting young, college-educated people with a taste for the intricacies of relationships and bittersweet endings. Maybe it’s a touch self-serving, but I don’t see the point of writing anything that I wouldn’t want to read.

  7. This is awesome! I have found I do the same thing with comedy writing. I don’t write not because I have nothing to say, but because I’m afraid the audience won’t life.

    This is awesome! Thanks.

  8. These are great points, thanks for sharing! I definitely get how self-consciousness can inhibit great writing. I can journal up a storm because I know no one will be reading it, but when I go to write something that people will be judging, especially if those readers have authority over me, worries clutter my head and block any creative ideas! It’s kind of crazy how that works!

  9. Good points – thanks. My favorite type of writing is when I just write – uninhibited by opinions of others. I’ve learned that in in writing for the media or academic writing, you must consider your audience. Blogging is another beast – I write what I want regardless of audience; it’s for me to develop and share ideas and others can stop by and love it or leave it!

  10. shell1221 says:

    Great post, I really enjoyed and related to it. Before I started my blog (only recently) I thought I could write for ever about anything. How wrong was I? I find the experience so much more difficult. I have become my own hallway monitor and find my self thinking to many times “what if…”
    Confessions of a Super Virgin said it so well!

  11. Samantha says:

    This was a great post! I think blogging for me is easier because I have it planned and sometimes the blogs feel like they came out well, other times they don’t. Sitting down and writing a novel or a short story seems so much more personal to me, and self-revealing, that I end up staring at the page, wondering what I should say and what I shouldn’t. Ultimately, this is something I need to let go of and write for myself, from my heart…and it’ll all work out.

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  12. very nice thoughts on audience. i find that if i write what i want to read, then the audience tends to take care of itself. besides, at the end of the day i am the only one who needs to be happy with what i’ve written, because i am an verbal artist and i do my work for my own inner longing, not that of anyone else. the worst stuff i’ve ever written or done has been to make someone else happy. good post.
    congrats on being FP.

  13. St. Cain says:

    deff got me thinking

  14. 1gr8mind says:

    This is my first public interaction with word press. I have a profile set up for over a year now, but I have no idea what to rite about. I write in my journals on line and off line because I know I won’t be judged or criticized for my spelling. I find it very intimidating to post my thoughts, ideas or my topic of discussions to the public and I don’t even really know what I’m scared about because no one knows who I am any way and I don’t use my real name or picture. I do take my writings seriously even if it makes no sence to the audience, I realized that it is just fear holding me back from enjoying the what I love most, is writing! So I am going to put my self out there, and not be intimidated by the blank screen or the audience. I hope to captivate an audience and share thoughts and ideas with those who may have the same intrest as I do.
    Thank you so much for this post, it really helped me see that I am not the only one who is struggleing with what I can only explain as “Fear”. Than you, I am free!

  15. antixhero says:

    I really like your point of view. I am a new blogger myself, but I have been writing for years and find what you say extremely helpful. Thank you!

  16. Edit Me F.A.S.T. says:

    There’s nothing worse than sitting in front of your computer and feeling so inhibited that a single keystroke seems like a tetanus shot. These were my college days.

    I believe my first journalism professor once wrote to me something like “you’re held back by the perfection that you are not yet capable of achieving.” As an editor and proofreader, I think the best advice I can give a student or any writer is to take a chance. Take a chance on a new idea. Take a chance on going against the grain (and avoid cliches like that one!). The goal of writing is to learn, to generate, to explore and to create, not to forcefully write a perfect sentence that doesn’t say much. So just take a chance, and more times than not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised (and feel a lot better than you did before).

  17. Bill Chance says:

    Very interesting post – something I hadn’t thought of before in exactly the same way. Too often, we feel that first-draft writing is the most important part of writing – to me, it isn’t writing at all. Editing is writing. So, a way to look at this concept is… ignore your audience for the first draft, then evaluate the potential inherent in the draft, choose an audience at this point, then edit to suit…. Hey, that seems to work.

  18. ishtarsrealm says:

    Thanks for this post. I am not a “writer” but I just started blogging. I feel that when I am thinking of the audience I can’t really say what I want. and when i say what I want turns out is what people really want to read.

  19. Great post. One of the reasons I started blogging was because the immediacy of it forces me to be uninhibited. All of my posts are off the cuff and once it’s out there I can’t take it back. It’s quite a breakthrough for a writer who routinely reworks, deletes, rewrites and otherwise fine-tunes “real” writing ad infinitum. I swear that if there were no deadlines I’d never be able to consider any of my writing finished and would tinker with it forever.

  20. Laoshi Ma says:

    Milton Babbitt kind of echoed Elbow here, saying that the audience is often the problem and not the solution to the question of “what is good.” Often, I have to move beyond the audience in what I write musically, avoiding the host of cries saying “Why can’t you just have a melody” and worrying about justifying yet another noise piece to reviewers and listeners only after I’ve written the piece.

    Interesting read, for sure.

  21. livvy1234 says:

    I write what I want. I live for no Authority. My words may be “sloppy, incorrect, wrong,” but they are my words. I am not interested in impressing a conditioned society.

  22. Ed Williams says:

    Very timely post for me to “stumble” upon. I am in no way a seasoned writer (I have been blooging a short 7 months), and I believe that writing for me is THE most important, however, writing is to be READ by an audience. Writing to me, is a way of expression that is to be shared with those who read. I enjoy writing immensely. It feels right for me. I may not have all the mechanics down yet, but I enjoy connecting with others, even if only one, in the blogmanic world and beyond.
    TRULY appreciate the perspective from your post. THANKS.

