Lesson learned: long pieces, serials and blogs may not mix


Remember typewriters? That's old school. The web is new school, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for some extended writing. Right? (Photo: TheGiantVermin/Flickr/CC-A-SA)

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.


3 thoughts on “Lesson learned: long pieces, serials and blogs may not mix

  1. Let me start with an ‘attaboy!’

    I do agree that longer blogs tend to turn people off – the only post of mine that’s over about 1,200 words is easily the least read of my little darlings.

    I personally have no trouble sitting down to many thousands of words at a time, but I suspect that people generally expect blogs to be terse.

    But the wonderful thing about blogs is the writer’s complete control over their output. Keep up the epics, Ted!

    I expect the next one to be nudging 10,000.

    • The only way I’m cranking out 10,000 words for the web is if someone actually chains me to my keyboard. But you’re right about the “complete control.” It’s both the wonderful thing about a blog and its curse. A print publication that knew its audience would have stopped a piece of inappropriate length. With the web, you just put it out there. Probably the worst thing that happens is it doesn’t get read. Maybe you turn off some potential return visitors as well…?

  2. I can’t help thinking of my blog as a complete indulgence.

    Therefore, if people come back, they do – and if they don’t… well. Their loss.

    ‘Chains’, eh?

    You don’t have a postal address and a relative likely to collude with me on that one, do you? I’m thinking that the postage on the chains (and possibly the bribing of a relative) would be a bargain for 10,000 of Ted’s best.

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