It’s your writing: go deeper. Think about things. Don’t use the first metaphor or simile that comes to mind and don’t rely on them; use stronger, more precise nouns and verbs. Get past the surface of things.

Here’s something to consider. Look at two phrases that entered our consciousness with a kind of blind acceptance: ‘the road less traveled‘ and ‘dream things that never were and ask, why not?’

Critics seemed to have penetrated the noise to let us know that the phrase ‘the road less traveled’ from Frost’s poem THE ROAD NOT TAKEN has been misunderstood for years. There are two readings of Frost’s poem, the literal and the ironic. Frost warned against the literal, calling it a ‘tricky poem.’ His point was that the roads are the same, supported by Frost’s 1925 letter. Read for yourself…

ROAD NOT TAKEN by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

According to William Pritchard, Frost intended the poem as a gentle jab at his great friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas, with whom he used to take walks through the forest (Thomas always complained at the end that they should have taken a different path). He was amused that the poem was taken as inspirational.

The next one is ‘some men dream things that never were and ask, ‘why not?'” Ted Kennedy? Bobby Kennedy? No, George Bernard Shaw. To dream and ask ‘why not’ can be great if you’re talking about space exploration or new inventions. The problem arises in not acknowledging that there’s both a light and dark side to these things, in accepting something just because it sounds nice or altruistic. In Shaw’s case, the dark side had to do with social engineering. He had a dream that ‘never was’ of a better world full of marvelous intelligent people. Even if you believe he was going overboard to make a point in his play Back to Methuselah (where Bobby got the line from the character of the Serpent), at a meeting of the Eugenics Education Society on March 3, 1910, he suggested the need to use a “lethal chamber” to solve the ‘problem’ of getting rid of ‘inferior’ people. Sound familiar?

The point of all of this is to consider what we tend to gloss over or take for granted. We too often give up really thinking about things, let alone thinking them through. To create something wonderful, begin by taking some time to question common assumptions, to look beyond the surface of notions that sound nice or make you feel good. There might be a story waiting for you.