Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Have you ever noticed how it's "A penny for your thoughts" if someone else wants to know what you're thinking, but if you just opine on your own it's your "two cents?"

I'm not sure if this reflects a growing inflationary trend between when the two phrases entered into the lexicon, or if it's perhaps an indication that for most of us, whatever it is we have to say is a little less valuable than we think it is? I realize the irony of espousing such a position here, of all places, but nonetheless I stand by my contention that for the most part what we say is of somewhat less importance than we are oft inclined to give it.

Especially writers.

This is not always the case. I can think of a couple of writers who seem more than aware of the limitations of their own musings, whether in giving their opinions or in the pages of their stories. Of course, for every writer who claims to be just a humble author - who may even live up to that most of the time - there's always usually at least one story or incident where they do take themselves a little too seriously. There's that theme, or moral, or just their magnum opus that by the time they're done with it you can tell it had taken on a life and importance of it's own, particularly in the author's head.

Now, guilty as I am of this myself, I would also posit it's a necessary conceit. Somewhere along the lines we decided that, whatever it was we had to say, it was worth sharing. Beyond just conversation with friends or families or co-workers, beyond whatever social circle we may inscribe around ourselves on the internet, we have the need to share what we write. You can quibble over whether the need to entertain equates with importance (and there are certainly arguments to be made on both sides of that, though for myself I would state in strident terms the importance of entertainment), but you can't argue that we feel our stories are worth sharing.

Not always more so than anyone else. For those of us who know other writers, unless you're being harsh - which sometimes you ought to be - we're by default associating with others who have the same conceit as we do and may well be more justified in that. We establish something of an equal footing, wherein we say "Yes, you're good, and worth sharing, but look at me, too." In part this may simply come about because unlike other, non-writers, we're willing to put in the time and effort to get it out there in the first place. While there is some satisfaction that comes in admiring your own work for a job well done, we are conditioned as human beings to want that external pat on the head or hearty "good job" from someone else.

Certainly more so than say your Uncle Bob, though. Maybe you have one of these (apologies to you if you do). He's the guy always telling jokes or stories at family get togethers. Might not even be Uncle Bob. He (or she) might be co-worker Bob. Or friend of a friend Bob. Whatever. He's always got stories to tell. But not beyond the confines of that small group he inhabits with you. It's the same reason someone who tells jokes on the golf course doesn't go into stand-up comedy. That impulse to share it with a wider audience, the self-confidence to believe it's worth putting out there, that's lacking in Uncle Bob. He doesn't need it, and doesn't think what he has to say is worth that extra penny to the world at large.

(Even if he thinks it's all worth it's weight in gold amongst his relatives/friends/coworkers.)

This applies to far more than just writers, of course, as the entire industry of talk radio and cable news seems to run on this. In some cases you could make the argument that their audience values the thoughts of the hosts more so than their own, thereby reversing the analogy, but it still holds for all the pundits.

So are our own thoughts really worth the extra penny? I think perhaps that depends on whether we're asking others to assess our opinions at that higher cost, or whether it's more a case of how much we have to chip in to get them to listen in the first place. But that's another entry entirely.

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