  23. rogerthepoet says:

    A good perspective on writing, I write lots and only publish a small sample on my blog.

  24. completely related to this!


  25. morrighu says:

    As a writer, I can tell you that a blank page is very intimidating. My writer’s block always seems to hit when I start a new page. The only thing you can do with a blank page is fill it and hope that you fill it up well. You work and hone your craft so that you have a better chance of filling it up well, but ultimately it’s up to your audience to decide if you did it well or not.

    At least in the digital age, we don’t have to kill so many trees. The downside is that because there is no real cost to filling the page, there’s a lot of drivel that gets written.

  26. Well done, interesting and great to see some of your readers felt inspired. For me, since I was a young kid a blank page was an invitation to fill it. A challenge to conquer. No wonder, I ended up writing as my means to living. I’ve been blogging for a few years now (new to WP) and blogging for me is even easier. I have so much to say, so much to share! But the challenge I find is to write in a foreign language. I don’t let it to intimidate though but writing for me always is about the reader. So the fear, block, whatever some suffer before the blank page for me is not knowing if I am read, if I am understood, if I make sense, But like anything else in life, the more we do what we do, the better we get. Hopefully one day soon I know I am succeeding.

    Good post!

  27. Good piece!
    While the audience will always be a part of the machinations of authorship (well, duh…) I think the key to good writing is to do it often. That is always first base. Young people who are bombarded with ‘dos and don’ts’ while they’re still grappling with their writerly wings will be left wringing their hands and end up knotting themselves into the too hard basket. That is no way to develop the skills needed to write. People need to be encouraged to experiment with their own writing style, and reading even more. Exposure to all genres and levels of authorship will grow the vocabulary (first and foremost) and this tends to automatically settle into the sediment of the brain lake, and when the inspiration comes to just write something, these good habits picked up from exposure tend to automatically flow out when the dam is opened. Blank pages be damned!

  28. The Mommy Lane says:

    From someone who is trying to find her way in the world of writing…thank you. Great post. It’s given me a lot to think about and so have some of the great comments that have been left!

  29. rbolisay says:

    i’m glad i have read this one.

  30. katyj94 says:

    That is really interesting. I write fiction and poetry for fun- it’s like an addiction, actually- and I can’t stop. I’m a high school student, so my writing skills aren’t always the best, but I like to write. Sometimes, though, the blank page mocks me. The audience is a dark menace waiting to pick apart my writing, and tear my plot, characters and grammatical errors to shreds. I don’t normally think about who I’m writing to, or even what the meaning or message of what I’m writing is as I write it.
    If you’re interested in what I write, a lot of it is up on my blog- – and I’d be thrilled if you checked it out.
    Thanks for the thoughts and congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

    • I will check it out! I taught some high school freshman recently and it’s encouraging to hear about a high schooler already getting into a writer lifestyle. Keep it up! It will serve you well. Thanks for reading!

  31. annaldavis says:

    Blank pages freak me out. I’ve tried several solutions for this. In blogging, I do well with a writing schedule, which gives me a general direction about topic for each day. I use index cards or a non-cloud note-taking app to jot down ideas as they occur to me, and then I have an immediate reference when it’s time to write. For fiction, I start in my thoughts about today. What is my most interesting, colorful, darkest or craziest thought today, in my real life? Then I decide to incorporate that thought into my writing somehow. Stream of consciousness also helps. Great thing about the PC is that I can delete it and no one will ever know otherwise. And when all else fails, I have another cup of coffee and fold some laundry (if you’ve seen my laundry pile, then you know this is definitely a last resort).

  32. I write for a living and have since college. I am less worried about audience than voice, and a consistency of voice and tone, which in itself creates its own audience. Yo Yo Ma plays his own way as does Elvis Costello — and each has a very different audience.

    I write for the NYT; who’s my audience there? I also write for a national women’s magazine. I don’t radically alter my writing for either; it’s always direct, emotional and straightforward.

    If you focus a lot of energy on your audience, it can be frightening. Write clear and compelling prose and an audience will form for it.

  33. You seem interesting. I imagine what you write is similar.

  34. Thanks for this post. I think that this is one of my problems as well and what cause me to get writer’s block.

  35. I get what you mean about the fear of the blank page. I often have to force myself to sit down and just write, even on days when the ideas never stop coming. However, I don’t know if it’s my audience that makes me procrastinate. I think it might have something to do with the fear I won’t be able to convey my thoughts successfully on the page.

    But, now that I think about it, I do understand the audience situation. Early on in the summer, I did all my assignments for school. After we got our schedules, I went back to read over what I had written only to find that one of my English assignments was all wrong. When I had first written it, I was intending to turn it in to one particular teacher. When I ended up with a different teacher, I had to completely rewrite it to fit what she would expect. If I had just written it generally, without a reader in mind, it would have saved me a LOT of workZ!

  36. I like what you’re saying about the uninhibited writing. Personally I only feel free to write whatever I want if I make a draft on paper first. When you go analogue there’s no blinking cursor mocking your every word. I write, I erase, chew on my pen and stab the occasional hole into the paper. When I’m finally satisfied with my draft. I use it as ammunition to make that cursor my bitch. And when that cursor is down and defeated and hiding somewhere on the lower part of the screen I know I’ve won.

