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PAUL: Thought Catalog writers don’t write what they know

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caroline-paul-headshotConfession: I used to be borderline obsessed with Thought Catalog. I would go straight there online, wondering how many things were posted since the last time that I’d visited. Usually, there wouldn’t be too many new posts, because I checked the site two or three times a day.

But now, Thought Catalog is a last resort for entertainment after Netflix, Buzzfeed, Tumblr and every other website. And it’s different now than it was back in the heyday of my obsession. As far as I’m concerned, the quality of the content has declined.

Back when Thought Catalog was my favorite timesuck taking up space on the interwebs, it was my favorite for a simple reason: it was like Buzzfeed with better writing and less pictures. There were listicles, interesting stories and sometimes a useful nugget of advice that was worth knowing.

The majority of the non-listicle posts also tried to be profound in some way. And most of these “deep” posts came from reader submissions, not the regular Thought Catalog staff. As the site became more popular, these reader submissions increased.

Normally, I’d say such audience participation is great. But the kind of content tThought Catalog publishes attracts every person with failed dreams of being a writer. And these people take the first drafts of assignments that received low grades in their high school creative writing class (how else would you explain all the angst in them), submit them, and lo and behold- Thought Catalog publishes them.

That is my issue with Thought Catalog. That is why I no longer obsessively check it multiple times a day. The content is now driven by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Everyone has feelings. As a person who has a lot of them, I totally understand that. But I also have zero life experience. A person’s emotional and semi-revelatory thoughts and experiences don’t automatically qualify as life-changing literature once they’re written down.

And you probably wouldn’t expect every Thought Catalog post to be life-changing. At the very least, they should be interesting, thought provoking or entertaining. But the majority of these pseudo-profound posts are insipid and lack perspective. While the writing is probably cathartic and beautiful to the writer, to the average reader, they’re poorly written and poorly thought out.

Readers may be able to ignore bad writing if the content is worthwhile. But instead of being worthwhile, it’s someone with limited perspective trying to drop truth bombs about universal human experiences.

And even though the writing is sometimes offensively treacly and trying too hard, the real root of the problem is this limited perspective. I understand that it’s just one person’s feelings about their own experiences, and they might deal with things differently than I do.

It’s wonderful some writer achieved closure after his girlfriend left him. Truly, I’m thrilled for him. But at the same time, he and I are different people and we have different ways of thinking about these things. But even if that’s the case, it’s his job as a writer to make what he’s writing relevant.

If writers can’t offer perspective wide enough for their writing to be relevant to their audience, then they’re better off writing about their feelings in a Lisa Frank diary.

Since most of Thought Catalog’s “thoughtful” articles don’t seem capable of real thought, I guess for now I’ll just stick to its “23 Terrifying True Tales of People Messing Around with Ouija Boards.”

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “PAUL: Thought Catalog writers don’t write what they know”

  1. Kenneth on February 12th, 2015 5:13 pm

    I wonder if your disappointment is something Thought catalog also has. In consideration to the tremendous competition in their field, they’re just barely keeping their head over the water.
    If I may say so, writing is not just a conglomeration of intense emotions typed or written down. You don’t always need proof to be considered authentic or someone worth learning from either. Take it from Boethius when he wrote the consolation of philosophy the last great literary work of the classical era. Or the Bible, or JK Rowling. Maybe all you need is passion, imagination, and some quality rhetoric.
    In essence, write for Thought Catalog. Don’t underestimate the power of your own narrative.

  2. Sandra D on August 23rd, 2018 8:44 pm

    I too read articles from Thought Catalog religiously. At first, it was the horror stories that grabbed my attention. Then, through Facebook, I started reading other articles. As a publisher with over 25 years of writing experience and a Masters in English, it drove me nuts to see the lack of proofreading. I also felt the articles were lack depth. Not to mention the fact that I was basically seeing the same topics over and over by different writers.

    Still, I thought I wanted to publish on TC. I applied and was accepted. Then I carefully write a piece, edit, proofread and upload to be rejected. I was told that TC wasn’t looking to publish this type of writing and that I was welcomed to edit and resubmit. Seriously? I was irritated. Then I realized it was because I put too much depth into it and it was assumed that the Gen Y group would not get it. We know that is the audience they want to target – which means they are ignoring a ton of other generations who are reading the material.

    I went back and read a few more articles and realized that being a writer for TC was not going to look so great on my CV, so I am looking for different platforms.

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