Have you tapped into something special?

One never knows. A creative project is an emotional roller coaster filled with self-doubt, self-assurance, and second-, triple-, and quadruple-guessing.

Sounds like a Monday.

There are bleak days and dark ones. These are the times when you wonder if your book would better serve as a doorstop than entertainment. I know many writers feel similarly during the course of a project. It could be an external factor, like your day job, piling upon your feelings of self-worth. It could be a matter of life and love. It could be a change in weather. Or it could be that you’ve read that blasted manuscript so many times, the words might as well be in another language.

Unfortunately, those feelings can create powerlessness, creating doubts that are very difficult to overcome. It’s the reason that so many of us have abandoned drafts that we keep promising we’ll return to someday.

We’re often waiting for perfect conditions that never arrive.

When we’re honest with ourselves, truly honest, we recognize that those days are more exception than rule. There are also good days, which are more rule than exception. Even better, we have those moments when it doesn’t feel like work. When things are clicking. When you feel you might – just might – have tapped into something special. And it gives you the power to keep going.

So. I’m writing this for other writers to let them know that sometimes, the universe rewards you and reinforces that you need to keep going. Here are three examples of when this happened to me.

1. I’ve had four Trusted Readers say something like this: I started reading with the intent of being critical so I could give you good feedback. But I got carried away by the story. YES! To me, this is one of the highest compliments I could receive. Instead of the story feeling like a chore or being read as a favor, I’ve managed to produce an enjoyable tale. It tells me some of the unresolved minutiae is perhaps not the distraction I believed it to be.

2. I had a colleague mention that my book title kept running through his head (the conversation was the catalyst for this post). He wasn’t actively following my progress, but he’d seen my Facebook updates. Something about “The Starfall Omen” had intrigued him, which I explained was exactly why I liked the title. It’s not too bizarre to be confusing, but it creates a bit of mystery. When you’ve hooked someone who’s outside the circle of people you’re trying to attract, it suggests you’ve done the job correctly.

3. This example is my favorite. My wife is Trusted Reader #1. She’s a literature teacher and a voracious reader who devours more than 120 books a year. She knows what works and what doesn’t. With much trepidation, I’d given her a copy of the mid-draft. One evening, she came downstairs hugging the manuscript and asking for more. In no uncertain terms, I was commanded to go upstairs to start on the next book. And this, perhaps more than anything, is when I knew I was succeeding – not that I would find success as a writer, but that I had tapped into something special.

These are the kinds of things that keep you warm on those cold days of writer’s despair. They remind you that your writing has more power than you believe. They give you that extra push to keep going, even when you wonder whether you’re wasting your time.

Writing is never a waste of time, but sometimes we need to be reminded of that.

–Mike

PS: You’ll need to share your writing to get there.


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© Michael Wallevand, July 2021

A Few Words About Word Count

A post in which website marketing makes a surprising entry into Mike’s website about writing fiction.

I’m a senior product manager for legal websites, which means I’m regularly asked for my opinion on writing content. As a professional writer, too, I have a fairly passionate opinion that is desperate eager to be expressed. Fortunately for my colleagues, I’m judicious in editing and in my use of the backspace key.

Usually.

OK, sometimes.

Ironically, a recurring topic concerns website page lengths. Word count.

A brief tangent about my bias: I like to read and research, and I tend to be verbose. As such, it could be assumed that I fit in the more-is-better camp. However, I’m also pretty good at skimming and scanning, so word count on a webpage is less relevant to me than many readers. The posts I write for this site are probably in the 400-800 word range, anecdotally-speaking.

The topic usually resurfaces when an article is written about search engine marketing or optimization (SEM, SEO). The articles say something like this: “We’ve found that high quality pages are often longer pages.” To many people in the online marketing industry, this is distilled into the inaccurate “more words = higher quality”.

Point One: Correlation and Causation

But that interpretation is not what was said, is it? There might be a correlation between count and quality, but that doesn’t mean there’s a causation. Said simply, having more words doesn’t necessarily impact the quality of a page.

If you’re familiar with the old saying, “All elephants are grey, but not all grey things are elephants,” then you’re already with me.

Because there was a time when SEO/SEM was more formulaic, there are many people still striving to do X + Y + Z on a website to ensure that it’s found by search engines and given prominent placement in search results pages (SERPs).

That’s just not the way it works anymore. And humans don’t simply want long pages, they want ones of quality and ones that are easily consumed. Since that’s what humans desire, machines are learning to reward the websites that provide that kind of content.

Unfortunately, it also means that many sites are stuffing their pages with unnecessary words, grandiloquence, or words that some marketer thought would satisfy search engine crawlers. The unflattering result being a page of content stuffed with fluff and far less engaging than a certain honey-craving bear.

Point Two: Reader Need

Does this mean that all webpages should be short and digestible? Certainly not. Not every page serves the same purpose, and your site will likely benefit from a bit of variety. Some users want bite-size pieces of content that answer some quick questions. A few users don’t mind scrolling on their phone through 2,000 words when they want in-depth info (though that’s 4 Word doc pages, and that’s a lot of scrolling).

What they certainly don’t want is a page filled with repetitive and synonymous variations of their desired information. That’s basically a Mad Libs approach to writing and way less fun because it’s written for machines, not humans. And it sucks. Readers will be unhappy they’ve found garbage content and they’ll bounce (bounce rate is a measure of how long a user is on a page, and a high rate suggests you’ve missed the mark).

Understanding your intended readers is more important than knowing the perfect number of words you need to write. The latter could get you visitors, but the former will ensure they stay. This is especially important if you want to establish a relationship with readers and entice them to return. They’re coming back for your style and quality, not your word count.

Point Three: Data in Context

Do some sites benefit from having a higher word count? Absolutely. Some sites need to be authoritative and exhaustive in the information they’re providing. Most don’t, and that’s what reporting sometimes misses. A broad data sample might have websites with vastly different purposes, or a report might be misconstrued as applicable to all industries.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given a report on tactics that work for retailers or news agencies that just aren’t applicable to my customers’ websites. Something that works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all. Imagine every Amazon product having Wikipedia-style entries. They’d probably have lower sales and much higher writing expenses (though perhaps I’d be interested if they adopted a style like this: About J Peterman).

All of these sites have content of appropriate lengths because that is what their users desire. They’ve met the need, consumers reward that with return visits, and consequently, search engines are more likely to reward them, too.

My general philosophy goes something like this: If search engine companies are trying to get their machines to better understand human intent, why write webpages that cater to machine intent? It doesn’t matter how many times your content is presented if no one reads it, recommends it, or returns for more.

Finally, consider what a post would be like if you hit your target word count and stopped without–

–Mike

If you like a post like this, check this one out: https://thelostroyals.com/2019/08/31/12-content-tips-to-make-consumers-love-you/

If you prefer more info about writing fiction, try this one instead: https://thelostroyals.com/category/writing-process/


© Michael Wallevand, July 2021