Fine Writers & Content Creators

Shawn Blanc on “consuming content”:

To say that I am “creating content” for this website is a fancy way of saying that I’m writing. The phrase creating content could be boiled down to simply creating. Or, when we talk about creating content, why not be more specific? Writing, drawing, designing, building, working.


I agree with Shawn: there are far better phrases to use than consuming or creating content. “Reading” and “writing” come to mind. But for me, the offense isn’t so much in the verb as it is in the object.

I can’t stand the word “content”. The blogging bloggers throw it around all the time, declaring that the best way to have a successful website is to “create amazing content!” Sure, it’s true, but something about the word just irks me. Like Shawn says, when I sit down to create a post, I’m not thinking about “creating content”; I sit down to write.

“Content” sounds like SEO-infused, pageview-driven… stuff. It lacks heart, and it completely eradicates the romanticism of what it means to be a writer. I don’t set out to include a certain number of keywords, or make sure my article has lots of lists and subheadings to make it easy to skim, or that the title always has some variation of “7 Steps to a Happier, Healthier You!”. When it comes to having a successful website, these criteria seem to be at the center of what the experts define as “amazing content”. But can’t great writing exist without all that?

I’ve been struggling lately with the idea that there are two kinds of writers on the web. The first group is concerned with creating “amazing content”. They have tantalizing headlines, and lots of bold and italics, and plenty of sass, attitude, and exclamation points to GET. YOU. PSYCHED. The goal seems to be pageviews and click-throughs. This group exhausts me.

The second group is concerned with fine writing. These are people obsessed with crafting a great sentence, who love words and seek to explore and understand things. These are writers like John Gruber, Shawn Blanc, Patrick Rhone, Michael Lopp, James Shelley, Merlin Mann, and innumerable others. These are not people who are concerned with making their articles accessible to search engines. These are people intent on producing the best writing they’re capable of. Subsequently, they’re also the writers I respect the most and the ones I consider the most successful.

You could argue that both groups are doing the same thing; they’re both making stuff for us to read, and sure, you could say all fine writers are also content creators. But I believe there’s a different attitude at work. Different intentions, different goals, and different methods for achieving them.

I suppose what it comes down to is signal versus noise. I like to think of “signal” as being synonymous with “depth”. The writers I admire most are those who dig deep to produce quality insight and observations about their field. They don’t wave their arms and shout from the hilltops looking for attention. Rather, they display a quiet reserve, almost a venerable quality. The writing speaks for itself. There’s no need to force it on people. That’s the kind of writer I aspire to be.

My goal is not to lure people into clicking things. So no, maybe my headlines don’t come with flashing neon lights. Maybe my posts don’t have lots of lists and bullets. And maybe you won’t actually die if you don’t read my latest article. But I’ll still be proud of what I’ve written, and there’s a chance someone may find it thought-provoking. I aspire to write things that would make the above individuals think, “Hmm. This doesn’t suck.”

If you believe this website to be full of “amazing content”, thank you, but I hope you feel it was achieved with strong, honest writing above all else.