How We Can Create The Thought Catalog We Love

There are few moments in my life where I can remember feeling myself shaking with overwhelming emotion. One of those moments was when my first (and, until now, only) Thought Catalog article was published.

It was a simple one-off that I had typed out in one feverish sitting late one night in May. It was, in part, just another writing exercise, my own harmless attempt to emulate that TC je ne sais quoi and further develop my own style. At the same time, it was a much-needed personal catharsis, a release of emotions both pent-up for years and newly developed. When it was finished, I read it over. I shrugged to myself and smiled. I was strangely proud of it. I felt good. I saved it. That was that.

Nearly a month later after writing that piece, I came across Nico Lang’s Tumblr, where I found a post asking for Thought Catalog submissions. I immediately thought of the faux-TC article I’d written — it was even formatted, to the best of my approximations, like the real deal — and laughed to myself at the prospect of sending that in and getting it published. Wouldn’t that be the dream?

But then I thought, well, why not? It was a legitimate request for articles. I considered myself a fairly decent writer and had enough external validation to support my belief. And truthfully, I thought my article was one of the better creative pieces I’d written to date. Worst-case scenario, my article would go unpublished. I could handle that. I had never intended for my piece to be seen in the first place, so in truth, anything that resulted from my submission would be a bonus.

I crafted a carefully thought-out email and suddenly, I realized I was incredibly nervous. I had been nonchalant about the thought of submitting, but I wasn’t indifferent to the piece itself. It was a part of me, after all. An extension of my thoughts. Like any other piece of mine, it had taken some kind of emotional investment and time to produce, and I loved it dearly. I still didn’t mind whether or not it would actually see publication but oh god, at the very least one of my favorite writers was going to read this! I felt like my soul was being exposed. I was terrified. After a few deep breaths to calm my nerves, I finally attached my piece and sent it in. In just one hour, I got a response. Less than twenty-four hours later, it was published.

I was on Thought Catalog.

The reaction I received was astounding. The comments on my article were all, to my sincere shock, positive. I received congratulations from friends, acquaintances, and even some strangers from halfway across the world. I knew I wouldn’t round up as large an audience as many of the TC regulars do on a near-daily basis, but the warmth
I received from the readers I did get was inspiring.

“TC’s getting good again…amazing. I’m moved,” wrote a commenter.

Needless to say, I went to bed that night with a huge smile on my face.

If there’s been any collection of writing that I feel I owe my gratitude towards in recent years, it’s Thought Catalog. And I don’t say that because it brought me a few hours of very slight fame. Through articles published here, I have found solace for a broken heart. I’ve found the courage to face my impending adulthood and the stresses that come with it. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve reflected, and I’ve spammed my friends shamelessly with links to articles. When I thought I was alone, that no one could understand me, the writers of Thought Catalog were there to prove otherwise.

Just as there have been articles here that inspired me, however, there have also been those that did nothing for me, and some that downright infuriated me. Even on a singular basis, the greatest of writers will produce some flukes in their lifetime. A medium as open to input as Thought Catalog exposes itself to an even higher probability of this occurrence, and the publication of my article made me realize just how open the site really is. Anyone can broadcast their voice here, from bestselling novelists to brain surgeons to shy college kids. Such variety, a mix of established writers and up-and-comers, is beautiful. But it comes with risks, and it can’t always be perfect. There’ll be flops. There’ll be things we won’t like.

My defense is of the medium, of Thought Catalog as a whole. Without it, I wouldn’t have discovered any of the writers I follow now. I would have missed out on many of the lessons I came to learn from their works, and I might not have been as inspired to write again as I am now. I’ve seen many readers giving up on it lately, lamenting over what they’ve perceived as a decrease in quality as of late. I too have come across pieces that have disappointed me. I don’t blame them. But unlike them, I don’t want to give up on TC. There are still brilliant writers here producing quality work. There are editors with faith in the new kids, giving us the opportunity to play ball in the big leagues. This is a good place to be.

I’m not proposing that we restrict who gets to post or what kind of articles get to be seen. That goes against tenet #3 of the Thought Catalog mission: all thinking is relevant. (It’s a double-edged sword, I know.) What I do believe is that we, the contributing writers, should always strive to create pieces that, when we go to submit them, we are truly proud of. I continue to visit Thought Catalog because I know heavy hitters like Chelsea Fagan, Brianna Wiest, and Christopher Hudspeth (to name only a few) are still yielding consistently high-grade compositions. And I continue to visit because of my fellow newcomers that come in and, with even one piece, knock it right out of the ballpark.

Thought Catalog might be losing some of its readership — or maybe it isn’t, I don’t have the stats — but even so, I don’t believe the answer lies in shifting the site’s modus operandi and catering directly to the viewers. (And before you think I’m ungrateful for TC readers, hear me out!) I believe, as Ryan Holiday noted in an article recently, that when we are not writing for the mere sake of writing (or appearing on Thought Catalog), when we truly have something to say and we make something tangible out of those thoughts in our own way, the audience — which is, for the writer, a very lovely added bonus — will come to us naturally.

Despite the positive reception of my first article and my friends’ requests that I submit a creative piece, or a list, or anything to TC again, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. Until I wrote this article, there was nothing in my arsenal that I was emotionally invested in as I was with that article, and I couldn’t (or I wouldn’t) force something to arise out of nothing.

With that in mind, I’ve realized that the pieces on TC that have put me off the most were not always the ones that I disagreed with or that I couldn’t relate to, or even the ones with typos and grammatical errors; rather, it was the ones that felt hollow, the ones that — and I hate to say it, I really do — felt like a waste of time to read. It is the pieces teeming with humor, with anguish, with hope, with love, the articles that I would dedicate any amount of time to read again and again, that have drawn me in to TC and made me stay.

As writers, it is important that we always strive to push our own boundaries when it comes to the act of writing itself, expanding our vocabulary and mastering the mechanics and developing our voices. There is nothing wrong with that. But above all else, we must remember to open up and pour ourselves into our writing.

That’s when we produce our best work.

That’s how we create the Thought Catalog we love. TC mark

image – Thought Catalog

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