word count

“You have to cut it in half.”

“What?! I wrote it, and it says what it’s supposed to say!”

“The rules of the contest say it has to be half the number of words. Don’t worry, this will be easy.”

I did not believe it. But my mom, my best writing teacher ever, took the time to go over my story, and we did in fact cut it in half. I won the contest and have never forgotten the lesson I learned as a young teenager:

Say what needs to be said, in as few words as possible.

Then came college, and the assignments included writing a ten-page paper.

Ten pages? Of what?

Whatever the topic is, apparently. And I had to use sources, which means I am writing ten pages of stuff that has already been written. But for my paper, I can’t use the same words as the original stuff. I’m supposed to make it my own.

But never use the word “I” or refer to myself in any way.

My mind exploded. Who is making these crazy rules?

But I was used to unfair rules, and I learned to do it. I cranked out a series of ten page papers in enough succession to get a bachelor’s degree. Then I learned that in order to get a master’s degree, you had to write 20 page papers.

That was a bridge too far.

The length of a piece of writing should serve the purpose of the idea it’s trying to convey. It should be interesting, it should definitely convey the voice of the writer and it should not ramble on.

I graduated from college 15 years ago, and I’ve done more writing after than I ever did during. And I did get past the 20-page mark, but I used the first person “I” many many times.

I have been able to make my own rules about what makes sense in my writing.

It’s been lovely.

AND

A new unfair rule has popped up in my world. The rules of the search engines.
The Wonderblog lives in a world dominated by Google. It’s 15 years old, and I have published more than 2,000 posts. Very very few of them are more than a thousand words. Very very few of them are less than 300.

Heretofore, I have spent no time thinking about Google’s opinion of my blog and my posts.

I am thinking a little about it now. A lot of people do think about it. I found this article that suggests Google prefers to serve up articles of a certain length: 2500 words. So if I want people to find what I write by using Google, I have to meet these new rules.

I wonder.

Does Google really know what people want?

I don’t know. I’d love for more people to read what I write, but not at the cost of making my writing worse.

It’s probably the same issue that the university had. Neither Google nor academia is a great judge of art.

They are systems, not souls.

And if I wanted to play by their rules, I had better bring a different set of tools.

Sometimes 500 words can do what 2500 can’t.