Mind Your Memes by John Holton

I’m fascinated with memes. I’m not talking about Grumpy Cat (but isn’t she adorable?), I’m talking about the kind of memes that Richard Brodie talked about in his 1996 book Virus Of The Mind: The New Science Of The Meme. The idea of a meme was first proposed by Richard Dawkins twenty years earlier, in his book The Selfish Gene, where he compared it to a gene: where our genes are units of genetic transfer, memes are units of cultural transfer. They’re thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that are the building blocks of our mind.

Here are some examples:

  • “Polite kids say please and thank you.”
  • “Everything you do goes on your Permanent Record.”
  • “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m tellin’ ya why, Santa Claus is comin’ to town.”
  • “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”
  • “Boys do better in Math and Science, girls do better in Language Arts.”
  • “Be American, Buy American!”
  • “Drinking Coors Light makes you attractive to the opposite sex.”

It doesn’t matter whether the meme is true or false, right or wrong; a meme, like a virus, replicates itself and spreads to as many people as it can. We spread the memes that we’ve taken on, sometimes without even knowing it, and others do the same. Like these:

  • “To be a writer, your spelling, grammar, and punctuation need to be perfect.”
  • “It’s so hard to sell your book to a publisher.”
  • “Short stories are a waste of time; if you want to sell your writing, you have to write a novel.”
  • “No one takes self-published books seriously.”
  • “Good writers got ‘A’s in English in high school.”
  • “The best books were plotted out extensively before they were written.”
  • “An outline of your novel is a waste of time.”
  • “Western novels are out of fashion.”

Again, it isn’t important that a meme be right or wrong. A good meme is just one that catches on, that gets replicated to as many people as possible.

My point in telling you all of this is that your memes can prevent you from achieving your goals. When you say, “I am a writer,” you might feel like your mind is rebelling against the whole idea, and you might not know what it is that’s causing the distress.

It doesn’t matter. It’s something you can overcome. You own yourself. You decide what goes on in your mind. You can reject any negative reaction you have, even if you don’t know what meme is causing it. Fill your mind with positive memes. Force the negative ones out.

I know you can do it. You can make the sky green and people fly like birds. You know how I know that?

YOU ARE A WRITER! That’s what writers do!

Straight ahead!

~*~

John Holton

4 comments

    1. I have a friend who’s a proofreader , and the poor woma is beside herself when someone hands her something that’s free of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors.

      Thanks!

  1. As interesting as memes are in general, how specific memes (or cultural wisdoms) come into existence is equally fascinating.

    Take for example your one here about short stories opposed to novels…. I’d always been taught that going forward with a novel before establishing one’s self as a writer of short fiction was foolish; then again, I started writing fiction before online publication became a reality. However, the meme holds a truth–novels were where the money was most likely to be made, even then because they had a greater likelihood of building a fan-base.

    The memes about “perfect” writing or “A”s in English (of course vital for books written in French or Japanese, etc.😉 ): are easier to understand. An elitism built upon the self-derision of people who say they want to be writers but really just want the idealized fame of best-selling authors… and want to justify why they don’t want to put the work into making that dream happen. (okay, so I’m stretching here, but I’m sure you can see it)

    Yep… it’s an addictive topic, John. And yes, Grumpy Cat is cute. But don’t tell her that. 😀

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