Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On Interestingness

Today I asked someone at my company what they were working on that was interesting, and he said nothing really. He listed a few things and said, but those aren't very interesting.

"Then why do you work here?" I asked him. "Why not go get a more interesting job?"

(Let me just say that I'm lucky to work at a company where people are supposed to like their job because it's interesting. I know the majority of people in the world work to put food on the table, not for intellectual fulfillment.)

It turned out that I should have said, "What are you working on that is interesting TO YOU, regardless of whether you think it is interesting to others." Many people think that they are uninteresting or that their thoughts are uninteresting. Many people equate the word interesting with glamorous. But if you are interested in something, then it becomes interesting to other people.

In half the romantic movies in the world, the main character falls in love when they see the love interest light up about something---their dog, orphans, making boats in their garage. Listen, no one cares about people making boats in their garage. People fall in love because they love seeing someone else intensely interested.

This is why we will read a whole John McPhee book on oranges, or a Mark Kurlansky book on salt, or an Anne Fadiman essay on ice cream. They are interested in this pedestrian topic and that interestedness is exciting to us.

Now Twitter and Facebook and many blogs have shown us that there are also many people who think they are interesting when they are not. You do have to be able to present your topic or point of view in an elegant way to pass your sense of interest to others. And you may also have read another post of mine where I say that you need to pick weird interesting things to write about, which may contradict what I'm saying here. Unusual details or perspective does help in making a piece of writing interesting, just like having the sentence-level skill of John McPhee helps. But just being interested in your subject will carry you an awfully long way. You will naturally find all the funny, noodley, interesting pieces in your topic because you view it with an interesting gaze, and because human nature is what it is, we the reader will follow that interested gaze down to its source.


  1. It's the same with teaching. Being interested in your subject matter goes a long way to keeping your students interested; if you think you're above your subject matter, all your students will, too.

  2. Don't worry about that. You will work on interesting projects in the future.

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