How Long is Long?

Ok. So you wrote something. Maybe. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. But last week we talked about the what. What should you blog about? What should your topic be? What should your audience be? If you didn’t read last week’s post, read it here first.

Read it? Ok, great. Let’s continue.

How long should your blog be? This is a question that will net you answers ranging from 1 word to 1 million. And here’s the crazy secret. Either one of those numbers is totally appropriate. Well, I know I’m being a little silly and ridiculous and neither of those numbers is actually an appropriate number of words for a blog. But the point is that there is no actual number that represents the perfect word count for a blog.

I once had an English professor named Dr. Robert Morrison. Every man and woman in the class thought he was the most handsome and intelligent and witty man on the entire planet. He had a charm that was inherently English and the teeth to match. I once found him standing under an oak tree reading poetry and taking huge bites out of a macintosh apple, apple juice shooting every which way. It was like a scene from a Hugh Grant movie. But I digress.

When Dr. Morrison presented us with our first written assignment for his class, he neglected to provide us with a word count. We quickly pointed out his error to him and he quickly pointed out ours. He had forgotten nothing. Ok then, what’s the minimum? There is no minimum. There has to be a minimum, right? But there wasn’t. We were told that an A+ paper is an A+ paper and that all word counts did were diminish quality. If you wrote the perfect 500 word paper but had a 750 word minimum, you would “fix” it by filling in 250 useless, meaningless, pointless words. If you wrote 1500 perfect words but there was a limit of 1000, you’d have to cut 500 words and the meaning you intended, that perfect meaning, would be lost.

Dr. Morrison was right. There should never be a word count requirement. It might be harder to make your point using only 300 words and your point might get lost if you use 5000, but this does not mean that perfection can not be found with those numbers.

Now there are numbers that most marketing people will tell you to stick to. Most will tell you that 300-600 words is the target you should be aiming for. They’re not wrong. Generally, you’re not writing a novel and you want to get your thoughts out. There are others that believe the long post, posts that contain a couple thousand words can be incredibly rewarding to both you and your audience. Neither group is wrong. But neither group is right. Those numbers are perfectly acceptable, but great content trumps word counts every time. I used to write with the word count displayed on my screen at all times. Sometimes I still do when I know that I am writing something with a very specific purpose that might require a certain length. But the truth is that I write until I’m done.

That may not seem incredibly helpful. Let me explain. I don’t outline, thought web, I don’t brainstorm. Also, and this constantly pisses people off, I don’t edit. At all. Period. I might erase something I’ve just written. But once it makes it one or two sentences into the past, it’s alive and I’m not going to kill it. When I write, I know basically where I’m going. I know the direction, but I don’t know which road I’m going to take, how many turns there will be. Here’s how I figure out when I’m done. When the last line I’ve written seems really witty. I’m done. When the last line I’ve written seems like a great soundbite, I’m done. When the last line I’ve written seems like it’s a great parting thought, I’m done.

I write until there’s nothing left in my head on a topic. I write until my hands or eyes hurt from writing and reading. I write until I’m done. I know when I’m done because if I wrote another word on the topic it might just kill me. And then I stop writing.

Start writing. Write til you’re done. Stop writing. Got it?

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