  37. poetessofthemaze says:

    I think it’s important for student writers to practice writing for an audience so they get how tone and style (among other things) change depending on the who your audience is. Once writers move past the basic skills, then I agree with you about writing without anticipating who your readers may or may not be. Nice post!

  38. Rai says:

    I definitely face this challenge as I write college papers. I think your tips will help!

  39. Jean says:

    You have a point there, that to get to the spot of writing well, one has to temporarily forget the audience and write uninhibited —but with a discplined manner for wordsmithing.

    For blogging, I way alot less inhibited. Most likely it’s the topic niche areas that my blogs cover that motivate me.

    Also per blog (I write for 4 blogs), I write only 1-2 posts per month per blog. I have a full-time job, so blogging to me, feels like a mini adventure. There are times in fact, the words just bounce out of me within 1-3 hrs. because I’ve been thinking about the blog post for several weeks. 🙂

  40. Jean says:

    Sorry for misstep in grammar. Oh well.

  41. ladyotter says:

    I used to be able to write pages and pages of adventures of my characters in high school and when I went to college I took a writing program. I found that after my experience there, I’ve been having a much harder time writing and felt that it was because I rarely got good comments on my work (though that was from certain teachers).

    After reading your post I realize that I had only been holding myself back rather than it being because of some of my teachers. I realize now that I was afraid of my teachers disliking what I wrote even before I wrote it and that had compromised my writing and worse–my confidence in what I wrote.

    Thank you so much for posting this. ^^ I hope that understanding that I am really the only one holding myself back will help me in getting over my fear and writing with the same amount of ease that I had in high school.

  42. Clint Andrews says:

    This is a great post – I often struggle with the much hated blank page.

  43. Ermilia says:

    I enjoy the blank page because everything is a possibility. What I truly dread is the edit coming back from manuscript analysis and I have to change the entire second half, move the first half around to go faster, cut the word count while adding scenes. (All of which are currently happening to my manuscript). It fills me with such loathing to have to edit the work I poured my soul into for the thousandth time that I just don’t want to. I have to go read something else and come back to it. (Which is how I landed here).

    I’m much more looking forward to book two where the blank page is ready to be filled rather than chopped to bits and pieces.
    -Eliabeth Hawthorne

  44. Elly says:

    Two awesome things about this post:
    A) Beautifully written
    B) Wonderfully helpful

    I love to write, but recently have found it incredibly difficult to do so. My Saturday evenings usually consist of me cowering away from the blank word document by window shopping online, surfing YouTube, and occasionally Googling the terms “how to write and make millions”. In the off chance that I’m able to piece together a half-coherent sentence, I end up obsessing over every word, every comma, every ellipsis…you get the idea. I need to get back into the mindset that writing is supposed to be fun, not painful. If I need to kick my audience out of my creative bubble for a few moments to catch my breath, so be it. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  45. Excellent thoughts. For my own experience, when drafting I’ve always written for myself first – something I might want to read or which explains what I’m thinking about. It’s broadly pitched for the particular audience, obviously, but I’ve never found myself caught with what might be called ‘author’s stage fright’.

    Later – yes, I have to think about how these words will be received. Then it’s time to craft carefully. That’s where the word processor comes in. Sometimes the ‘difficult bits’ can be a single passage, an explanation or an effort to describe an interpretation. A paragraph of that kind can take longer to finalise than ten paragraphs of more straight-forward disursive narrative. But even then I get amazed at what people seem to take out of it, often something I’d never intended or imagined I’d put in. Interesting.

    Matthew Wright

  46. Sony Fugaban says:

    On of the best things I learned about blogging is to not give too much consideration about the audience because it is there where I am likely to overdo the effort and overthink.

    Why do I blog in the first place? For myself should be the first answer, I think. I believe that maintaining a blog would be really difficult if the case were that “for the audience” is the answer to the question I raised. It’s when I did the former that I got what I needed. One of my favorite blog posts was featured on Freshly Pressed six days ago. I composed that particular post honestly for myself and without really giving much consideration whether or not it will attract audience. With that, I must say I agree with Elbow then too.

    I know I don’t have a direct answer to your question, but I hope my comment will somehow help you.

  47. Sony Fugaban says:

    On of the best things I learned about blogging is to not give too much consideration about the audience because it is there where I am likely to overdo the effort and overthink.

    Why do I blog in the first place? For myself should be the first answer, I think. I believe that maintaining a blog would be really difficult if the case were that “for the audience” is the first answer to the question I raised. It’s when I did the former that I got what I needed. One of my favorite blog posts was featured on Freshly Pressed six days ago. I composed that particular post honestly for myself and without really giving much consideration whether or not it will attract audience. With that, I must say I agree with Elbow then too.

    I know I don’t have a direct answer to your question, but I hope my comment will somehow help you.

  48. Lynnette says:

    Its not the blank page that is heart stopping, it is the what was ten page, that now is the blank page . :/

  49. corlosky says:

    I am a current undergraduate student of writing, freshly introduced to Elbow through my Intro to Exposition and Argument class. For tomorrow’s discussion, we were told to read a few chapters in a text book dealing with the the search for truth and persuasion in the formation of argument. Audience, of course, was highly important, particularly in regards to the persuasion part.

    I consider myself a fairly seasoned writer, with experience writing in different mediums and for a wide variety of audiences. Yet I’m still terrified of this class. This new audience– a professor I must admit I don’t feel entirely comfortable with, my peers with whom I will be editing my work, and whatever invisible crowd my professor decides to have us address– has me quaking like I’ve never written anything else that’s been critiqued before. I can understand exactly where you’re coming from.

