I hate the word “content.” It’s the hot term now for everything written—from Twitter posts to clickbait articles to transcripts, fan reactions and reviews. I’m not unaware of the irony involved in making this complaint on a new blog: blogs are particularly rich sources of content. Even worse is the term “content creators” for what used to be called “writers.” It’s bland and demeaning; it immediately evokes language that is, as Ray Bradbury once put it, “stale bread dunked in weak tea.” “Content” is a catch-all business term; it can mean writing and audio just as easily as video or graphic art. But I think one key aspect of the term that’s often overlooked is how it strips away the sense of agency that adheres to a noun/present participle like “writing.” “Writing” has a “writer”. “Content” just is. The word, whether deliberately or not, obscures the reality that “content” is often provided for free and used to generate revenue for a business.
This might be the new normal for content-centric companies like review sites, recipes, news and opinion. It’s hard to compete with free. If revenue comes from advertising, the focus is, rightfully, on “Let’s fill this page with a sufficient number of words that will provoke people to look at them and click the next link.” Content is, deliberately, the fat middle of the bell curve: neither so bad nor so good as to call attention to itself.
But if your company isn’t organized around content, here’s a call to think of your written materials as more than that. The words you use matter.
The words you use create an impression.
This isn’t to say that your writing always has to be perfect. “Perfect” language is subjective, however counter-intuitive that may sound.
“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”
“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”
“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”
are all perfect opening sentences.
The rules of grammar and syntax do exist, but total adherence to them doesn’t create perfection. The real question is when, how and how much you can depart from those rules, and what effects you can create by doing so. That’s why “haha pwned” can be as perfect—as effective, clear and as correct—as “We hold these truths to be self-evident:”
I’ll talk about this a bit more in a future post. But for now, here’s a good thought to inaugurate this blog: writing can be more than just content.