Learning for Pleasure

Feel free to berate me over the time I’ve wasted not writing blogs. I deserve it. I fail. But in my defence, you may have read something by me since my last post without even realising.

Content marketing basically involves producing web-based content to build a company/brand/person’s online presence. That content can take any number of forms from video to infographics via blog posts and news stories – and occasionally, a crafty keyword gets worked in that will help push a page up Google’s search rankings. (Well, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that since Google’s Panda and Penguin updates rewrote the rulebook, but the basic principle is there.)

Because most companies don’t have the time or resources to pay someone to produce the content for them, many come to an agency like the one for which I now work. Someone like me is given a list of topics they can write about, a list of relevant keywords to use where they can, and instructions on the length, tone and frequency of their work for that client, and then they go and try to find news in such thrilling industries as corporate event management, self-employment and cheap insurance quotes.

I really like sourcing and writing the content – and I’m learning huge amounts about topics that I never thought would be my forte. For example, I’m slowly becoming an expert on the fate of the yen because Asian markets have just closed when I start writing my foreign exchange articles. Tomorrow, my mission is to start a currency article with a word other than ‘Cyprus’, because it’s started every headline for one client this week.

I’m sure by the time I’m halfway competent I’ll enjoy it even more. When I’ve eventually lost the “WHY CAN’T I WRITE FASTER?” swimming round in my head I might even be good at it. But the fact is that I spend large chunks of my working day trying to be interested in topics I’d rather ignore.

The result is a slow retreat into the geek kingdom whenever I have the chance.

I don’t want to repeat myself when I’ve written on this before, but I’m still getting used to reading for pleasure again. What I’ve noticed, however, is a sea change in the books that I go for.

The last book I finished was called She-Wolves; the one before, Winter King. Good titles, you might think – dramatic, intriguing, pulling readers in without giving too much away. Unfortunately, they also both fit into that category of colon titles, which start with a perfectly good word or phrase and then tack on superfluous extras. Helen Castor went for She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, while Richard Penn chose Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England.

With the addition of a minor piece of punctuation (come on, a colon? I mean they’re fine, but they’re no semi-colons) those titles have made the classic mistake of giving too much away. It’s the type of blunder I’ve been known to make in conversation:

“I’m reading a book called She-Wolves.”

“Hmm, what’s that about?”

“It’s about women who tried to wield political power in medieval England.”

“…Oh.”

It’s not that I didn’t read history during my degree – when you specialise in pre-1700 literature, it’s inevitable. But I never had time or energy to pick up biographies and chronicles that weren’t related to my work. Now that I can peruse bookshelves at will again, I’m enjoying the freedom to pick up whatever interests me – including the stuff that I could have read a year ago and shoved in a bibliography.

By the same token, at the start of my MA year I had a diary packed with gigs. It was a good year: there was battle metal, goth metal, symphonic metal and a bit of folk. In 2013, for the first time in about three years, there are no upcoming gigs – I was unemployed when tickets sold out for most tours in the first half of the year.

Still, I saw Doctor Faustus in the theatre the other week. I’ve got tickets to stand in a replica Elizabethan theatre and watch all three of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays in a single day in July. The following weekend, I’ll be celebrating my birthday by dragging some friends to Stratford-upon-Avon to watch Titus Andronicus, and in the autumn I’ve got my eye on David Tennant playing Richard II and a touring production of King Lear.

If I didn’t love my subject and the period on which I focused, I wouldn’t have studied it. But when you’re faced with the sense of obligation that comes with deadlines and the distant promise of a qualification, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. It might not sap the joy completely, but it can leave you a bit jaded.

Taking a step back from your subject can be a good thing, it seems – it’s liberating to enjoy it as a hobby again. Whether it will be enough in the future I couldn’t say, but six months after I left university, I’ve rediscovered learning for pleasure.

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