I write what you write, and its turtles all the way down

My favorite song is “I know what I know” by Paul Simon. Or at least that’s what I tell people when I am asked that question every two years or so. I mean, sure?

I like it for three reasons¹: 1. It’s a catchy, upbeat tune 2. it’s by Paul Simon, and 3. It’s different.

Now, there are a lot of things to “unpack”² with this being my favorite song, but point number three is most relevant. Casual Paul Simon listeners likely know him for “Call Me Al” or “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” not the third track on his Graceland album. While I can’t remember when I first told someone that this song was my favorite song, I can remember that I liked that I chose something “unique.” Or at least I told myself I did. I’m not so sure now.

Why does this matter? Well, it’s Friday night and I am on day four of writing for 30 days.

Thus far, my writing routine consists of the following: 1. sit down 2. open computer 3. navigate to my Google Drive 4. scroll through half-finished diatribes and meandering essays 5. give up and start a new document 5. “Eureka, this time is different!” 6. realize it's not 7. write something and post anyway.

The past four days have taught me this: I view writing as something that requires originality in everything that goes on the page.³ But the reality is the opposite. All writing is derivative. People have thought longer, written more eloquently, and generally explored more deeply the topics I write about.

And it’s derivative to even write that. That too. And that…you get the picture.

So, Friday at 9:52 PM. Up to this point in my writing career (pretty generous to call it a career, but it’s my narrative, I’ll lie when I want to), the desire to be different and new with my writing has prevented the actual act of writing.

And yet, writing is less about originality — the desire to be special, to pick a favorite song that is unique — and more about habit. And while it can be humbling to scan through my Google Drive and reread musings that parrot better written op-ed pieces, that’s okay. I can write anyway.

The beauty of writing publicly each day lies not in the originality but in the routine. I know what I know, I write what I/you/they/we write.


[1] Always have three reasons for something. It allows you to 1) look thoughtful, 2) hopefully be thoughtful, and 3) if neither of those is true, maybe you get lucky.

[2] If you are reading this and a) aren’t one of the few friends that are semi-obligated to read my daily writing, and b) haven’t read my post from yesterday, and c) read footnotes, this link is why I put “unpack” in quotes.

[3] When will we start saying “screen” instead of “page” when referring to writing? I mean, how many people are actually writing on physical pages anymore. Will the nomenclature change, or will the near future bring some technology-enabled telepathy that will make the act of writing obsolete, thus allowing us to skip the whole page → screen debate and go page → mind meld, or whatever?