When I started this whole blogging-every-day thing, I decided the rule had to be 500 words written in a day. And I meant to hold myself to writing 500 words somewhere in the writing day, whether it was my blog post or the novel I was working on, or a combination of both. I followed that rule religiously through more than 1,500 blog posts and five first draft novels. I found it easier and easier to surpass 500 words on a daily basis. There are all sorts of bits of time available and I collect ideas faster than a rich kid generates empty candy wrappers. The more I call on the well of words for more words, the more words are available. Now, it seems, writing only 500 words is the trick.
I suppose I have become an Old Man of Words. I know both the rules and the exceptions.
Knowing that I can write more than 500 words easily, then the question becomes, why don’t I? Well, the cardinal rule is “Say it short. Say it simple. And say it sweet.” That rule can generate a lot of wonderful writing, full of juicy ideas that splash with flavor when you bite into them. Ernest Hemingway knew that rule. Every poet knows it. Readers generally prefer the easily accessible idea expressed with elegance.
Now, I also have to admit a guilty pleasure in perpetrating purple paisley prose. That is the style of writing in which I generally write convoluted sentences with complex ideas that fold back in on themselves and over-use alliteration to criminal degrees. Charles Dickens liked to do that with descriptive details. Paragraphs about the boarding schools of London, the streets filled with child chimney sweeps and flower girls, and dingy mind-dulling workhouses could take up two or three pages per paragraph. And two pages further on, he layers more details on the same setting. Piles and piles of words and wordplay fill the pages of William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust. And if you haven’t read at least something from each of those gentlemen, you will never know what you are missing. But you can prune your paragraphs like a greenhouse master florist with limited space will do to his orchids, and you can actually end up fitting great beauty and powerful content into something even more limited than a 500-word essay. In fact, if you take your ideas and distill them, and keep distilling them, over and over, you will eventually have pared the words down into poetry.
So, there you have it. The reason my essays are about 500 words. This one is four hundred and forty one words.