    Great post. Congrats!

  50. Sharp says:

    You did a great job here 😉

  51. If you have something that needs to be saiud, you’ll find a way to say it…
    But if you have to ask yourself questions like the ones posed here,
    you probably should find some other hobby to amuse yourself with…

  52. uponatlas says:

    Loved this post! It was the most interesting thing I’ve read today, and I’ve read quite a number of odd things today…. haha

    Loved it!



  53. Great post!
    Thinking too much about our readers limits the fist stage of creative process which is “Brainstorming,” or writing as much as we can about an idea or subject. By definition the “brainstorming” stage of writing should not be restricted in order to produce as many idea branches and idea seeds as possible.

    Stelios Nicolaou
    Author of:
    Depression:My Witness, Your Solution
    (Five easy Steps to Reprogram you little inner voice and Set your Mind Free)

  54. Sajib says:

    I’m still reading these blogs, writing comments, watching movies and doing all these stuff except writing three articles due this week for the monthly magazine I write on. The hardest part to get writing is getting started.

  55. louise says:

    I must say, when I saw the photo of the blank screen at the beginning of this blog, my heart started pounding a little! I can completely relate to this. I sometimes find that it helps to just write whatever I’m thinking, and then later on, during the editing process pay a lot more attention to audience and how the writing will be received. But this is still quite nerve-wracking! Thanks for the thought-provoking blog 🙂

  56. Well, you certainly hit the nail on the head here. I’m pretty new to wordpress, and I started writing here exactly for reasons connected with audience. I suffer from fear of my audience. Badly. So it is always easier for me to write for an anonymous mass of people – if they don’t know me personally, I’m somehow not afraid of what they will think. So I set up a blog about literature, and typed out a review of Billy Collins’ “Forgetfulness”, without giving a moment’s thought to whoever was going to end up reading it. The only thing that mattered was my own point. Result: passion on the page. Then, someone convinced me to put a link to my blog on my facebook page. I did, and the reactions are actually wonderful. I’ve had messages from people I haven’t heard from in two years. Next time, I think I won’t worry so much about my readers. Just about my point.

  57. gaycarboys says:

    Great post. i write and blog so I understand. I worry about my readers sometimes, and the car companies as well. Do they like or not like what I have to say? Its never fun having someone critique your work

  58. Always the point is the point. that’s why you are writing in the first place. What is an audience? A bonus. I like Montaigne, who wrote for himself. Got a lot of readers in the end though. Depends if you want to earn. If you don’t need to earn, you can write without an audience in mind. If you need to make money, then you write for an editor. Or a publisher. I think.

  59. Pingback: Deepest Fear? The Blank Page. (via Words are Friends) « Lynjag

  60. Finding that balance is the hardest but probably most important element to writing. I am new to blogging after spending 20 years as a journalist and the style and expectation is very different.
    Thank you for this post. Interesting read.

  61. Very interesting. Often times I get paralyzed in fear when I stare at a blank page and know that I have to turn out some big essay. I don’t exactly get scared of the audience that will read it, but I do get scared that my work will not be good enough…for myself. Of course I worry about how good my writing is when I write something for my blog, and sometimes, in certain circumstances, I will do anything but write. Even taxing chores and errands will be done, just so I can put off writing for a bit longer…. Great post! Very glad that you wrote this and shared it with an audience.

  62. Geetanjali says:

    This is just what I needed to read today. Ever since I decided to blog, and then discovered that my blog had readers, blogging has been stressful –even though I love writing. I felt such relief when I read your blog (and the comments that followed)! Thank you for this!

  63. TheSue says:

    Interesting piece you have here.

    I find that I thrive better when I know that my writing will be read and I’ve always enjoyed showing whatever little pieces I come up with to friends or teachers and eagerly anticipate their reaction, comments and criticism. Often time the process is long and grueling and every word gets deleted because it’s not perfect and just not right. And if it’s not good enough when I read it, therefore it must not be good enough for anyone to read. Maybe that’s just me and my OCD tendencies, but the blank page on screen is not one that I fear. The blank pages of my journal though, gets me every time. It’s the pen and paper deal and the fact that I write it and it’s penned in ink into the pages that I will one day flip back to see that scares me. I guess I’m just my own worst critic like that.

    But I digress. As an undergrad majoring in journalism myself, I definitely see the struggle for balance as I think that writing is an extremely private and delicate process. At the same time though, you still want to make a point, and to do so, you must ensure your audience understands what you are saying, and to do so, you must see it as they do.

    But the end of the day, I think the struggle for balance depends on what kind of a writer you aspire to be and what point you are trying to make. Like music and dance and art, there is always more than one way to interpret what is presented. Words, however clear cut as it may be, can still be mistranslated by different minds who read it. So I deal with it by knowing clearly what I want to achieve with my story/article/news or opinion piece. I try not to worry too much on how the audience might perceive the message I’m trying to relay, but concentrate on the actual writing itself, and what point I’m trying to make.


    Oh and congrats on getting onto Fresh Pressed. 🙂

  64. David Covas Lourenco says:

    This post and many of the comments are an inspiration to me, not just to keep writing but also to overcome the fear of failure. Thanks everyone!

  65. thatdoesntsoundright says:

    Well, I think that when the ideas are flowing freely, they should be allowed to flow, but once things have been put down, THEN the audience may be considered in terms of snipping sentences and polishing past participles.

