When starting this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t do too many “meta” pieces — that is to say, writing about writing and, by extension, blogging.
I still intend to keep that promise. But this one I want to get off my chest. Hopefully I can do this without sounding too whiny.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a longer piece responding to a pair of prompts given me for my Gothic fiction class. My response ended up being about a 3500 word piece, in which I write about my the “spirit” of my summer camp. I was actually rather proud of it — still am. I did some good research, contacted my old camp’s directors, and hung out in some ghost-hunting forums for a bit to get tips on other summer camp spirits.
I knew that its length probably made it a poor candidate for a blog. Nevertheless, I decided to post it, breaking it into three pieces.
The response, shall we say, was minimal.
Now, I know this is a relatively new blog, and I ought to be happy for every damn reader I get. And I am. In the short time I’ve had this up, I’ve had some great exchanges with others, picked up several new books for reading (thanks, Misha), and taken a fresh look at topics I might not have otherwise considered. And I’m just getting started.
But does everything need to be between three to 500 words?
For most people, I think the answer is yes.
I ought to understand this. I teach a journalism course at my school, and I know that when people pick up a newspaper, they don’t start with the first article and stop with the last. They scan the pages, looking for “entry points” like headlines, photos and other interesting things. They read what they want. A lot of times they don’t finish what they start.
That goes at least double for the web.
So I learned a good lesson about long posts. And you’ll see shorter pieces from me in the future.
But I’m still going to push out the occasional thousand-plus word monster.
Why? Because I enjoy writing them.
And I suspect that, aside from the small group of people who might take the time to read a longer piece, there are others who appreciate that any writer has more in his bag of tricks than lists, linkbacks and memes. In his excellent book Inside Reporting, Tim Harrower makes a great point about long form “enterprise” stories:
I’m glad we spend manpower on projects, I’m glad we reach for projects, because if we didn’t, no medium would. But we cannot expect people to read them. The best we can hope for is that people will realize we did them and will appreciate that we care enough to try to explain our complicated world.
I’m not willing to concede defeat for the longer story. I’ll write ’em every now and then.
But when I write them, I won’t expect a surge in traffic. Just maybe one or two “attaboys” would be nice.