How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

Remember that we write for people and not computer algorithms

People have different opinions as to the ideal length of a blog post. When I first started blogging almost ten years ago, I heard you needed at least 200 words for search engines to be able to learn enough information about your post to categorize it. Then the minimum length jumped up to 300 words, with the warning that shorter posts would not be indexed by search engines.

For years that was my goal, to write a post at least 300 words long. In some contexts I still shoot for that. However, many of my clients want content that is at least 500 words long. This seems to be the new standard, if such a thing exists.

Despite this there are supporters of 800 to 1200-word posts, with some people advocating 1,500 to 2,000. On the extreme, we have people producing longform content. Their goal is 5,000-word posts and even longer. I even heard of one person producing a 20,000-word post. That’s the length of a short nonfiction book. If I write 20,000 words, I prefer it be in a book and not posted online.

So, this begs the question: What’s the right length for a blog post?A blog post should be as long it needs to be to cover the topic. Click To Tweet

One answer is as long as it needs to be to cover the topic. No less and no more. If you need to start padding your word count to hit a target length, you’ve lost sight of the goal: the reader.

Another answer considers your target demographic. For example, if you’re writing to busy business people, then keep your post short and succinct. No matter how interested they may be in your content, they’re unlikely to read a longer post because they’re unwilling to invest the time to do so. And even if they try, they are likely to be interrupted before they reach the end, and the chance of them getting back to it to finish it is slim.

Of course, if you’re writing for a specific website, then you better hit their word-count target. The same applies if you’re writing for a client. The client is always right, even if you disagree.

The key consideration in all this is to remember that when we write, we write for people, not search engines or computers. Yes, we must keep the SEO algorithms in mind, but they are secondary in importance to producing great content that readers read.

That’s always been my goal, and I encourage it to be yours, too.

(By the way, this post is 430 words long. I think the length is just right.)

Use Dragon Speech Recognition Software to Write Faster

Celebrate the benefits of using your voice to produce your first draft

A couple years ago I heard about authors using dictation to write the first draft of their books. Although intrigued by the idea of using speech-to-text software to write, I dismissed it as impractical. However, as more and more writers extolled the virtues of speech recognition software, I decided to test dictation for myself.

Aside from the promise of being able to write faster, there’s also the realization that by using my voice instead of my fingers for my first draft, I save my wrists from the hint of strain that sometimes plagues me.

Google Docs: For my initial test, I sought a no-cost evaluation. Accessing Google Docs from a Chrome browser presents the option for “voice typing” under the tools tab. Its basic command set results in a short learning curve. Within minutes I wrote my first blog post using dictation. Even with my first attempt, I realized the time-saving benefits of dictation.

To achieve increased accuracy, I bought a USB headset, which helped quite a bit. For a couple months I continued to use the voice typing feature in Google Docs to do my first drafts. Then I would copy the results into Word for editing and proofreading.

Dragon: My next step was to get serious with dictation, and I bought the highly recommended Dragon dictation software. All the basics I learned using Google Docs applied to Dragon. However, Dragon with its vast degree of power and flexibility also carries with it a more detailed command set and with it a longer learning curve.

Though I’m still learning some of Dragon’s more powerful capabilities, I’m already seeing great results with the parts of the software I am using. In fact, I like using dictation so well that it seems a chore to type out my words.Using dictation I can write my first draft in half the time. Click To Tweet

Overall, I have reduced the time it takes to produce a first draft by at least 50 percent, possibly up to 75 percent. I must point out, however, that I do have to spend more time editing the words when I dictate. Overall, I presently have about a 33 percent increase in output when factoring in the time saved with dictation and the time added for more editing.

I’m sure that as I continue to use dictation, my speed and efficacy will further increase. I can’t wait!

UR Turn: What’s the Best Writing Advice You’ve Ever Heard?

We’re wise to learn what we can from other writers who have gone before us

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...This blog is about writing and publishing. I share what I know in the posts, and you share what you know in the comments. Our monthly segment, UR Turn, allows us to focus on this. We can learn from each other.

In addition, we can also learn from other writers through their blogs, podcasts, webinars, and books. Plus, we can read magazines about writing.

Over the years I’ve learned a great deal. I strive to apply what I learn. Then I share the results.

Today’s UR Turn question is, what’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?The best writing advice I’ve ever heard is to write every day. Click To Tweet

For me, the answer is easy. I’ve repeated it here many times. It is simply to write every day. Doing this changed my life and my career as a writer.

Now it’s your turn.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

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What Are You Willing to Give Up So You Can Write?

Being a writer requires giving up other things, and making it a priority requires sacrifice

What Are You Willing to Give Up So You Can Write?It’s been said that some people really don’t want to write, they want to have written. They want to see the results, without putting in the work. Yet writing requires effort and that effort necessitates that we prioritize the things we do.

