I’ve been waiting for a couple of years for someone to talk about removing the art from content creation. Most writers/editors/creative types I know got into their business because they loved the lyrical potential of the written word, or the emotional response they could provoke with video, or at some level, they appreciated the potential poetry in connecting one human to another with the intermediation of communication channels.
I’m not sure I fit into that category of person, honestly.
If I’d grown up somewhere else, I have a sense that I would have ended up in a far more technical field than the one I’m in. When I was 12 or so [early 80s], my dad got a computer for the family, and back then, computers tended to come with programming manuals. How quaint. I taught myself BASIC, and I had a lot of fun with it. But I didn’t know anyone else who had a computer, even, or have a sense that I could have connected to other computer users. In the early 1980s in rural Tennessee, you didn’t run across a lot of computer pioneers.
But that early exposure to computing did teach me that talking to a computer, and searching on a computer, and using a computer to work for you or help you in communicating, meant that you had to first learn to communicate with the computer. And looking back, that’s the part I always liked the best. I appreciate great writing. I enjoy it. I am lucky to call several great writers my friends…but I’ve always been more utilitarian in my focus.
When I was on the college newspaper, sure, I could write a feature story. But I really loved spot news — breaking news, to a more common parlance. Something’s happening now? Great, let me get all the facts, and figure out the most compelling way to share them with you — including how we lay that out on the page, design a graphic to tell part of the story, and how do we work the publishing system to get ourselves 30 more minutes past deadline, and still print the paper on time? That was what I loved. Working the system to get you the right information at the right time.
So maybe it’s no surprise that as I’ve gotten older, I’m less concerned with writing a Great American Novel, and more concerned with:
- How do people access information?
- How do we design information to get people to act?
- How do we design information to get people to think?
- How do we design systems to best allow computers and people to use information together?
That latter question is the direction we’ve pushed our content strategy and information architecture practices in at Creek Content, and it’s not by accident.
But these questions don’t have a lot to do, on the surface, with what we think of as really great writing. Hear me say — if your writing sucks, your audience knows, and they’re unlikely to be your audience much longer. Yes, invest in top-notch writers. Yes, pay them well. But for most business purposes, you don’t want a creative writer. You want a writer who understands your business goal and understands how to marry that with your audience’s goal. It’s a specialty, and not just any writer can do it.
All that to say, no, I don’t worry about losing the art in writing as we’re building the discipline of content strategy. It’s a different field. But I don’t recommend you come to content strategy if what you want is creative, lyrical expression [through writing, video, photography, or any other medium]. This field is about effective communication for a purpose. Yes, you’re going to get to use your creativity — but in ways you can’t even imagine now if you start as a writer. Content strategy pushes you to be creative in both technical and more traditionally creative pursuits — and often, in dealing with people and their challenges as well.