Saturday, May 07, 2005

Shallow Thoughts, Banal Feelings

This is the first piece of advice I give my writing students. And the last. And several times in between.

We all start writing for the same reason. Our first impulses are always: we want to write because we have something to say. We have thoughts we want to express to the world, and we have feelings we want to share with the world.

So we start writing, and before long (if we’re lucky), but eventually (guaranteed), we will realize something. And this is the mantra I want you to remember all through this course, and all of your writing career:

All your thoughts are shallow, and all your feelings are banal.

And once that realization hits us, we can react in three ways, all of them OK.

We can say "OK, it's true. All my thoughts are shallow, and all my feelings are banal. So what? They're still my thoughts and feelings, and I just write to please myself." And there's nothing wrong with that. We just have to realize, then, that our writing is private rather than public. It's for our journals, and letters to our closest friends, and it's to be put away in attic so that someday our great-great-grandchildren can find them and say, "Wow, g-g-grandpa was really cool back in the 21st century."

Or we can say, "My God, it's true. All my thoughts are shallow, and all my feelings are banal. What am I doing? I'd better give up writing." And that's OK, too -- not everyone has to write. Just don't stop reading.

Or we can say, and we do say, if we're lucky or unlucky enough to be this kind of person, "My God, it's true. All my thoughts are shallow, and all my feelings are banal. That means I'm FREEEEEE!!!!!!!" And you are. You are no longer obligated to make sure the world gets your thoughts and feelings. You can explore words, and images, and all the possibilities of language.


ylla2026 said...

Funny that I was just thinking of this last night.

I have nothing to say. Nothing original is in me. I am nothing at all.

You're right. It's a great feeling. :)

Jer said...

Cool, o. Thanks. Jer

Jer said...

Tad, please come to HWs. I've started a discussion about your statement. :) Jer (who also loves to "stir it up")

J. Newberry said...


Thank you. I've been teaching writing for going on 6 years now and I'm about to return to school to persue my Ph.D. I've written and published poetry. And I've never thought about this truth before: all of my feelings *are* banal.

This is some the best advice I've heard in a good long time. I think I'll do # 3: I'm FREEE!