It seems everyone I know is too busy. This includes writers. We struggle to find time to write. Yet by adjusting our priorities, we can make the time. What will you give up to get there?

If writing is important to you, if having written is your goal, what will you sacrifice so you can write?

Television: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t watch TV. I try to keep my viewing habits in check, but I still spend too much time watching TV. Though this often happens late in the evening when I’m too tired to write, I also know that if I watched less TV I would have more time to write.

Social Media: The lure of social media distracts many writers from doing what they need to do. They sit down at their computer to write but decide to check Facebook first. An hour later they haven’t written a single word for their project, but they have read lots of updates and made a couple posts themselves. Next they slide over to Twitter or LinkedIn or Goodreads or Pinterest or whatever else beckons them. They never get around to writing. Scale back on social media to ramp up writing time.

Sleep: I’ve heard of many writers who give up sleep to find time to write. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it, because if I’m tired I have trouble writing or at least writing anything worthwhile. Yet I am disciplined to get up early in the morning and write, when I could roll over and sleep for a few minutes longer.We need to make some sacrifices, or we’ll never have enough time to write. Click To Tweet

Recreation: Another consideration is the things we do in our leisure time. Call this rest and relaxation. While taking time to rejuvenate ourselves is wise, too much recreation only serves as a distraction and offers no additional benefit.

Relationships: Another area is relationships. Since many writers are introverts and in some cases, recluses, be careful about giving up relationships that are meaningful and helpful. Yet some relationships aren’t beneficial. We may persist out of habit or guilt or obligation, but instead of adding to our life, these relationships suck the life from us.

It’s been said that we become a composite of the five people we spend the most time with. We need to make sure we’re spending time with the right people and avoid relationships that warrant less attention or no attention. This then becomes found time to write.

It’s wrong to assume we need to give up everything to write, but we do need to make some sacrifices or we’ll never have enough time to write. Even worse we may never even start.

UR Turn: Have You Used Dictation Software to Write?

Authors who use dictation claim a much higher writing speed

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...I’ve recently been experimenting with using dictation to write and bought a USB headset to reduce dictation errors. So far I’m excited with the process and anxious to get better at it. To accomplish this, I’ve bought Dragon speech recognition software and will begin using it.

What are your thoughts about dictation?

Have you considered it? Did you try it and give up?

If you do dictation, what software and hardware do you use? What are the benefits? What advice can you offer?What are your thoughts about dictation? Click To Tweet

Please share your input in the comments below.

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Why You Need a USB Headset for Dictation Success

A quality headset reduces dictation errors

USB Headset for Dictation SuccessLast week I shared my first steps at using dictation as an alternative way to write. To test dictation I didn’t invest any money in software or hardware, as I merely wanted to do a proof-of-concept before I spent any money.

I used Google Docs, a Chrome browser, and a cheap analog headset that plugged into the audio port on my computer. Though a less-than-ideal configuration, it did confirm that dictation was a viable solution to creating first drafts. Given this arrangement, and the fact that I’m new to dictation, I wasn’t discouraged with my accuracy rate of about 80 percent.

Of course, I wanted better. The first step was to try a different headset. However, going from a wired headset to a wireless headset made things worse. So I ordered a mid-range priced USB headset. I’m using it today, and my accuracy rate is increased to the low-90s. I’m elated over this progress.

My next step is to buy Dragon software, a highly recommended dictation tool for writers. With this, and once I train it to my voice, I expect my accuracy rate to go even higher. Of course, my productivity will increase with it.With dictation you have to speak your punctuation marks, but it’s not a hard skill to learn. Click To Tweet

With dictation I had to learn to speak my punctuation. Google Docs includes six punctuation phrases, which we need to speak to make them appear on the page. These are period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, new line, and new paragraph. (I understand Dragon software has a greater array of commands.)

I was amazed to see how quickly I got used to saying these punctuation codes. After only a few sessions, they flowed quite easily.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now the focus is on the headset.

I needed a better one. My old analog headset, which didn’t work so well, cost about $20 some seven years ago. The wireless headset I tried, which also plugged into my computer analog port, was even older.

The recommendation to minimize dictation errors is to use a USB headset. This has a digital interface instead of analog, which allows for better volume consistency for dictation.

With my analog headsets, I would frequently get warnings that the software was having trouble hearing me. When this happened my error rate increased or the recording stopped. Once I switched to the USB headset these problems went away.

The USB headset I bought was a mid-range product. With shipping it cost less than $50. The result of my increase in dictation quality was worth the investment.

I’m now pursuing dictation with even more excitement, and the introduction of professional dictation software should help make the process go better and faster. I can hardly wait.

I’ll share more once the software is installed, and I begin using it.

Until then, happy writing.

