Composing 500 Words

Jewelweed on the Lake Macbride Trail

Post today, move on to tomorrow, and for the most part, walk away once the post is up. That’s blog writing.

While a writer can improve his or her craft by writing regularly, the impetus to post on a blog can erode time normally spent editing and rewriting. As a result, blog writing can be hit or miss.

John Irving said, “More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn’t say I have a talent that’s special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina.”

Blogging is anathema to Irving’s kind of writing. As a result blogging builds bad habits. How does one break the cycle? The answer is not in more careful planning, writing, editing and rewriting 500 word blog posts.

My blogging process developed a template. After getting a bee in my bonnet I spend time framing 500 words. Next, I rewrite what I’ve written with the goal of lowering the word count and making better sense. How can I say something more succinctly? How can I avoid common problems? How can I avoid using certain words like “but” and “that” and eliminate clichés that mindlessly pop into the text? After a rewrite, I look at the content and make sure I’m drawing a conclusion — that I haven’t developed a cache of author-only supporting information off line. A once over for spelling and grammar, insert a photo, justify, tag it, and hit “publish.” Pretty straight forward. It takes about 90 minutes on a good day.

I’m more careful with letters to the editor and pieces I know will reach a broader audience. They more represent writing according to the Irving model. When I get a chance for 500 words in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, with a print circulation of more than 34,000, I spend more time making sure the writing is thoughtful, well edited, and cogently composed. I haven’t had much trouble getting my work accepted with minimal editorial intervention.

If I had unlimited funds, I’d pay for an editor to review everything I write. When I’ve had an editor — at the newspapers and at Blog for Iowa — my writing improved. For a low wage worker and pensioner, an editor is not an option very often.

Rewriting is important in my writing life outside blogging. However, when I write 10,000 words I often abandon the project until a “later” that doesn’t arrive. This requires fixing through diligence and Irving-like stamina. Perhaps it’s the next thing on which to work.

In my 12th year of blogging I developed a following and am grateful. I often meet people I don’t know who are regular readers. My number of WordPress followers has slowly grown since I made this site public. I am thankful for readers and hope to retain their interest. The way to do that is to constantly improve my writing. Few enjoy process posts like this one. From time to time they are needed.

3 replies on “Composing 500 Words”

I agree with paring down to fewer words when possible. After my career as a classroom teacher, I thought I was pretty good at writing lessons and test items. I then took a job with Pearson. They do statewide testing and textbooks, among other things. Word-smithing in that job required more careful choices of words, length, and style. It was rewarding when the right words were found to say exactly what was needed.
Blogging has evolved for me. When I started with a large organization, I kept a schedule and pressed myself hard to do it right. I felt I was writing for an audience more than myself. Today, I write for myself. Sometimes a post can be one sentence. Sometimes long. It is more relaxed and fun. But, rewriting and word choice are still the guiding stars. ⭐️

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