When we get an essay here at BoomerCafé with a title like “Things that make me happy,” well, we want to know what those things are. And in this essay, nationally published lifestyles journalist and blogger Cindy La Ferle tells us.
“Do your own thing. Let others own their own thing.
If you copy too much, you’ll find yourself
in late-night cocktail lounge cover-band limbo.”
~ Kurt Cobain, Journals
The secret to success in any creative venture is finding your own voice and sharing your unique view of the world.
But being original is tricky these days — especially now that we’re all exposed to so many other voices, trends, and ideas. Google any topic online, and you’ll find scores of articles, poems, essays, blog posts, or books already written about it. You’d like to believe it was your brilliant idea– but apparently a lot of other people thought of it first. Even if it’s unintentional, there’s a lot of copycat work floating around in cyberspace.
When I started freelance writing in the early 1980s, I didn’t have the convenience of the internet. I did my research at the local library or in phone interviews. I paged through heavy dictionaries to check spelling and usage. I typed my articles on an electric typewriter, then dropped them off at the local newspaper office or snail-mailed them to out-of-town editors.
Without the internet, I had to make a bigger effort to see what other writers were publishing or what was trending in the news. I read a lot of hard copy, subscribing to newspapers and magazines that published the type of work I wanted to do.
Not that I’d prefer to work that way again. I’m only suggesting that it was easier to be fresh and original in those days. You had to take a chance on the creative ideas that popped into your own head — rather than emulate what other people were putting out there. Instead of rehashing the hot topic of the moment, you wrote about what you knew or genuinely cared about, or what you wanted to learn.
In 1993, Anne Lamott wrote Operating Instructions, a memoir of her first year of motherhood. I was awed by her candor and courage in describing the challenges of being a single mom and a recovering alcoholic. To borrow from a quote I saw on Pinterest, Lamott’s voice is hers alone– not an echo. Not surprisingly, her memoir inspired thousands of copycat Mommy blogs and memoirs. Before long, I got bored with them all. By then, the Mommy market was saturated, and it was nearly impossible to pitch new motherhood pieces to parenting publications.
With millions of writers and artists publishing and promoting their work on web sites, blogs, and other social media, it’s getting harder to be dazzled by something new.
My husband, an artist, and I often talk about the perks and challenges of doing creative work in the age of the internet. While we appreciate having this miraculous online research tool at our fingertips, we often discover that dozens of others have already produced or published what we thought were our own ideas– before we had a chance to take them out for a test run. Do we produce them anyway and risk plagiarism? It’s easy to get discouraged or frustrated, even though we know better.
Maybe this is a gift of aging, but I’m starting to lose that nagging fear of missing out– and find I’m better off limiting my time on social media. I appreciate life more when I’m not watching what other people are doing. I find the best creative inspiration when I visit art and science museums, hike outdoors, explore different towns, browse in bookstores, watch independent films, try new recipes, or engage in conversation with interesting people– anything that wakes me up and makes me look at the world with fresh eyes.
I remind myself, too, that truly original people– whether they write love songs, design cars, or paint landscapes– will always put their own spin on anything they do. Even if it’s been done before.
Cindy’s book is, “Writing Home: Collected Essays and Newspaper Columns by Cindy La Ferle.”