Should You Use Dictation to Write?

Writers claim to dramatically increase their writing speed by speaking instead of typing

Write faster, try dictation.In listening to podcasts and reading blogs, I’ve heard a lot about writers using dictation. This intrigued me. There are two reasons why I wanted to try dictation instead of typing when composing my first drafts.

Why Diction?

Increased Speed: The most attractive reason for dictation comes from the promise of increased output. Some writers claim to hit speeds of up to 5,000 words per hour when using dictation. Though I have no expectations of hitting that number, the idea of creating content faster really intrigues me.

Protect Wrists: The other reason I’m curious about dictation is for an alternative to typing to reduce repetitive strain injury (RSI) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Indeed, there are times when after too many days of logging too many hours of typing that my wrists grow tender. When this comes it’s too late to do my wrist exercises to minimize the impacts of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Being able to speak my words instead of typing them provides an alternative data-entry method. And it’s always good to have a backup plan if for some reason I must ease up on my typing. In fact, concern over tender wrists is one reason why I take a break from writing on Saturdays. I want to give my wrists a rest from the daily strain of typing.

Why Not Dictation?

However, despite these two benefits to spur me forward, there have also been three reasons why I was reluctant.

Voice Strain: My first concern is voice strain. Perhaps because I don’t have a reason to talk much throughout my workday, I find that it’s very easy to strain my voice. Sometimes even giving a half-hour presentation will be enough to cause my voice to falter. An hour is about as much as I can speak without going hoarse. Perhaps with practice I can extend this time, but I’m not sure.

Speaking Quality: My next concern is the quality of my speech. My diction is not great. I can pronounce the same word different ways and pronounce different words the same. This presents a problem. However, my speaker-independent smartphone seldom misunderstands my verbal instructions, so I’m no longer as concerned. And with professional dictation software that I can train to learn my voice, I could minimize this potential problem even more.

Writing Style: The third reason I was hesitant to try dictation is that my speaking style is different than my writing style. I feared that I would spend too much time editing my dictated words that I would negate the time savings from using dictation.

Conclusion

Despite my apprehension, the allure of increasing my writing output and saving my wrists was enough to cause me to seriously consider dictation. But before I spent money on software and hardware I wanted to do some testing before making an investment.

Without spending a penny, I did just that. When accessing Google Docs through the Chrome browser there is a dictation feature (go to “tools” and select “voice typing”). For hardware, I used a standard headset I already had. Though this was not the ideal test, it would be enough to let me see if dictation held potential for me.

I’ve tried it, and I liked it.Even though I’m new at dictation, I’ve already realized an increase in writing productivity. Click To Tweet

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been writing all my blog post and articles using dictation. Even though I’m new at it, I’ve already realized an increase in writing productivity. And as I get better, I expect an even greater boost in output.

Next week I’ll share more about my process, and how I’m moving forward with dictation. But for now, I wanted to share my initial thoughts so you could consider dictation.

Until then happy writing.

(By the way, the first draft of this 650-word post took me under ten minutes using dictation; typing would have been at least 45 minutes.)

Don’t Overreact to Writing Trends

Today’s hot writing advice may prove embarrassing in a few years

Don’t Overreact to Writing TrendsI still have the mimeograph handout from high school, from oh so many years ago. The title boasts “50 Substitutes for Said.”

The opening instruction says, “Both color and drama can be added to a story by using other verbs as substitutes for said.” (A poorly written sentence, by the way.) As I recall, this teacher encouraged us to never use said in our writing.

Some of the recommended alternatives for said include blustered, bantered, challenged, directed, emphasized, giggled, implored, insinuated, mimicked, philosophized, revealed, and soothed. (By the way, I keep the list for nostalgic purposes, not for reference.)

In my writing, I can’t imagine using any of these suggestions in place of said. If I did, people would laugh at me and dismiss my work.

Now the trend is to not use alternatives for said. The extreme position is to only use said, even if it’s a question. I can’t bring myself to do that. It just seems wrong to write:

“What do you mean by that?” she said.

It makes me cringe. Plus, encountering said when I expect to read asked, is a speedbump that takes me out of the scene.

Yet, some writing experts instruct writers to do just that, to only use said, even for a question.

I think this minimalist approach is an extreme view, along with being dull. I suspect this will be a short-lived writing trend that will later be dismissed as unimaginative.

Just as we now groan at writers who would write “he blustered” instead of “he said,” we will one day groan at writers who only use said. It’s lazy writing and makes for boring reading. We need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore. Click To Tweet

In the same way that we discern which editing suggestions we need to follow from our critique partners, we need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore.

As for me, I will disregard the advice to only use said.

Do You Know Your Go-To Words in Your Writing?

