Does anybody know when or why we started referring to web writing as “content production”? The terminology’s always bothered me, and as I sit at my desk, staring at a white screen that’s supposed to be a blog post, I realize why.

Writing is hard. It’s emotionally and physically draining. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes terrifying. When the stars align it can be extremely rewarding, but it’s always incredibly difficult.

Journalist Gene Fowler once said:

“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

I think Fowler makes two great points. First, the writing process is painful. Second, there’s a misconception that it isn’t.

Words Aren’t Sausages

When we refer to the writing process as “content production,” are we guilty of propagating the myth that writing should be easy?

The word “production” carries connotations of mass-produced commodities. Production and creation may both end in useable goods, but production and creation aren’t the same thing.

Production is a standardized process. The process may be simple or complex, but it’s expected to be seamless, painless, and efficient. It’s designed to achieve the maximum possible output at minimum possible cost.

Is this how other people write? Because it hasn’t been my experience.

I think it’s because words aren’t sausages. A writer isn’t a Jimmy Dean factory.

What’s the Difference?

Think about the process for making sausages. You add the necessary ingredients to a sausage-making machine. The ingredients are mixed, squeezed into a casing, and separated into links. The links travel down a conveyor, where they’re inspected, packaged, sealed, and finally shipped. Each sausage looks and tastes the same as the last.

If I cram all the ingredients for a blog post into my brain – the words, commas, periods, headers, tone – and mix them up in my frontal lobe before sending them through synapses and nerves to my fingers, I can’t expect that uniform, delicious, packaged content will flow from my brain-factory, ready for delivery.

The processes are simply different. When we write for the web we tell stories, create emotional bonds, and ask for our readers’ time and trust. We draw from past experiences and make associations between words and messages. We meticulously craft meaningful sentences, choose perfect words. The aim is engaging, interesting writing that will draw people in and reward them for their effort.

That kind of writing isn’t automatic, standardized, efficient, or cheap. It’s not going to turn out the same every time. It’s not always going to work. And when it does work, we won’t always be able to explain why.

Can I suggest we stop calling the process “production” and start calling it “creation”?