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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The War on "Interesting"

My New Year's Blog Resolution - no more calling things "interesting".

While writing, I sometimes find myself searching for an adjective to attach to something I've just mentioned, words to explain why I think it's relevant. It's... no... it's kind of... hmm... It's interesting, is what it is! Phew. Now I can move on. Anything can be "interesting" - a book, a blog post, an article, an event, an idea, a movement, a prediction, an argument.

Calling something interesting is effortless; easy; it's a one-size-fits-all term. If you can't think of anything else to say, you can at least say that. Which is why people do. I know I'm not alone in this.

But "interesting" is a cop-out. It adds nothing. If you're taking the trouble of writing about something, it should be taken as read that you think it's interesting. The whole point is to explain why - to tell people what's special about it. Does it present new evidence? If so, is it reliable? Does it introduce a new distinction, a new vocabulary, a new way of thinking? If so, why is it a good one?

Sadly it's easier to just call something interesting than to explain why it is. Partly this is because "interesting" (or "fascinating", "thought-provoking", "intriguing", "notable" etc.) is just one word, and it's easier to write one word than a sentence. More important is the fact that you probably don't know why you're interested by something until you do some thinking about it.

Don't duck out of doing that thinking. It's intellectual laziness. Even more so is to say that you're not sure if something is true, but it sure is interesting. "It's not necessarily true, but it's a fascinating thought" - is it? why?

Are you interested by the possibility that it's true, so if you learned that it was definitely false, it would become boring? Or is it one of those ideas that's interesting "in itself"? If so, why? Because it's an influential idea in a political or historical sense? Because it sheds light on the minds of the people who believe it? Are you sure that your interest isn't a kind of repressed belief? Are you really "only interested", or do you see something you like? If so, why not say so?

So, I'm quitting the habit, cold turkey, as of now. No more will I reach for the "interesting" button whenever I'm stuck for words. With any luck, this will make my writing a little bit more interes... hmm.

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