Authors must be aware of words they overuse and that will irritate readers

go-to wordsEvery writer has words they use a lot, too often in fact. They’re called go-to words. In my fiction writing, I use smile, nod, and sigh a lot. Too much, way too much. But I never realized this until my editor pointed it out.

I also tend to have my characters grin, whisper, and wink. Plus, I enjoy it when they gasp, squeeze, and scrunch. Yep, these are my top nine go-to words. I have a list.

I also overuse just, only, and bit. And don’t get me started on adverbs, which harkens back to bad instruction from high school. (Though it might have been common practice back then.)

Your go-to words will likely differ from mine, but maybe my list will get you started on making your own.

Yes, you should make a list of your go-to words, as well as overused phrases and the common errors you make. One of my common errors is writing all of, when I should be satisfied with all.

As I progress in writing a book, one of my editing phases is to work through my list of go-to words. One by one, I search for my overused words and fix them. In your writing, search for your overused words and fix them. Click To Tweet

Sometimes characters have to smile, so I leave them smiling. But other times their smile does nothing to advance the story, so I wipe that smile off their face, that is, I delete the word from my writing. But I prefer to find creative ways to communicate my intent. Sometimes this task is easy, and other times it provides a challenge.

One final thought about scaling back on our go-to words is that we can inadvertently create new ones. For example, to scale back on nod, I started having characters bob their heads, which is even more annoying. So in attempting to fix one problem, I caused another. Don’t do that.

This list of my go-to words only applies to my fiction writing. I need to make another list for my nonfiction work. A few that I’m aware of enough to avoid are corresponding, conversely, significant, and efficacy. But I’m sure there are more.

If you know your go-to words, great. If not, ask someone to read your work and tell you. Then find them and fix them.

Your writing will be stronger and you won’t weary your readers with repetition.

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The Number One Mistake Writers Make

Failing to stay current on writing trends hurts writers and lessens their work

The Number One Mistake Writers MakeIt seems everything I learned in school about writing was wrong. Okay, that’s an overstatement. But many of the lessons I mastered in school no longer apply or are just plain wrong.

However, I don’t think my teachers were in error over their instruction. Instead, the conventions changed.

Unfortunately, too many writers assume they work within a set of incontrovertible writing rules. And they are offended when told otherwise.

1) Two spaces to end a sentence: I’ve witnessed the transition from using two spaces to one to end a sentence. It happened over the past ten to fifteen years. This rule harkens back to the typewriter. Now we use computers, or should, and one space rules. Only someone out of touch would space-space anymore. And if they do, their writing skill is judged as less than.

2) Five spaces to start a paragraph: I hesitate to include this obsolete rule, but a couple years ago the submission requirements said I must start each paragraph with five spaces. I couldn’t believe it. The five-space rule goes back to the days of manual typewriters and before the invention of the tab key. Yes, I have seen such beasts, but they were already antiques when I was a teen.

3) Don’t start sentences with a conjunction: In school we’d get marked down if we failed to follow this rule, but ten years ago a college professor gave me permission to begin a sentence with a conjunction. And sometimes it feels like the right thing to do.

4) Don’t end a sentence with a preposition: This was another rule drilled into me, which some people claim was never a rule in the first place. Rewriting those preposition-ending sentences resulted in some of the most awkward sounding constructs. Yet, I still see writers do just that. Now writers are told to keep their paragraphs short. Click To Tweet

5) You must have at least three sentences per paragraph: I remember being taught that a paragraph should have five to eight sentences. The minimum was three: opening sentence, one sentence for the body of the paragraph, and the concluding sentence. Now writers are told to keep their paragraphs short.

One sentence, or even one word, is acceptable.

Okay.

6) Always use complete sentences: Sometimes an incomplete sentence more effectively communicates than a complete one. You think?

7) Use semicolons to connect two closely connected sentences: When I learned this neat trick, I used it a lot; maybe I used it too much. Now my revered semicolon is fallen out of favor, and I understand some editors prohibit it; that’s so sad.

8) Add color to your writing by inserting adjectives and adverbs: Yes, my teachers encouraged me to beef up my writing with the frequent use of adverbs and adjectives. Nowadays we call this purple prose, and there’s no place for it anymore.

9) Don’t use said for a dialogue tag: “It’s boring and unimaginative to always write said after a bit of dialogue,” my teacher said. Then she passed out a sheet of creative alternatives. “Use these instead,” she interjected. Now the trend is back to using said, even though it’s repetitive.

10) Do not use contractions: I never figured out why we’d have contractions if we couldn’t use them. But my teachers prohibited them, even for dialogue. Once I avoided using a contraction to add emphasis to a sentence, but my editor said I sounded stilted.

There’s more, but these ten will get you started.

The point is that writing evolves as does most everything and if we’re to stay at the top of our writing game, we better evolve, too.

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