I’ve always struggled with the label “content” when it comes to writing. I’ve seen many people refer to themselves as content writers when describing the type of writing services they offer. That sort of label has always felt so gross and dirty to me, like how you might feel if a skunk walks by and sprays you, and then, you’re stuck with that heavy stench.
I’m not even sure I’d go so far as to call myself a purist, but I just can’t stomach being called a “content writer,” even though I’m fully capable of doing the thing that content writers do. Content writers write information in such a way to make it “efficient” for various Internet-based services, including writing blog posts, social media snippets for various social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, podcast scripts or text, or data for landing pages.
Content writing typically involves using best practices for the Internet, including a working knowledge of SEO, basic coding and HTML skills, and some sort of understanding of how to attract sales via landing pages, free digital gifts, and other ploys to attract customers to a website.
The biggest problem I have with content writers is that they’re expected to be the jack or jill of all trades when it comes to posting “data” on the Internet. Note, I said data, and not writing. The person who is able to write pretty blog posts must also know how to effectively place random words on separated lines in such a way to get people to chase after the little carrot and snag them by forcing them to fill out their email addresses on a form, thereby “growing” a subscriber base and making money for a web service.
It all feels contrived to me. I think what would ease my mind and make “content writing” less dirty to me would be to separate the two functions. If you want quality writing, then hire a professional to craft beautiful web-friendly information on a topic that is rich and exciting to read.
Give the writer creative freedom to add diverse vocabulary and quotes to make the writing interesting to read. Once that is done, hire a different professional to make it all web-friendly. That professional should also know how to code and add flash and create distinct pages to achieve your goals. One person is called a writer, the other is called either a webmaster or simply a web professional who is skilled in technology.
By separating the two distinct functions of writing and technology, in my idyll world, content writers would never exist. Writers and Internet professionals would exist separately, but work together in beautiful harmony in a beautiful fairy tale world where writers were actually respected and paid well for their craftsmanship and artistry.
For me, “content” should always be plural, as in contents. Contents are physical objects that go inside a shopping bag. Oh, what did you buy at Target today? Let me pull the contents out of my shopping bag: I bought toothpaste, paper plates, a bag of oranges, and two cans of coffee. Those are the contents of my bag.
If you’re talking about a book, you might ask: what are the contents on a page? In this case, contents refer to the physical format of a page within a book. Though most books are straight black and white words in boring rows, many, many other books contain exciting elements, such as photos, quotes, scriptures, inspirational quotes, handwritten messages, journal entries, recipes, and the like. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask about the contents of a page within a book because that’s what they are – – contents, things, objects, stuff!
In the case of a Target shopping bag and the stuff that appears on the page of a book, it is perfectly reasonable to ask about the contents because in both cases, you’re talking about things, stuff, objects. Only a small fraction of those contents are actual words.
When people call themselves “content writers,” I’m visualizing the deodorant, bag of onions, razors, dog food, and chicken nuggets you bought at Target. Why, on God’s green earth would I EVER compare my hard-fought writing to some ridiculous bag of dry dog food? I know that’s an extreme example, but that’s how I visualize comparing contents of a shopping bag with my original writing. (By the way, no bag of dry dog food was harmed in the making of this blog post!)
I relate the contents of a shopping bag to my writing, which I consider to be personal, unique, well-researched, dedicated, descriptive, grammatically tight, intriguing, imaginative, and overall awesome! The writing I am proud to create, produce, polish, and submit for publication is the type of thing that creates beautiful, raw emotions of happiness, wonder, intrigue, or amazement. You always gain something from my writing. It’s not just some random object that costs $9.99 and sits on a shelf waiting to be bought.
Because I value my own writing so much, I would never dare say what I do for a living is produce “content” because I’m not making “stuff;” I’m “crafting words.” When people ask me what I do or when I identify my profession somewhere online or in my signature line, I’ll always say I’m a “freelance writer.” I realize that probably sounds boring and might take away from the important things I do, but I feel it’s a title that fairly represents what I do and what I like to do.
The “freelance” part is the thing that keeps me working for myself. I’m not employed by any company under any capacity. I am my own boss who works for myself. I hustle a lot and basically break my back looking for new clients all the time, but I’m still working for myself with the good, the bad, and the in-between.
The “writer” part is because that’s what I do. Again, I realize that may not sound as glamorous or hip as “content writer” or anything else people choose to call themselves, but it fits me well. Many, many, many people love to really add a bunch of unnecessary words to puff up their titles. They might be “professional communicators,” “marketing and communications manager,” “in charge of strategic communications,” or any variety of those titles. Guess what those people do folks – – they write, so why not call yourself what you really do?
Within the last year, I’ve had several people very kindly refer to me as a “journalist.” All I can say is that title has made me feel shiny and happy, like a freshly cut diamond. When people call me a journalist, I honestly feel that someone is doing my hair and makeup, I’m wearing designer clothes, and there I am with the likes of Hoda Kotb talking about current news. I’m not a gabber. My strength is in writing, not talking with guests, but I have felt the glory and honor of the journalistic crown as people have placed on my head from time to time.
Doesn’t feel like a true title, but I have been honored to be called a journalist by several people.