some people like fruitcake, too
what does it really mean to be original? thats what i asked myself when i first started writing. it feels like everything has been done; nowadays people have blogs, articles, podcasts, and videos that are able to perfectly compartmentalize every single thought weve ever had. maybe thats why i was drawn to doing my undergraduate thesis project, it felt like i was doing something original, something that couldnt be described by the first article of a google search.
quite honestly, its something i struggle with. if someone has written about the dillemma, what good does my input serve? what do i bring to the table if the table has already been served? it feels at times like im bringing a one of those christmas fruit cakes to a holiday party. what makes my fruit cake so special when we have these beautiful red velvet, tres leches, and tiramisu desserts?
as ive been trying to write more thoughtfully, i find myself ending up with these feelings. i could find some super obscure russian novel and write a review about that, but what worth does that bring to me? what goes does it do to me to push to do original things? is that truly what i want? this blog was created by me and for me... is it okay if the things that i write about arent necessarily original?
~ aco, in bringing a fruitcake to a holiday party
I've been turning aco's musings about originality in my head this week, not least because they closely resemble some of my fears when I first started blogging. After two hundred posts (and counting), my mindset has shifted, and I've largely stopped worrying about being original since. Fittingly, I can trace most of my new (healthier) thoughts on the subject to some great sources, so I'll share them here.
The best response to worries about originality I've seen is Alexey Guzey's post Why You Should Start a Blog Right Now, specifically points 4. “But I don’t have anything original to say and I would be just repeating things said elsewhere on the internet!” and 5. Why unoriginal writing is useful. I wish I could add something insightful of my own to what Guzey says (and cites), but it's perfect. I only have this bit which has always stuck with me to share:
"Michelangelo didn’t try to develop an original style, he just tried to make good art. He couldn’t help but be Michelangelo. So aim to make good art. Don’t bother trying to capture your “essence” or your style or whatever you call it- it reveals itself as the things you can’t really help doing when you’re doing great work. Aim to be prolific instead."
~ Visakan Veerasamy, everything is a remix
I also really like two tweets Alexey links in section 12, in addition to everything else he quotes in that section about the value of writing for yourself (even in the off-chance that nobody reads your blog, you will still have learned a lot (about yourself, most importantly) for having written at all):
“you radically underestimate both a) how much you know that other people do not and b) the instrumental benefits to you of publishing it."
“Some people really benefit from hearing advice that everyone knows, for the same reason we keep schools open despite every subject in them having been taught before."
~ Patrick McKenzie, in a tweet and thread
All these observations reflect my experiences blogging over the past year and a half. I don't find my work particularly original (heck, this post is a perfect example of how derivative most of my stuff is), and I'm certainly far from the best writer on this platform, but readers still write to me to tell me that something I wrote inspired them to do something, or made them feel seen. And that's enough for me. I've accepted that I won't ever be a Tim Urban or a Paul Graham, but as long as what I write can get through to one person, my effort won't have been in vain. If aco never wrote his post, I likely would never have been inspired to write this post, and to go back to his original analogy, you might just be bringing a fruitcake to a holiday party—but there are people out there that love fruitcake, too, even if they might be harder to come by than people that like cheesecake or red velvet cake or what have you.
"What I’m really concerned about is reaching one person. And that person may be myself for all I know."
~ Jorge Luis Borges