And So It Goes– Billy Joel
Kathy’s Song– Simon & Garfunkel
Always On My Mind– Elvis Presley
In My Life– The Beatles
She accused me of plagiarism and gave me 12 ‘F’s. Don’t ask me to try and explain how I received those 12 failing marks on one paper because I can’t tell you.
It happened twenty-six years ago and I simply don’t remember what sort of cockamamie grading system she had in place. I remember her black wig and how she liked to eat raw sticks of butter.
And I remember how she told me that my writing was inferior. It made me angry but I didn’t let that stop me. When she refused to listen to me and insisted that I had cheated on my paper I decided that she was unhinged.
Of course that was before I noticed the wig and sticks of butter. When you are a 17 Â year-old boy you tend not to notice that kind of stuff because you are too busy trying to look cool in front of the girls.
I don’t know that I ever managed to pull off cool, but I think it is fair to say that I learned how to write. That is assuming that you accept her insistence that my writing was inferior.
I suppose it is possible that it was, but I doubt it. Since I don’t have any of the papers I wrote for that class you’ll have to decide if you accept her word or mine.
Writing Isn’t About Limits
Every week I try to participate in several different online writing groups. Some of these groups provide writing prompts for us to write about. In addition to a topic they usually provide a word count and ask that we not exceed it.
I hate word counts. I don’t like limits. Writing isn’t about limits.
Writing is about telling a story. It is about using words to paint a picture inside the minds of the readers.
Word counts create limits that impact the tales that must be told.
Don’t limit yourself. Don’t let your stories be ripped apart, shredded and destroyed by the limits of length. A tale must be as long as it needs to be to be told.
Tighten Your Tale
A while back someone told me that word counts were a good way to instill discipline in our writing. They said we should limit our words to only those we require to tell the tales that must be told.
My response was that “brevity can bite me.”
That is because my stories are going to be as long as they need to be. I wish that I had told the Butter Eater to adjust her wig and suck on another salty stick. She wasn’t supposed to try to crush the imaginations and dreams of her students.
Don’t get me wrong because she didn’t crush mine. She lit a fire under my ass and made me want to prove her wrong. But that is neither here nor there.
When you are telling the tales that must be told you need to just write. You need to put pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard and let the words flow forth. Write first and edit later.
Word counts cause confusion because they create a condition in which you let your internal editor take creative control. Don’t do that. Write with reckless abandon and use as many words as you need.
I am not repetitive because I am forgetful. I am repetitive because it is necessary.
Tell A Story
A story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every story you write needs those three things. Go read It Was Logical and you’ll find them there waiting for your visit.
Word counts are for bad stories. Word counts are for worriers who wonder how they are going to read 100 papers. Word counts are for very specific papers and purposes but they should only be used as guidelines and not as law.
Learn how to tell the tales that must be told with talent and you won’t ever have to worry about a word count again.
And now if you will excuse me I am going to start stretching because in a moment I am going to be chased by a thousand angry editors. So I am going to run and lead them on a merry chase hither and thither.
Once they are exhausted and worn out from our time on the road I shall sit down and let them know that I believe in brevity. I will tell them that we should all work on tightening our tales and using fewer words to tell them.
But it should only be done after we have spit out how ever many words it takes to tell the tales that must be told.
Just write my friends without wonder or worry. Just write without regard for word count, editors or readers because when you do that your passion will come out and your personality will prevail.
Success shall be ours.
DeliberateBlog July 8, 2012 at 2:32 am
I love this Jack! I’m a rather wordy writer myself, although I’m mostly non-fiction these days. It’s not that I never write a short post, but when I have a point to make, I think like you – I use precisely as many words as I need to make it. Most of my posts are over 1.000 words are some of the really epic ones are around 3.000. And yes, people read them. Some even ask for them, because the mammoth posts thoroughly explore a whole topic.
But I find that when I’m reading, I don’t mind a long post as long as the words were necessary and didn’t just repeat a point over and over. In other words, if the writing is good, it can be as long as necessary.
