I mentioned in the last post that I like writing a column in part because a column is usually in the word-count range I’m most comfortable with. It’s a bit of a surprise to me that there are people who have trouble writing short stuff. Of course, all my life I’ve been a “short stuff” sort of person. I like working small, and it hasn’t always been seen as something worthwhile, respectable or valuable. Bigger is better, right?
This morning I read an article on twelve things to do or not do with your blog. One of those “don’t do” points was – don’t limit your word count. I quote: “Readers (and search engines) prefer to get meatier pieces (500 words or more) to make clicking through worth their time.”
I had a moment of cognitive dissonance. When did five hundred words become a longer piece? (And precisely when did longer equate to “meatier”? A plateful of spareribs looks like more than a pork chop, but there’s more meat per inch on the chop.) My engravings were often rejected for being too small. I’ve sometimes been informed, tacitly or explicitly, that only a novel is “real” writing. Now I find that five hundred words is long! When did my own work move from “that’s nice, dear, come back when you’ve dome something larger” to “longer and meatier”? I wasn’t looking when that happened
A long article or story isn’t necessarily better or a short one worse, and the reverse is also true. The important features of a written piece are the what and the how, not the how-long. A good writer can suck you into a ten-page article, and a poor one can make a paragraph tedious. The point of the exercise is to learn how to convey what you need to and want to in the right number of words, the right length of article. Didn’t we all learn in high school that you couldn’t pad a three-hundred-word idea into a thousand-word essay without the teacher noticing? (And remember that in high school it was an incredible chore to write a thousand words!)
It won’t change the way I write. I’ll still write humour pieces in four-to-six-hundred-word chunks, newspaper pieces in two-hundred-to-twelve-hundred-word lengths and plug along at my novel at five-to-eight hundred words per day. For one thing, I’ve spent a long time practising in those lengths, and I’m good at them. I can write a circular piece in any of them without the joins showing. For another, I didn’t change when my work was considered small – why would I change now just because it’s considered long?
Does anyone really believe that length has anything to do with meatiness or merit? Pass the spareribs.