Writing for the market dummies- A very mixed blessing
There are two basic schools of “thought” about writing content of any kind. The first assumes that most people don’t really want to read anything, and if they do, it’s not much. The second assumes that people want to read what’s worth reading. Yes, there’s a problem with both perspectives.
In a culture which assumes everything on the basis of what it wants to assume, the wrong assumptions are likely to be made. Like the prehistoric dumbing-down and literalist reading theories, the belief is that anything can be condensed into a few sentences. I was just reading a review which referred to “glossing over the Seven Years War in a few pages”, which if nothing else describes how sloppy the modern version of history has become.
The assumption that the past is somehow irrelevant is at the bottom of this drab little bit of thinking. Why historians would consider it that way is open to anyone’s guess. The past, miraculously, is the cause of the present. We assume the present is complex, and then assume what caused the complexity was simple and/or irrelevant?
Some things just aren’t simple. Unfortunately, some people are, and that makes writing content a curse in so many ways. A mindset that can’t even see cause and effect isn’t worth writing for. This is veg-brain stuff. Yet the writer is expected to be able to cram a bit of information into these single cell brains.
The assumption that people don’t read is another problem. The problem is that it’s entirely wrong. In practice, you can’t get through a day without reading the equivalent of a short story, at least, just looking at a screen or passing documents.
The lucky writer is required to infiltrate some content into the general mess of mixed reading the average human being does. It is a very mixed blessing, based on mindsets. The “nobody reads” myth coexists with the rise of SEO and the fact that people do read, a lot, about the things which interest them. (For those wondering, real SEO does emphasize content, pseudo SEO emphasizes crap.)
So the contradiction arises whereby the publishers assume nobody reads, require writers to write, and then cut down the actual content to post-it note size. The readers can’t get the level of information they need, the writers don’t make enough money to justify staying awake and the content quality is compromised.
One of the reasons I usually write very long articles is to filter out the no-brains. It works, too. Confronted with a 1000 word article, they won’t touch it. They’re either scared of words or scared of the possibility of using all that time to find out what they need to know.
As though I give a damn. There are tens of millions of other writers who may need the audience. I don’t, and I refuse to turn anything I write into a sort of nursery rhyme simply because some cretin is too damn lazy to check their facts and wants everything short and simple.
The fact is that I don’t believe that anyone gets enough information in a jingle-sized bit of floss that simply states a few facts and doesn’t explain any of them. That may be fine in kindergarten, but I write articles, not sitcom scripts. If I’m writing about polymers, environmental issues or new discoveries, I also think that people might like a bit of explanation of the subjects so that they can have some idea what the articles are about and what’s important about them. God, I’m an optimist.
I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with nitpicking idiots (now hopefully dead) who assume the exact opposite. They want everything at “the cat sat on the mat” level. They seem to believe that paying customers don’t want information about what they’re paying for.
They got paid for producing utter crap and I got paid for putting up with them, as far as I can tell. I don’t even consider that type of writing to be content writing, I consider it an inferior form of graffiti. I could give you 100,000 words on a house brick and make it worth reading. But to actually refer to a subject and give people the information they need? I gather that’s some sort of socialism.
Fond as I am of writing, there’s another reason for my disdain of this type of writing- I don’t believe that anyone who could possibly be satisfied with “the cat sat on the mat” can actually read. If they can read the words, obviously they don’t have any qualitative judgment of what they’re reading.
There must have been a cat, sitting on a mat. This invaluable bit of information will not be questioned. Least of all will these geniuses wonder why they’re being given this priceless bit of wisdom. Like infants, they swallow it whole. The cat on the mat will become an article of faith. Religions may spring up demanding acknowledgement of the right of cats to sit on mats. Wars may break out about which sort of mat it sat on.
That’s exactly how dangerous information is, in idiot-level form. “Content” it may be, but so what? Top content isn’t, and can’t be, so simplistic. Moron-level information is corrupt information. The truth is that people who simply do not understand the value of good information are dictating how information is presented.
In commercial writing, this phenomenon is now at a level of pathos which is absolutely fascinating. We have websites giving “information” where you can literally go through endless links saying “read more” before you find what you’re looking for. It will be there, in an equally convoluted, backward form. You’ll discover you need a PhD to understand it, or should get one before you do what you need to do with the information.
We also have product sites where the lucky customer gets to guess what they’re buying. It may be a car, a computer, or better still something where a lot of useless abbreviations can be used. Tried buying a phone lately? Could you see any useful information beyond a video and a few paragraphs?
People buy the products and then, big surprise, have to get the information they need to use the things. That’s when they need to read and understand. You can avoid information needs for only so long.
Content is content. Stop telling facts how to behave, and you’ll get good content. Try avoiding facts, and you’re not producing content- You’re producing slop.
Fortunately for me, I have some good contracts who need good content. But I’ve done the other type of writing, and believe me, if you want to write for a career, it’s too much of a turnoff to be worth it. Stick to writing good stuff. After all, you have to read it, too.
More by this Author
Paul Wallis Goodbye To All That is a biographical novel detailing experiences of Robert Graves from childhood through the First World War and the post-war years of the 1920s. This book is particularly famous for its...
Jerome K Jerome is famous for the classic Three Men in a Boat and the play/movie Passing of the Third Floor Back. What’s not generally recognized is that his style clearly influenced a lot of later writers. Jerome...
Most gardeners don’t mind some hard work, but they don’t necessarily want to be digging the Suez Canal by hand or excavating the Rockies. “Impossible” soils are those wonderful additions to every...