Quotable content and ambiguity in writing.

What is quotable content? I don’t really know if it is a term that exists, but I am defining it as: something that sounds good when you tweet it, something that doesn’t require a “See More…” if you put it into a Facebook status, something that is less than three lines, and more or less a topic statement.

A Big Idea in a work is not a bad thing at all. Some sort of topic statement is necessary in order to show the reader what you’re talking about. Broad enough to be something you can actually write about, but not so broad as to dip into many unrelated things. Even the sermons that are preached at my church use Big Ideas, and it helps to focus things.

The problem comes when a writer or speaker tries to fit these one-liners in everywhere. Instead of summing up a cohesive piece of writing or a speech, it ends up being a summary of itself with no further explanation. I believe that this takes a great deal away from writing. Writing is supposed to be the personal thoughts of the writer, and I think that should include the process involved in coming to that conclusion in the first place. You end up with a bunch of little conclusions that sound great on Twitter and that people love for their quotability, but that are ambiguous bumper-sticker statements that mean nothing in and of themselves.

Things like: You have to live life to the fullest! or Live, laugh, love! or Who you are is not what you do.

How about: You are defined by your humanity.

Everyone loves that one. But what the hell does that mean? What is your “humanity?” Depending on who’s using the phrase, it means something entirely different than what it might mean to you or me because it lacks any kind of definition or explanation as to the thought behind it. Usually it will be used in a sentence like, “You are defined by your humanity, so don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, you are yourself!”

Um…okay. Like, who’s self would I otherwise be?

Sure, people can quote it, people can easily copy and paste it and everyone will love it. Not because they know what you just said, but because they know what they think you meant. This is true to some extent of all writing. Of course, everything you read is being interpreted by you, and also by everybody else who reads it, maybe slightly differently. But when you say something that unclear, you’re not really saying anything at all. So, in the quest for quotable content, we’re losing the ability and the urge to really say anything. For example, one person might see humanity as the ability to fail and yet keep on going, while someone else might view humanity as being not an animal. Because you didn’t tell them what it is that you are talking about when you say, “You are defined by your humanity.”

I think that having quotable bits is great. I think it’s necessary to occasionally sum up what you’re trying to say, especially in an age where that is what draws people into reading or listening to the rest of what you have to say. But the original thoughts behind that summary should be easily accessible to the reader (or listener). They should continually come back with more questions, rather than taking each statement at face value and thinking no further about the meaning or the implications of said meaning. If your writing or speaking doesn’t cause people to wonder, then, in my opinion, you’re doing it wrong. Of course people should wonder on their own, but I think that it’s a symbiotic relationship, people who wonder and people who cause people to wonder. They feed each other. Because people who wonder and ask questions don’t want to have all the answers, they want answers that lead to more questions. And most “quotable content” simply doesn’t do that when used to garner views or reads.

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