Words on a Page Writings about writing

On the word 'content'


Unlike some writers I know and read, I don’t obsess about every little detail. I don’t obsess about every word. I don’t lose sleep over every term. I don’t stress about whether or not that sentence or paragraph is perfect (whatever that means).

I doubt that makes me unique among writers, but I really don’t sweat the small stuff.

There is, however, one word I’m struggling with. It’s one I’ve been struggling with for a while now. That word? Content. I’m definitely not a fan of that word. I admit, though, that I’m as guilty of referring to what I find on the web as content as the next person.

That has to stop.


Content has the connotation of something that’s quickly and cheaply made. Of something that’s mass produced, generic, homogeneous.

Content implies something without a distinct voice. Something that’s not well crafted. Something that tries to draw eyeballs instead of helping and informing.

Content implies something, to paraphrase Harlan Ellison, that bursts into flame and turns to ash shortly after it’s published. Content is something that you read or view and then throw away. Content is something to be forgotten as quickly as it was read.

When I started to seriously put words to paper in the 1980s, I never thought about writing content. I wrote articles. I wrote essays. I wrote reviews. I even took stabs at writing short stories. I knew that most of what I wrote (and would write in the coming months and years) wasn’t for the ages. But the work I produced had more than just immediate import or impact. To be honest, I still get positive feedback on some of the articles and essays I wrote in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I don’t think I’d still be getting a good response to what I’ve written if I’d focused on churning out content. That would have been an easy way to collect published credits and maybe make a bit of money, but it wouldn’t have been satisfying. I doubt I would have grown as a writer by banging out content.

From this date forward, I’m banishing the term content from my writing (unless it’s in the pejorative). And you can slap me if you find that term in my work from today onward.

Managing your writing with TinyCal

A calendar, a pen, and a task list

(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at Notes From a Floating Life and appears here via a Creative Commons license.)

For the most part, I prefer to use small, simple, minimal tools. Tools that do one or two things and do them well. That way, I’m confident that the tool won’t have to many bugs, be too big and unwieldy, or just trying too hard to be something that it’s not.

There seems to be at least one web developer who shares that sentiment. His name is Anthony Feint and over the last while he’s been crafting a set of what he calls TinyApps. I’ve been playing with one or two of Feint’s creations over the last year or so, and was pleasantly surprised to learn he’d come up with a new one.

It’s called TinyCal and it’s a quick and simple way to manage your writing. Let’s take a look at it.

A few links for the end of the week

Typing in a browser's address bar

Sometimes you have to break the rules

Someone standing beside a 'Keep Off the Grass' sign

It doesn’t matter what your high school English teacher told you. It doesn’t matter what your university composition instructor told you. And it definitely doesn’t matter what Microsoft Word’s grammar checker tells you.

When writing, there are times when you need to break the rules of writing.

Shocking. Perhaps even sacrilegious. But why do it? There are a number of reasons. I tend to break the rules for three reasons:

  1. The writing will sound (or at least seem) more conversational.
  2. A piece of writing that breaks the rules, and does the job properly, is often more memorable and has a bit more impact than a properly-formed sentence.
  3. Shock value. if someone is expecting a so-called proper constructions and don’t get them, they’ll either be surprised, or (I hope) intrigued enough to keep reading.

Here are some of my thoughts about this.

Don't compare yourself to other writers

Comparing shoes

There’s always someone else, isn’t there? That guy or gal who can turn a phrase better than you can. Who can write faster and more fluidly than you can. Who can pull together a post or an article or a story that sings and soars.

When you compare your writer to their work, yours seems to come up short. And, to be honest, that can be discouraging. Very discouraging. Sometimes, it can make you want to pack it in and take up something else.

I’ve been in that position several times. Each time, comparing myself to other writers put a huge dent in my productivity and set back my development as a writer.

Regardless of whether you’re just starting out or if you’ve been hammering a keyboard for a while, you need to fight the urge to compare yourself to other writers.