    To expand on the point made in the first comment, my friends used to ask me to blog about my life just like they do, and I always felt that the result was vapid and forced sounding. However, recently, I started writing (with a PEN!) in a little journal that is open to no one. I found that I was writing better because I’m always thinking of the audience when I’m on a blog. But with that subconscious block gone (with the audience not there) , I write much better ‘on the page’ before having to transfer its contents elsewhere.

  66. TheMindOfFreya says:

    Ah yes! The struggle (sometimes) for something to write about. Especially when the goal is to write every day/week/month etc. Relevancy is key! As I am late getting ready for work, there is no time to write except on your comments. lol
    Great article thank you!

  67. This is a really interesting post and comment thread.

    I took a masters degree in creative writing a few years back, and now teach business writing skills. Thinking about what the audience needs is probably the most important part of that process, but I think you first need the freedom to put ideas on the page without inhibition. Once your ideas are down, you can edit them for your audience.

    I’ve found the same process applies to my creative writing: me first, audience later. I always try to leave a long gap between writing something and editing it – so that, to the greatest extent possible, I can read it *as a reader*. And, of course, I ask my fellow writers to comment honestly on the work.

    So I think that a writer needs to give his creativity free rein at first, and only then shape those thoughts for the reader’s benefit. The blank page is a lot less frightening if you know that anything goes!

  68. Sir Gawain says:

    As a very good friend of mine said to me many years ago: “whenever anyone criticises your work, just say to them: WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE PAGE WAS BLANK?”. He or she who can paint on a blank canvas deserve more reward than those who see it blank and leave it so. Avaunt!

  69. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I love the idea of your blog, and am going to subscribe so that I can follow your journey this year. I have bee writing stories and poems since I was a little girl, and now that I’ve retired from the “work” world, plan to settle back into writing again more often. All the best with your writing and your blogging.

  70. Noel Williams says:

    Very inspiring post but I must admit I was intimidated. Not having gone to college and have only been on WordPress for three days, I wondered whether or not I will be a victim to the blank page.

    • marvaseaton says:

      Noel not having gone to college will in no way make you any less of a writer. Writing at times is something of a gift once you have a love for it and work at perfecting your craft you will do well.

  71. Given06 says:

    What’s the fear on the blank page part? I see that you are on your way to describing it but I only saw recommendation towards it. How ever it’s a really great piece don’t feel discouraged.

  72. waterliyl says:

    Interesting post – I’m in school, and I’ve always been told to consider my audience in whatever I write, and also, I am often told to analyse what the objective of the writer would be, what did he want his audience to take away, who were his audience, etc etc. And for me, audience therefore, is a crucial part of writing. But in a way, ignoring them in order to write well gives you the focus and the creativity that you wouldn’t get if you thought like an audience, because you would forever be thinking of what the audience wants, and how the audience thinks. 🙂

  73. mikeoverdrive says:

    I write for an academic audience and for a “fun” audience.

    I just use the basic Hemingway idea… “There is no thinking in a first draft”. I just write whatever and get that draft done, fast. Then edit and mold for the audience.

  74. I find when I am hit with a blank piece of “paper” the only thing to do is to type stream-of-thought. I will edit later, of course, but at some point you just have to do it. I try to keep my audience in mind but really I need to force myself to put the words on the page. I am working on a novel right now in which I am making myself write at least 15 minutes a day. I hope that it will force me to write something that is worthwhile and viable.

  75. Very interesting post. My problem is, I am not so much worried about what other people think about my writing, rather I become over-critical about my own writing. And I often (needlessly) look for new ways to express myself- more elaborate or descriptive, when often- simple is best. But I’d have to say, in your class, I would probably be intimitated too. Love your writing by the way… :o). Congrats on FP!

  76. takeashower says:

    I tend to get bogged down in trying to be clever. I need to let the story tell itself

  77. Been there, done that. Having (first) and then actually making a point (or a few if you’re lucky) is the function of writing. Having an assignment without being able to find a point of interest to craft an argument around is a student’s worst nightmare… one which I know all too well.

  78. Your post jumped out at me on a morning when I was really struggling to find the right words to put on my blank page. I, too, think of my audience before I begin writing — and I don’t think that is necessarily right or wrong. You see, instead of thinking, “What does my audience want to read today?” I’m often thinking, “What do I want — or not want — my audience to learn about me today.” In the bitter end, I usually just open up my mind and let the words spill forth from my brain and form thoughts on my blank canvas. As an editor for more than 20 years, I understand that editing is just as important to a piece I can be proud of as the writing of those first few letters on a blank page. Editing is to writing what tailoring is to a fitting.

    Good luck to you. Great, insightful, helpful post and comments. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  79. Wow–being on Freshly Pressed must feel like getting a whole stack of essays you hadn’t scheduled time to read and comment on! I’m sure, however, that your post title and topic also contribute to the number of responses: writers are naturally an anxious lot (I think it has to do with having an observant mindset and unusual vision, a combination that often results in perfectionism and self-doubt), and our relationship to the blank page is often more tortured than even family ties.

    Taking it on as a writing topic is a paradoxically good treatment for that anxiety, but it’s hard to implement in a graded academic setting because safety is paramount in order for the treatment to work: It’s hard, but not impossible. I have my students do a LOT of freewrites, and when they freeze up I tell them to write about that. When one woman said she had crumpled and tossed every page she started, I told her to dig them out of the wastebasket and turn them in. My favorite paper said “I have spent the last fifteen minutes erasing everything I wrote.” I always spend the first week of a ten-week course explicitly taking on the topics of writing anxiety, judgment, perfectionism, expectations, and how/why we have been silenced. That time spent creating a safe environment pays off consistently in student confidence and willingness to take risks, as well as such conventional outcomes as critical thinking. Students who are writing about things they have never told anyone (this happens nearly every term) are motivated in revision to honor that story by getting the grammar right; it’s not about the grade, and it’s no longer about whether they are “good enough.” It’s about testifying.

