As a child of the 90’s and a (groan) millennial, I love memes. Truly. As my parents would say, “Neil, what the hell is a meme?” and as my friends would say, “dank meme bruh.” I know my way around some of the freshest content on the interwebs. After years and years of consuming a smorgasbord of internet memes, I naturally started making my own. A couple months ago, I churned them out semi-regularly, keeping an open mind during daily life for inspiration—much like I do for writing.
Here’s the weird thing: making crappy memes to post on Facebook for strangers to see has taught me a lot about creativity.
I’ve made five or six in the past couple months. They span a range of quality from “absolute shit” to “pretty decent” and I’m confident in saying there are at least more hits than misses in my spotty oeuvre. The image at the top of this post is a screenshot of my most popular meme from a handful of weeks ago. Honestly, I thought it was a throwaway joke. I noticed the side of a golf cart had the warning NO STEP and my mind immediately associated it with the Gadsden flag. I put the image together and posted it on the Facebook page with a “what the hell?” attitude.
My notifications blew up over the following week. Every time I opened my phone or computer, I’d have twenty or thirty. I basked in the adoration of strangers, something most artists know and crave. I made a stupid meme on Facebook, and nearly 1,000 people liked it. This is what gets the dopamine flowing for most people my age. The best part is my most popular post isn’t my favorite. Like I said, I thought it was a dumb joke that would get no more than a dozen half-hearted chuckles. I never thought it would get as much attention as it did.
And that’s when I learned something. It’s my very special episode, my hugging and learning ending to this tasteless sitcom. To be frank, it’s a lesson that all creative types have to learn at some point. For me, it just so happens I was taught said lesson by a crappy meme on Facebook. It's one of my dumber, uninspired ideas. I made a funny one about a mummy and that awful brand Salt Life. Now THAT was a hell of a meme. Did it get as many likes as my Gadsden flag one? No. Not even close.
This little experiment, oddly enough, exists as a microcosm of creativity as a whole. It’s a simple lesson. Sometimes, as a creator, your most popular piece will not be your favorite and vice versa. Your audience doesn’t care if you love a particular idea, just like they don’t care if you put something out that you think is mediocre. Once your creation is out there in the wild, the content speaks for itself and takes on a life of its own regardless of your own personal thoughts on it.
Part of being an artist is learning how to reconcile this disconnect. I can easily apply this lesson to my writing. In the future, I will surely put out a book I love like a child only to watch it get ripped to shreds by readers. Similarly, a passable idea for a novel or a short story sent to an anthology on half a prayer might become my best known work. You never know.
It’s simple, really, once you realize how little control you have as a creator. I became a writer so I could have complete control over the worlds and words of my stories. I reacted to the craziness of this world and retreated to a place where I could make anything true just by writing it into existence. It’s this craving for authority that leads us to create. Hilariously, we get to watch as we release our creations into the world and promptly lose all control over them.