One thing I’ve noticed when someone restricts me, like when I write a guest post for someone who has a really low word count limit, I can still get the point across, but not with as much style. Those posts are rarely funny, because I find myself sacrificing humor for clarity. That urks me. I like my posts to be both enlightening and entertaining, but I find that nearly impossible to do when I’m limited to too few words. And yeah, I get that this is my limitation. 🙂
TheJackB July 8, 2012 at 10:37 pm
Â @DeliberateBlogÂ Hi Melody,
I can’t think of a time where good writing made me think that it was too wordy or took too long to read. When it is well written, interesting and accessible it just works.
Humor is a harder nail to hit in fewer words. I like the challenge, but that restriction tends to impact me in the same way as you.
rdopping July 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm
Word count? Um, I write until I’m done. Just don’t waste any words they always say. Get to the point. Yes, I get it. I do.
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm
Â @rdoppingÂ Sometimes short and to the point is exactly what we need.
William Veasley July 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm
Chloe Jeffreys July 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm
I agree. A story is a story. Though I find that I have very little patience these days for adverbs. I don’t know if it is the medium of blogging or what, but I can’t take too many adverbs in a piece. Or adjectives for that matter.
Even more important than word count is white space. Whereas I can read a big ole honkin’ paragraph in a book or on my Kindle, I cannot stand for a paragraph to be longer than three lines on a blog. Â You do a fine job on white space, so you get a bigger word count in my book.Â
The worst is a lengthy piece with no paragraph breaks. You’ll lose me within 5 seconds. Or if you have a black background with neon green Comic Sans font. That is just asking to not get read.
For my own pieces, I start to get nervous after 750 words. I’ll write down as many words as I want at the start, but then I’ll edit and edit and edit until I get near my goal.
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm
Â @Chloe JeffreysÂ
I agree with everything you have said. Some people go nuts with their descriptions of people and places. Unless it is truly important I don’t want or need to know all of the nitty gritty details. I like using my imagination.
White space is important too because large blocks of text are repulsive. They are hard on the eyes.
I don’t mind Comic Sans but I HaTe WhEn BlOgGers write like that.
750 is a pretty decent chunk. You can do a lot with that.
Chloe Jeffreys July 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm
Â @TheJackBÂ I’ve thought about this piece a lot as I write my current work. I’m going to need over 1300 words to tell the next piece of my story and that scares me. Nobody reads 1300 words these days. Oh well. You need as many words as you need and your story is either worth reading or not. And that’s the hard truth of it.
TheJackB July 4, 2012 at 10:17 pm
Â @Chloe JeffreysÂ Absolutely. Tell your story. Use as many words as are needed to tell it.
Don’t worry about whether people will read it, that is not why you are writing it, or at least I don’t think it is.
Hajra July 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm
I do have a range when writing blog posts but then that is restricted to my blog. For my other writing work, I really don’t have a limit.Â
Sometimes a short story can be much more interesting than a 400 page novel! So, if somebody can grasp the readers interest till the count of 2000 words then; say yayy and keep writing; there really shouldn’t be a word limit! 😉 One should just know to keep them mesmerized! 😉
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:06 pm
Â @Hajra Â How to draw the reader in and keep their attention is always the trick. If you do it well it really doesn’t matter how long your posts/work is/are.
JD84 July 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm
I do often have this 500 word count in the back of my head when writing blog posts, but it’s not a limit for me. It’s more like you said guidelines, and I don’t stop at 500 words when writing I see it more as a goal to reach when writing. I don’t believe there is a proper length to a blog post either, if you feel like it 2-3000 words should work too. Have a happy fourth of July! /JD
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:05 pm
Â @JD84Â Happy Fourth of July JD.
Posts should be as long or as short as necessary. As long as you can make it work without completely confusing or losing the reader your words are just fine.
KDillabough July 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm
P.S. you had me at “In My Life” by the Beatles, my favourite Beatles song..sigh…
And Happy Fourth of July!
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm
Â @KDillaboughÂ Thanks. Will we see you tomorrow?
