There have been a series of posts and articles in recent weeks that have claimed to offer writers advice on how long their own posts and articles need to be in order to be optimized for reading and sharing online.
It’s a topic that flares up from time to time, and there’s often a few nuggets of usefulness hidden here and there, something practical that can be implemented and employed in the service of writing better material.
The primary problem with such advice is that it, along with similar help offered by “experts,” seems scientifically designed to drive you insane.
Certainly freelance and corporate writers are often given strict guidelines to work within. A white paper might need to be 2,400 words and include three breakout sections of 300 words each. Or a blog post should be no more than 800 words because that’s the best length for the site design.
That’s all reasonable. Good writing, I’ve often said, lives within constraints. If you can’t work within limits, the problem is with you and not the rules put in front of you. Keep editing until you fall below that maximum word count the client has set out, or keep writing until you reach it.
If you’re on your own, though, do what feels natural. If you hit the end of what you’re trying to say and, upon review, find it works for you then that’s how long the piece should be. Or if you feel it meets the needs of the audience you’re trying to reach. Or if it is just done FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND HOLY IT JUST NEEDS TO BE DONE.
Optimizing formatting and length for search or other considerations is valuable, provided that’s what you’re trying to do. Otherwise, let the writing abide.
Here’s a challenge I sometimes engage in for my own purposes: For one week (or two, or three or whatever you feel is adequate) set a constraint on yourself that’s of your own making. It doesn’t have to be related to best practices or anything else. Simply for the sake of practice say that everything you write for X period of time will be 500 words exactly. Or you’ll use a Paragraph, Paragraph, Bullet Point, Paragraph format. Or you’ll add three sub headings to your post
Whatever you decide on, do it. Challenges like this keep writing skills sharp, so when a client comes along and says they need a post to look a certain way, you’re confident your can turn that around.
Even without such practical considerations, these kinds of challenges can be fun in their own right, opening up new possibilities for your writing. If nothing else, I’ve found doing so helps me become more aware of how others are formatting their work, so I see even more of the process behind the art.
More than anything, don’t let anyone tell you your writing *needs* to look a certain way. If we wanted to follow strict equations and rules we would have become accountants or scientists, not writers, in love with the sound of our own voice.