Great Minds, Great Writing

We’re coming up on our one-year blogiversary at Thinking Through Our Fingers, which means that it’s been almost a year since I wrote my first blog post. Ever. On any blog. And in that post, I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt.

I sat down to write this post at 11:15 pm tonight, and the post is due for tomorrow morning. I haven’t had time to do any writing (including blog posts) for the last two nights for good reason. And the reason ties back to Eleanor Roosevelt. Here’s another one of my favorite quotes:

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” 

Last night, I was at an informal gathering of friends. Sometimes I come away from social events feeling sort of drained and let down, but not this time. There were, in my opinion, some really great minds there. There were a wide range of professions and world views represented, and I came away feeling uplifted and energized. I think the difference was this: rather than discussing people (neighbors, friends, mother-in-laws, etc.) we discussed ideas–of history, literature, and human nature. It was fabulous. And before you accuse me of being stuffy and pretentious, let me tell you that my husband (who wanted to stay home and watch the baseball game and is as unpretentious and unstuffy as they come) thought it was fabulous too.

And then tonight. I saw a really dark and disturbing production of Hamlet (which is always dark and disturbing), and it got me thinking that maybe Eleanor was right when it comes to Shakespeare too. His plays have been produced for four hundred years, and while they certainly contain people and events that we remember, it’s the ideas that resonate most. From Hamlet alone:

“This above all: to thine own self be true, 
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

“Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.” 
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” 

And Hamlet’s memorable soliloquies that begin with “To be, or not to be: that is the question:” and “Alas, poor Yorick!”

I think those are the essential pieces of great writing: the people, the events, but ultimately, the ideas. They must not be given didactically, but gracefully, and if we can manage that, we will make our writing truly memorable, something that could hopefully be described one day as “great.”

4 thoughts on “Great Minds, Great Writing

  1. Yes! The writing that sticks, for me, not only tells a story about people, but makes me think. Those great ideas aren't spelled out plainly, but they're there. Deeper. The good ones make you dig a little.


  2. I'm reading Susan Cain's Quiet right now, and I can't help wondering how much of this reaction (valuing thinking over action) comes from an introvert's preference . . .

    Also, the “really great minds” thing makes me laugh. I probably would have said “nerds” (in a good way), but I suppose it amounts to the same thing.


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