KDillabough July 4, 2012 at 3:17 am
Â @TheJackB Yep:)
StartYourNovel July 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm
I’m not into limiting myself either. You can always trim the fat later, if need be.
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm
Â @StartYourNovelÂ Exactly. Write until you are exhausted and then worry about what is necessary.
AMWClarkLaw July 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm
@StartYourNovel @TheJackB Dexterity, cadence, separation, suspense, and resolution matter more. As w/ skirt length + angels on head of a pin
JanBierens July 3, 2012 at 12:46 pm
It isn’t over ’till the fat lady sings. A story has to be just as long as it needs. Numbers are – like you said – for essay’s (minimum 1200 words or something) , anyway, a story has to have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Â Oh well, who am I telling..
People are used to read fast, and scan headlines rather than read the full text of an article.
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm
Â @JanBierensÂ I don’t like catering to scanners. When I am not being paid to write that way I refuse to do it. Read or don’t read my posts, but they will always be as long as they need to be.
KDillabough July 3, 2012 at 4:58 am
I write until I stop writing:) Cheers! Kaarina
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:02 pm
Â @KDillaboughÂ That is the way to do it. Just make sure you have plenty of ink and paper, madam longhand. 😉
KDillabough July 4, 2012 at 3:16 am
Â @TheJackB I always do:)
susansilver July 3, 2012 at 4:23 am
I wish I could tell my younger self not to care so much about my teacher’s critiques. I believed for a long time that I didn’t have anything valuable to share. Then a professor in college called me into his office. I thought he was going to give me another lecture about the logical inconsistencies of my paper. Nope. He thought my essay was hilarious. I told him that nobody got my sense of humor before. Â He totally saw the connection to British humor because he was from Ireland. Never failed a writing paper after that. My best score on the GRE was my analytical writing. That teacher always believed that I would succeed.Â
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:02 pm
Â @susansilverÂ I have long been intrigued by how communication between people works and how some people just ‘get’ us while others do not.
I love stories like yours. A good teacher can be such a powerful influence in our lives.
CrossBetsy July 3, 2012 at 4:22 am
“Confrontations” like that sometimes shape our destiny!
My 1st grade teacher told me my drawing of trees were lolliopops, not trees. I became an artist probably in part to prove her wrong!
Then I was asked to write a narrative for a slideshow at a conference and the person in charge edited what I wrote and I remember being so mad! If you want me to do a job then let me do it. I’m not THAT ornery that I can’t be directed, but don’t mess with what comes from my heart unless I ask for your input!Â
I have to admit, I’m a lot more open to editing these days because I’ve realized that I have a lot to learn.Â
I don’ know where the balance is between creativity and editing (by someone else). I just figure if they chose you to do a job, they must like what you do, and should learn trust you, too!
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 11:01 pm
Â @CrossBetsyÂ The best editors learn how to teach you to tighten up you work without destroying your style or narrative. Editing for mistakes and errors is different than style.
There is a lot to be said for the impact of those meetings and our futures. Sometimes it is good and sometimes…
bdorman264 July 3, 2012 at 4:02 am
Don’t make me give you an ‘F’ and pass the butter please………..that is just so wrong BTW…………..
I don’t limit myself per se but do try to keep it in the 500-700 word range. That keeps it very readable and easy to digest. However, if I’m really telling a story I just let it run its course.
Just like everything else, there is really no right way or wrong way, just your way; whatever works for you.Â
TheJackB July 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm
Â @bdorman264Â She was wrong and she is dead now. That is not very nice, but eat those sticks of butter and ignore exercise at your own peril.
Technically that 500-700 word range is supposed to be where we should be aiming for but I hate it. I hate it because I am not keen on giving in to the instant gratification, short term memory society.
Your way is always best.
potentoils July 7, 2012 at 8:44 am
Â @TheJackBÂ “I hate it because I am not keen on giving in to the instant gratification, short term memory society.” Ha! We must be from the same generation, LOL. Appreciated your post.Â
TheJackB July 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm
Â @potentoilsÂ Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it.