Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Under most circumstances, banal platitudes are a pet peeve of mine. However, for the last few weeks I’ve been reexamining the deeper implications of one of the earliest sayings to be instilled in me: ‘You are what you eat.’ Of course when I was a kid, I presumed this statement was little more than a malicious assault directed towards my compulsory adoration of junk food. It took until adulthood before I thought to consider it in a more metaphorical light.

Most people recognize, on some level, that they will tend to regurgitate what they are immersed in. Children are well known to mimic adults and peers as they integrate the language and behaviors they experience into their own identities.(Which, of course, ties in with the equally old adage: ‘Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.’) This process of replication and assimilation doesn’t end with childhood, it simply becomes less parroted and more subtle. (At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m prancing off into sociological commentary. Bear with me. My thought process may take the slow lane and make a few detours, but it usually reaches its destination.)

As I’ve spent more time talking to others writers about growing their own personal style, another application of this concept occurred to me.(And I dare say it has crossover relevance to professions that involve any degree of creativity.) In terms of media consumption, we ‘are what we read.’ That’s not to say that every last word we ingest is significant to our future works… I’m only noting that we can hardly keep from incorporating aspects from what we spend the bulk of our literary time meditating on. I know I’m probably behind most of my peers with this revelation, but it’s had a significant impact on how I delegate my time. It used to be that I would devour just about any book or magazine that found its way into my hands.(Please note; I’m not knocking the practice of reading widely!) But in attempting to balance everything else that needs doing, I’m already seeing the benefit of screening for quality.

Let’s face it, written media is like any other form of entertainment. Some works are masterpieces to be cherished, while others are spat out in the wanton hopes of making a quick buck. Most of us have picked up a book that reminded us of a car wreck; horrible to experience but curiously difficult to tear your eyes away from. Perhaps we want to feel justified in denouncing it as a waste of time. Or, perhaps we’re hopeful to the bitter end that the author might somehow pull out of their blatant career nosedive. Regardless of our motives, we convince ourselves that our semi-precious time was the only casualty to seeing it through to the finish. I’ve come to the conclusion now that, in my case at least, my writing also suffers. Just as reading something fantastic can inspire and enrich my prose, reading something awful seems to have the opposite effect.

This brings me back around to yet another commonly overused maxim, and the aforementioned title: ‘Garbage in, garbage out’. As a pre-teen I recall receiving this warning in regards to the television and music I was spending my time on, and the resulting affect on my impressionable vocabulary. It always made me envision something on this order:

Though what comes out of my mouth tends to see far less revision than what comes out onto paper or word processor,(apologies to all those within earshot of me) I suspect that the sentiment still applies. And so, I’ve been challenged of late to ask myself what I’m taking in, and if it’s affect on my work could be deemed good, bad, or neutral. Hopefully I’ll learn to skip over the bad, and possibly spend less of my time on the merely neutral. (If I become any less long-winded over expressing a concept like this, we can all assume it’s paying off.)

I have my mascot, and now out of this train of thought I’ve produced my motto: “I will write well; or at least adequately!” …actually, I’m not sure if that counts as a motto, or if it’s more of an assertion. Hmm. Well, seeing as it would make a lousy battle cry, I’m going to claim it as a motto until otherwise corrected.

P.S.: I don’t plan on making vaguely morbid illustrations a habit with this blog, but I can’t promise you won’t see more of it. I’m a visual person. That’s my excuse, and I’m running with it. >.>


  1. I agree. I recently read a book that began with such cliched situations and words that I was cringing and actually reading it out loud to my husband for a laugh. But, I persevered and continued reading it ( the book was written by a friend's friend so I felt obligated). The book actually got better and I enjoyed the last part. I kept thinking the editor should have done something earlier. Anyway, I guess what I am saying is that we have to watch how and what we write. Garbage does tend to come out when you least expect it.

  2. The idea of bad books aside you hit the nail on the head with the idea that "they will tend to regurgitate what they are immersed in"

    I can vouch for this myself, the more often I do something to more often I talk about it. A person can only go on about what they know (or what they think they know) about.