I recently met a friend for breakfast soon after he started advising a college newspaper. As glad as I was to hear his news, I was especially excited about a phrase he used at least twice: it was important for his students to start “creating content.”
Content is a regular part of the academic experience. Teachers pass on content through lectures and assigned readings. And while I didn’t understand it as such until a few years ago, student writing (papers or poems) are also content of a kind. It might not all get published, but it is putting thought and information together for the purpose of sharing with others. Anyone who has survived high school knows that content can be a killer, especially if you want it to be meaningful.
Donald Miller recently posted something about creativity and content. Like many of us, Miller seemed to take the phrase “write what you know” as an imperative to write on what is inside us without necessarily seeking out more things to “bring in.” It was Jon Foreman (musician and writer) who helped him understand otherwise. Miller concludes: Rather than the words being in me, the words were out there. The inspiration was out in the world, and all I had to do was go digging for it. All I had to do was brush away the dirt and sand and keep an eye out for anything that could be polished. I encourage you to check out more of his thoughts here.
Robin Sloan, of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore fame, recently posted a few words from the teacher that helped him be a more effective writer, too. The 2002 article by Chip Scanlan gives the best part away in the title: writing is all about rewriting. I remember hearing years ago that “the art of art is revision.” Same thing said slightly differently. You can read the whole article here.
Writing well is rarely an easy thing. The important thing is to persist and to say something. I’d like to think that over time you learn to say things well. But to persist at saying something, often something from beyond yourself, is a great place to start. The world would be a better place if we all took some time to create some real content.