    I agree that the advice to make an essay relevant is better than worrying about audience–but what does “relevant” mean? I think it means you write about something real, something that matters to you (the “so what” should be personal), and you risk being yourself on the page, even in an academic setting. As teachers, we can do a lot–by what we model and what we discuss–to make that a safe experience for students. I’m happy to see someone at the beginning of her teaching career thinking along these lines; you have a lot of lucky students waiting to meet you, some of whom are probably in third grade right now, getting traumatized by someone else’s red pen. (I support anyone who can envision a purple stop light.)

    Barbara Sullivan

    P.S. If you’re interested, you can read a longer rant about judgment and writing on my blog here:

  80. As a writer, an aspiring one of course, my greatest fear is definitely the blank page or having too many pages and nowhere else to go. I have a manuscript I’m working on and I am in that horrible period of trying to finish it, worrying about editing and the inevitable after where I worry about publishing it or if it should stay in my top drawer hidden from the world? I would love to publish it but of course then I would have to finish it. Great post, this speaks to a lot of people.

  81. I do find excuses not to write but ultimately, it must all go down on paper. I write for myself but I do publish in ebooks on kindle for the fun of it. I believe there is an audience for pretty much everything so don’t spend much time on it. Great blog, enjoyed reading your piece and opinion.

  82. As a brand new blogger, I thank you for this. My audience is me, and if by chance anyone else stumbles upon my words they are welcome to stop and enjoy (or not).

  83. valentinedee says:

    I may be the only one who has a different perspective on this. I’m a writer, and when I get the idea for a story, it generally happens through a pensive moment. So, when it actually does happen for me, it’s about the creativity and fulfilling the process by using my imagination. I never, ever consider my audience when I write from creativity. It’s almost like this: I write and the audience will come.

    For me, if I had to write specifically to please someone, anyone, or everyone, I’d never write. It would be impossible. I’m a novelist, and a true novelist can only write from creativity. After all, it’s all about the creation and nothing more.


  84. This is a very interesting point of view…but again like any of these comments have said, sometimes the audience is most important…readers want to be entertained therefore as writers we have o atleast please a small population of people…I write a blog with my own poetry on it but I always have to be mindful of the fact that the demographic of people that will b seeing my page will be teenaers (I m currently a senior in high school) we dont write and blog just to do it we hope to snd our work into the worldwide web and maybe jut mayb catch someones interest

  85. Eva McCane says:

    love the perspective! i do loathe a blank page, but now i’m in the habit of not even opening a document until i have something on my mind. helps me be more productive and less frustrated with getting a message out. thanks for sharing! good read.

  86. JT says:

    I just posted yesterday (Food 4 Thought Food 4 Life) how I have decided to write for me, and that it may be a bit selfish, Congratulations on you being “Freshly Pressed” ! I guess your “audience” has changed significantly since you crafted this post! 🙂

  87. jameyprickett says:

    A professor once told me, “Write something that you wish someone had written for you.” I try to hold true to this in my writing and public speaking. Thanks for sharing.

  88. Hello! I write a blog “That’s What V Said’ –, and this post really helped me! I tend to lack confidence at times when writing a new post. “Ignoring audience, for a time, can lead to better writing”… that is such a good point! A lot of times I catch myself continuously second guessing what I’m going to right because I wonder how the reader’s will react and I get self conscious about the mechanics. If I ignore the audience a little bit, maybe, for me, I will feel my writing will be more “natural.” Even if it isn’t perfect.

  89. The audience I usually write for is myself. Getting the words out isn’t a problem. But when it comes to submitting my manuscript to a competition, let alone a publisher, it becomes a scary prospect.

  90. fauxmablog says:

    A professor i had in art school told me once, “Be prepared to over think and screw up all of your raw talent now that you are in Art school.” I think he was drunk when he said it, there was a rumor that his water bottle was always filled with vodka. It was pretty depressing, and accurate. I felt like my artwork got more contrived, the longer I was there. It took so much more editing as a senior than it did as a freshmen. But anyways, I feel like that relates to what you are saying here. Maybe the more educated you are, the less uninhibited you are when you write. So I am really glad that I don’t have any formal writing education, because it allows my blogging to actually be fun. I don’t give a shit. That could also be because I am currently in the middle of a hellish postpartum depression. Maybe when I sober up from the freedom of venting at the drop of a hat because I am a mess 24/7, I will feel embarrassed. I doubt it though. I’m gonna ride this cringing-free wave for as long as it lasts! Sorry, Mom! Check out my blog (i’m new here) if you like,

  91. nicoleann701 says:

    I really found the perspective of this piece interesting and inspirational… not to mention refreshing. We are told early on in our writing experiences that we need to consider our audience. What often holds me up in the writing process too is this very thing; I tend to too heavily consider my audience. It’s nice to be reminded that consideration for your audience isn’t what always needs to be the focus when you begin to write.

  92. jeik42 says:

    I’ve found one of the most helpful tools over the past few years to be “The Pocket Muse.” Basically, it’s a collection of photos, and quick, small bits to help jump-start ideas. It also has a writing regiment built in, which forces you to stay sitting down and actually write… instead of grabbing that next cup of coffee. For me, it’s all about cementing that daily routine and getting into a groove that can eventually create some great results. I’d highly recommend it (whatever menial weight my recommendation has at this stage…).

