Less is more

table

Q. How long should my blog posts be?

A. That’s a common question. My short answer is: Short.

Q. How short is short?

A. Let me count the ways.

Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson all get credit for saying, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” All of them realized that it’s difficult to write short.

When you write a blog post, take the time to write it short. Limit yourself to 300 words almost always. Dare yourself to stick to 200 words sometimes.

Why?

Because short is quick, and everyone everywhere is in a hurry. Because short on a screen requires scrolling. Because the idea is to catch people’s attention by getting directly to the point. Because readers can scan a short treatise and learn from it.

Want supporting evidence? Jakob Nielsen, who researches and evaluates user interfaces, says that typical webpage visitors “read at most 28 percent of the words during an average visit. 20 percent is more likely.”

Last December, Medium.com, a blogging site, said that the best posts take 7 minutes to read. That’s about 1,400 to 1,750 words. If you know anyone who is willing to wait 7 minutes for a bus, watch 7 minutes of commercials between tv shows or devote 7 minutes to reading a blog post, I want to meet her/him. S/he has the patience of Job.

Happily, Medium.com ends by saying, “Great posts perform well regardless of length, and bad posts certainly don’t get better when you stretch them out.”

So write tight. Try to stay under 300 words. (This post contains 265 words.)

The best time to write

clock
Q.
When is the best time of day to write?

A. Whatever time works for you,

When teaching adults to write nonfiction, I often ask when they prefer to write. The most common answer is 2 hours after awakening. The second-most-common time is late at night, when most other people are snoring. Occasionally people set an alarm for 2 a.m. and write until their eye-drops run out.

Morning is best for me, by the way. But it’s also the best time for me to go to the gym. If I don’t walk the treadmill first thing, I never do. If I delay writing in the morning, though, I always make time later. So I go to the gym as early as I can, then write.

The only reason to think about your best writing time is so that you can articulate it. Then build your life around it.

Now a question for you. What is your best time? How can you build your day around that time? Can you post a sign on your cube from 8 to 9 a.m. – or 3 to 3:45 p.m. – that says, Writing in progress? Can you find a quiet corner near your office or office building where you can hide out frequently?

Most important: Find the best time of day for you to write. Then write then.

 

FAQ: Focus

no photography, please

Q. When I write stories for the company’s e-newsletter and blog, I feel lost in all the details I have gathered. It’s so hard to figure out what it means. Advice, please?

A. Your experience is common. Every writer faces this dilemma sometimes.

First make certain that you have all the information you need. Then write 3 words that form the focus, the nub, the heart of the piece. Three words: subject + active verb + object. For example:

• Company announces layoffs.
• New building will house trial-advocacy programs for law school.
• Physician-in-chief receives astonishing national award.

That doesn’t work? Try these other tricks:
• Imagine that you are at a coffee shop. Your friend sits down and says, “What story are you working on?” What will you answer? Make that your focus.
• Focus on the one thing the reader must know.
• Focus on the novelty in this story. (Even if it’s dull, try to find something interesting.)
• Focus on the reason you care (or your manager cares) about this.
• Focus on the emotions that touch you.
• Visualize how the story will end, and you might find clues to getting there. Focus on that.

If all else fails, put away your notes. Write as fast as you can and see if logical patterns of meaning emerge.

Good luck. As I said, it happens to all of us.

8 great tips for creating writers’ contracts

pencil slanted

Q. Can you please show me a writer’s contract?

A. Sure.

I use a contract or a simple letter of agreement that clarifies who will do what, my fee, and payment terms.  No lawyers involved. No big words. Here’s a sample contract with a client to ghost-write an article for an (imaginary) professional magazine.

Thank you for inviting me to write a 500- to 750-word article about investing in real estate for Private Asset Management.

  1. You will give me a bulleted outline of the sub-topics. You will answer my questions in a timely manner so that I can meet your deadline. You will send me links to sources of additional information, if appropriate.
  2. I understand that the information you give me is confidential and of great value to you. I will respect your intellectual property.
  3. The names of Ms. A and Mr. B will appear as the authors of this article. My name will not appear.
  4. I agree to write the article for delivery on or before DATE. I will provide one major revision and any minor changes before DATE.
  5. I will charge an hourly fee of $400 (don’t I wish), and I anticipate that this project will require 4 hours.
  6. If you decide to change the scope or subject of the article, we will consider that a rewrite. If that happens, there might then be additional fees and/or an extension of the delivery date.
  7. We will consider the assignment “accepted” when you approve it, regardless of whether the publisher decides to use it.
  8. You agree to pay me on or before DATE, upon accepting and approving the article.

Susan Perloff

Now write one of your own.

What brand computer should I buy?

typing smaller

Question: What brand computer should I buy?
Answer: That depends on your needs.

American homes and offices have 260 million laptops and desktops. 86 percent of American computers are PCs. Apple users are fanatical about their computers.

Apple computers

• More Mac users than PC users are satisfied with their computers.
• Apple computers cost more.
• If you have important clients who use Mac, buy a Mac.
• You may have to buy Microsoft Office separately.
• Best for creating graphics, charts, visual art.
• You can find support at a “genius bar” in an Apple store.
• Computer hackers who create viruses do so almost exclusively for PCs.
• PCs come with more memory than a Mac of the same cost.
• If you need more memory, you need to buy it.

Windows computers

• If you have important clients who use Windows, buy Windows.
• If Microsoft Word is your primary software, choose a Windows PC.
• Word for Windows is far more sophisticated than Word for Apple. Source: Substantial personal experience.
• You can find support through the manufacturer.
• Most Windows computers cost less than Apples. The better your purchase, the less you need to be concerned about security and reliability.
• Computer hackers who create viruses do so more frequently for PCs.
• PCs come with higher memory than a Mac of the same cost.