As ripples of writing inspiration hit me throughout the day, I quickly type my ideas down into my iPhone notepad, linked to my MacBook Pro for easy reference and access:
“A nature meditation,” “Tell the story of the family on this flight,” “Why the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie still holds up in 2023,” “Enjoying the ‘suffer’ in life (talk: man’s search for meaning),” “Why it’s OK to have selective friendships,” “Why being alone for me is not ‘sad’,” “Why I hate coming up with article titles,” “I dreamt a bear bit my foot: a reflection on my apparent fears with commitment according to ‘dream dictionary’.”
I have about 50 article ideas that have yet to materialize. So why do I have these 50 ideas and not 50 completed articles—knocking one out after the other so that I can confidently state to the world, “I am actively writing, therefore, I am a writer”?
One pattern I notice as I jot down my ideas is that I find myself tempted to discard those that have a simple message. Thinking that these thoughts or ideas lack “depth,” that critical devil on my shoulder makes me believe that there won’t be much interest in these seemingly shallow topics. Thinking, “it’s not unique enough. It’s not thoughtful enough.” After all, my intention and goal with writing includes creating quality content (whatever that means), not just pushing articles out in mass quantity for virtual praise and dopamine boosts.
Inevitably, I wrote articles that I didn’t feel were my best. “Did I even proofread this?” I thought. Some of my writing sounds like a journal article I wrote at 1 a.m. after a work shift and during a time I had been skipping my B12 supplements. I’ve felt dull, unmotivated, uncreative, I’ve frequently experienced word-finding difficulties and sometimes have felt just plain illiterate.
One of my favorite “Seinfeld” episodes is when Jerry groggily wakes in the middle of the night, thinking he was dreaming of a funny stand-up comedy bit. He scribbles the joke down on his bedside laughing to himself and proceeds to fall back asleep. He then wakes up the next day and can’t understand his writing, only to be offered completely varying interpretations of his writing from other people on the show. At the end of the episode, he anticlimactically realizes that the “joke” is a line from a stupid movie he fell asleep to the night before “Flaming Globes of Sigmund—That’s not funny,” Jerry says, “There’s nothing funny about that.”
If I were to unnecessarily analyze Jerry’s feelings on the topic, I’d gather that as he was falling asleep listening to “Flaming Globes of Sigmund,” he was picking up on the maniacal laughter in the character’s voice as he was screaming that phrase. So really, there was meaning behind Jerry thinking that phrase was funny; it was just likely coming from the emotion behind the phrase and not the phrase itself.
Much like looking back at your middle school journal, the things you thought were really deep in the moment don’t seem to hit the same as an adult, but that doesn’t mean they are less meaningful. This would be the perfect time to insert some 8th grade poetry had I not burned my childhood journal in my parent’s backyard fire pit in an angry rage when I was 21.
But of course now I want to read through that immature journal from Lane Middle School. I want to laugh at my own stupidity and be able to follow the path of my growth—remember worries and obsessions that I had and successfully overcame. And had I written about them on this page, it’s something we could have possibly all laughed about together because of its relatability.
Pushing aside my own thoughts and criticisms, I discovered that some of my most successful articles and writing topics were actually those I initially labeled as shallow.
Friends and family continue to discuss an article I wrote almost nine months ago relating to a social experiment where I didn’t wear makeup for six weeks. It wasn’t a topic about my thoughts on the meaning of life, it wasn’t about spiritual transformation, my experiences with death and the dying; it was about makeup and not wearing any for a short amount of time. That’s it. But it was enough to be relatable—enough to hold a personal meaning for those who could connect to my experience.
Other people need to relate to what you’re talking about. And while that doesn’t mean you should only be writing for a web-based algorithm, you should also not be discarding those ideas that are still a part of your life and that make you human.
You can’t go wrong by developing a habit and keeping things simple, or, as my 10-year old self proudly declared once, “I’m a simpleton,” thinking the word meant someone who is simple and low maintenance. This time was before Google.
A friend and teacher of mine more wisely said, “we’re human; we are not Buddha.”
And a less insightful and snarky quote really ties it all together: “It’s not that deep, Vanessa,” coming from my once-teenage older sister who is now almost 40 years old. It’s not all that deep, and I’m okay with that now.