    I personally hadn’t thought about how clearing out the idea of a set audience could help. Looking forward to giving it a go pretty soon!

  93. litoncomp says:

    (in response to your comment on my blog) Hi Michelle- I was not really suggesting that we should always do the assignments we give our students. I was simply giving an example of how we can become participants in their experience as students (in any classroom; this is not restricted to the composition classroom), rather than standing over them shaking our rulers at them for forgetting to put a comma after the conjunction in their papers. And I think it might work with freshmen. I’m actually assigning the slam poem to my freshmen this semester and plan to show them mine (I have a video of it), so we’ll see what happens! And yes- I’m glad you picked up on the fact that I’m not preaching expressivism as working for everyone, all the time. In fact, I’m a firm believer in bringing in texts other than my students’ life experiences into my classroom (for our autobiography unit, we read some Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and Jay-Z, and we watched “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch), because I recognize that the world is comprised of a variety of people. In other words, our students don’t live on clouds by themselves, and I’m aware of this fact. I think this is a criticism of expressivism hurled by those who don’t really understand what it is. -Lindsey (LitonComp)

    • I didn’t mean to suggest that participating in everything was necessary- just to comment on the fact that making yourself as vulnerable as you were asking them to be helped create an interesting dynamic. It sounds like you made bank on a unique opportunity and I’d love to hear how it goes in freshman comp!

  94. St. Cain says:

    thank you, that little bit just gave me hope for conquering my empty screen

  95. newsy1 says:

    I’ve been a writer of one kind or another for 30 years. I have found that finding your audience is like finding your voice. If you over think it–it just doesn’t work. Great post.

  96. shanbo53 says:

    Great post! I have all too often felt the strain of audience. I have always considered it to be the most important thing to keep in mind when mulling over the content. This is such a great take on approaching the first few drafts (although I agree that I will find this a difficult practice for blogging). Thanks for the insight!

  97. Inspiring!
    Thanks for posting it. I agree. Sometimes well most of the time, you just write what you want to write. 😀

  98. To paraphrase a Stephen King quote: the biggest problem for American Short Story Writers is that they all seem to be writing for other short story writers. They get so wrapped up in being impressive they forget to tell a story.
    I don’t know if that predicament is better or worse than a blank page.

  99. Anna says:

    I agree with the comment that finding your audience is like finding a voice. I explored the process of writing a first draft as discovery and then letting the voice develop and found this can sometimes be beneficial (with structure). Any comp student needs some structure, but given the opportunity to write and have a discovery time can develop much more productive invention. Analyzing your audience and at least deciding “what kind” of audience they are even if not specifically can release a burden for the student writer. Is the reader an empathetic or appreciative reader or a comprehensive or critical reader?

  100. Pingback: The Beginning « The Libra Chronicles

  101. Very interesting insight … I can see both sides. As a writer myself, trained specifically in journalism, I was taught to consider audience first. Always. But as a blogger and creative writer, that always felt very limiting. I have to agree with the professor you mentioned … Writing focus should be about effectively making a point, not winning readership. But that of course begs the question: Who benefits from the point being made if no audience wants to read your material? I think every writer has to find that balance, and I think it’s probable that balance is different for each piece as well as each author. 🙂

  102. Clarence Er says:

    Great article!! The last paragraph was my favourite, where it not only sums up what was written, but also stresses the matter of “making a point” in what you write. 🙂

  103. Interesting piece – as a freelancer I love the allure of a blank page, writing for an audience is always at the forefront of my professional stuff and I rarely find time to write for myself, but I’ll keep this in mind when I do. Thank you for sharing.

  104. Pingback: Deepest Fear? The Blank Page (via Words are Friends) « Passion for Transformers

  105. rakhikankane says:

    enjoyed reading 🙂 nice blog

  106. river218 says:

    Don’t worry about those people with Ph.Ds and those already published. They had to start somewhere, too!

  107. Zach B. says:

    Wow! First of all, let me congratulate you for garnering so many comments! I particularly love the image of the blank screen and the caption asking me to imagine Cruella DeVille laughing. But this whole blog post is fantastic, and it truly expounds upon the theory presented by Elbow. Specifically, I think you present a lot of interesting material that really makes your audience think. In a sense, you have taken Elbow’s theory that readers want prose that is right for thinking, and you have applied it to your own blog post. Does it work? I can’t be sure about specifics, but I can be sure that you have attracted 136 comments at the time of writing this response, and that is amazing.

    At the end of your blog post, you pose the question, “How do we find the balance of audience relevancy in the classroom?” Like the complicated, flexible writing process, I am not sure there is a good clear cut answer to this question. Instead, I think the “correct” balance of audience relevancy when teaching composition depends solely on the instructor and his or her views. I also wrote a reading response on this very article, and, for me, I think it is appropriate to ignore the audience in the pre-writing phase, and then bring a specific audience in before moving to the writing phase. That way, the student can tap into his or her entire knowledge of a given topic before constricting it to the perceptions of an audience. I’m sure there are other ways of balancing audience relevancy, and I am looking forward to discussing them in class on Friday. Nice job!

  108. worldinform says:

    Really enjoyed reading :). i also write but yeah that blank page scares me too. Btw good blog.

