It’s more reliable than any bus in town.
“What do you do?”
Me, I write. Constantly. Nights, weekends. If I am not currently holding a drink and being asked what I do, I’m writing. So I say, “Me? I write.”
Then comes the look. I’m hoping for a little interest, somewhere around the corners of the mouth. A quick chorus-line kick of the eyebrow will do. That’ll get me going, because it lets me know you love words, and I absolutely must know which words you love. I’m hoping we can do the dance of giddy reminiscence, about novels, about stories and, hell, even about blogs. It’s one of my favorite dances.
Lately, it’s been the other look that shows up more often. The rolling eyes, the slumping shoulders, the scan around the room for someone in a respectable profession. Now we’re doing another dance altogether. Now you’re stepping on my feet. Now you’re asking me, “Oh, so you do content?“
Content: that most formless, most beige, most indifferent of nouns. You’re comfortable with “content,” because what’s actually contained is irrelevant to you. You don’t wonder whether it’s writing, because you don’t intend to read it. You don’t care whether anyone else reads it, either. Words aren’t for reading; they’re for indexing, clicking on, optimizing. They fill that space under the banner and left of the text ads. They’re not even fast food, they’re bot fodder.
Perhaps there’s good money to be made shunting keywords around, writing articles that aren’t meant to be read, but that’s money I’m leaving on the table. I want to write something honest, something inexpert, something search-engine-unoptimized. I want to write what makes me hurt, what gets me off, what gets me out of bed every morning, and what makes me stay longer than I should. I want writing with skinned knees.
You want me to sell advertising.
Do you know how many keyword-grinding, content-farming replicants it takes to equal a Gruber or a Rands? How about a Haruki Murakami? Trick question. When Murakami describes the pleasures of owning a perfect sofa, or when Rands explains how geeks approach games, they’re not writing for a teeming nest of Google spiders. Writers don’t “create content,” they fucking write. What’s contained does matter to them. The right words matter. Not the keywords, not acai berries or vacuum cleaners or whatever the ad people can “monetize” today. Sometimes, the right words keep them up nights.
You may be a writer if: the right words keep you up nights.
I’m not Murakami, I’m painfully certain. I’m not Faulkner or Kerouac or Gruber or Rands or Mark riverboatin’ Twain. Everyone’s got stories, though, and I’m thrilled and terrified at the possibility that I might have it in me to tell one deftly and honestly. You advise me against that, though, because it probably wouldn’t be good for my pagerank, and you’re not sure how I intend to profit from these messy aspirations of mine.
I’m not sure, either, but I promise I won’t do it by leaving the web — or the print publishing world, for that matter — worse than I found it. Resolved, then, as I look away and pretend to be infinitely fascinated by the way the light hits my glass: I will keep working to get better at what I do. I will keep losing sleep, keep looking for the right words, keep reading real writing. I will stick by the people who love a good story. Life’s too short to dance with ad hucksters, get-rich-quickers, bot-feeders and human acronyms.
“Oh, so you do content?”