    Visit mine

  109. Great article …Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting. I will be waiting for your next post.

  110. I think the audience should be secondary to the little shiver you feel when you know you have to get something out. No one need fear the blank page—that empty space is there for spilling your guts. Then go back and cut and revise mercilessly, with the reader in mind. The blank page is an engraved invitation waiting for us to respond with all of our passion…then consider the audience by being respectful of their time and intelligence. And no writer, no matter how skillful, can earn the praise of everyone.

  111. havit says:

    Photos hop it is excellent outil of design !

  112. Great post! And the very helpful ideas in the comments too. I am new to writing/blogging and appreciate all the help I can get. Thank you.

  113. Huffygirl says:

    Does the writing choose the audience or does the audience choose the writing? While considering one’s audience is important and effects style, sometimes it’s necessary to get our words down, and let the audience choose. Classwork writing is an exception: by nature it is for an audience of one. That one, by design is intended to be critical.

    I hope your page no longer remains blank.

  114. leadinglight says:

    If it’s a topic I’m passionate about, I can write plenty on it. If it’s assigned on the other hand, I need to research in more depth and it takes longer because I have an audience to consider.

  115. Joshua says:

    This is an awesome and enlightening food for the thought of writers.

  116. Tyler says:

    I find it amazing that with all the writing and creativity classes I’ve taken (I’m an art student) I still find it so difficult to come out of a writer’s block. Interesting post here!

  117. natbeau123 says:

    I have to say, my writing exercises in college, helped me tremendously…you come out with things you didn’t know were in the back of your mind, sometimes leading to very interesting posts.
    Sometimes…(just in case you read my scant blog)…lol.

  118. Great insight. I love getting writing advice and picking and choosing what works best for me. I really enjoyed Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, it helped me to realize that at first all writing is bad, that’s why there are rough drafts and edits and so forth. It’s a process, not a one shot deal.

  119. I agree with Camie, writing is a process where we each develop our own individual styles and methods that work for us. Great post!

  120. The truth of the matter struck me now; loud and clear. And I am going to keep this in mind.

    Great post!

  121. Cheryl says:

    This is one of my favourite quotes about how easy writing can be: “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” (Gene Fowler)

  122. Jordansaker says:

    This is my favourite writing quote. “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~Ray Bradbury

  123. thoraaron says:

    One shouldn’t think too much when they write, you simply need to write, your brain is so complex it will come up with metaphors and hidden meanings all on its own without you even realizing you’re writing it. All you need to worry about is the first step, just write.

  124. mengler says:

    not a bad post,

    if you have any short stories, or poems, or any type of writing you may like to have reviewed please let me know at the email you can see 🙂

    i also agree with the ignoring the audience produces the best results sometimes.

    keep up the good work,

  125. Alexandra says:

    aww, i’m sorry that’s the situation for you! when inspiration hits me, it’s all one can do to try to keep me from the keyboard!


  126. fenrisxwolf says:

    Very engaging. I write creatively from time to time and I’ve never stopped to think about the audience. Thinking back on my high school senior research paper, I feel I was writing to impress myself rather than an audience.

  127. cj says:

    That’s the best, and scariest thing bout writing a blog, you can’t just stick what you’ve written in a drawer, it goes straight out to an audience…

  128. Davis Trace says:

    The reader will never care about the subject, if the author does exhibit that same passion.

  129. kablom says:

    Congratulations on your website!!
    Promote your website here.

  130. livelymind says:

    Great topic and so many insightful replies! Ive wanted to blog for about a year n finally decided to do it. I too am/was concerned with thoughts of “is this just a selfish ploy to be heard? My answer is now definitely “no”. Yes, its theraputic for me but my real desire is to pay it forward. I hope to inspire others as I have been by friends, family and complete strangers. Their contributions, whether realized at the time or not…. good or bad… have shaped me into who I am today. This article is proof to me that blogging / writing is not a selfish act-we’ve all come together and inspired one another in some way to some degree. Im much less fearful because of it.
    With gratitude ~ Thank you all so much!!

  131. “Imagine Cruella De Vil laughing.” I say Captain Hook! The blank page terrifies me actuallly. I just sit there, staring at it, blinking from time to time. Then I close it. Open it again. Close it. Open it. Try to ignore it. I fail. Sigh.

  132. Manu says:

    A good writer wants to communicate with another human being. Therefor, tries to focus on what we as people have in common instead of the differences or personal convictions. He want’s to remember the reader to some pure and simple things that we have forgotten but are vital for living and what makes us human. He reminds us of universal (awesome) truths instead of brainwashing the audience those simply don’t exist. That’s bad writing.

    Rancilio Silvia

  133. In direct response to your title: No. Blank page is my greatest joy. A page full of words is a nightmare, but I can do what I like with a blank page. As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t messed it up yet.

  134. filipinoy says:

    This is really nice. Thanks for posting this. Makes me remember about what my English professor said last semester about the “So what?” aspect. Making it relevant is important. And it’s making me think deeper about how I go about my own writing, esp. here on WP.

  135. Pingback: From Chronicle to Course « The Chronicle of Shroud – A Writing Project

  136. Pingback: The Blank Page « Janet Glaser

  137. Pingback: Living in the Moment « Thoughtspresso

  138. Pingback: A Writers Greatest Fear? « Writers In The Peak

  139. Josh Bole says:

    Very well written post. It will be helpful to anybody who usess it, including me. Keep doing what you are doing – i will definitely read more posts.

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  142. Johnd910 says:

    You are my inhalation, I have few blogs and sometimes run out from to brand. edkkbfdckeed

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