Speed Limit: 500 Words

by Jan Geronimo on October 12, 2009

George Angus

A Guest Post By George Angus

I‘ve got some writer’s block going on. I still write nearly every day. How can this be, you say? Well, it’s because my wall is made of 500 words.

You see, I’ve been blogging for over a year now and most every post is – you guessed it – 500 words. I’ve done a lot of work for clients and writing on other blogs and the criteria for most of the posts is…

500 words

Being the anal-retentive, short attention span type of fella, I adhere to this unspoken rule of blog post length. I may be a few words short of 500 sometimes (and a few fries short of a happy meal) but I rarely exceed the speed limit.

This has had an impact on my writing. Now, if I try to expand a topic to more than 500 words, I stare blankly at the computer screen, eyes glazed over, a thin line of droll trickling from the corner of my half open mouth as I cogitate how to go over the speed limit without saying what I’ve already said.

It really is a remarkable case of writer’s block. An unintended consequence of blogging if you will. In the back of my head I wonder how this would affect any future novel I may write. Would it have 500 word chapters? Would each scene in the novel be a mere 500 words?

I’m ghost writing a non-fiction book for a chap and honestly, it is becoming more and more difficult to exceed the speed limit with each sub-section of the book.

Who decided the speed limit, anyway?

I suspect no one did. Not even Darren or @ProBlogger. Not even our good friend Jan. I think it was decided by mob mentality. That’s  right. Blame the readers. After all, we are told they have the attention span of a gnat. “Don’t go over 500 words! You’ll bore people! They’ll leave, never to return”. Okay, even with the snarkiness of that last sentence, I have to admit there is some kernel of truth there. For myself, if I see that a post is like 1000 or 1500 words, I say “Thanks, but no thanks” and I move along. Unless it is something I am outrageously interested in. In that case I’ll hang for quite a while.

Maybe that’s the key to breaking the speed limit. Maybe we need to write stellar content regardless of length. Make it interesting to as many people as possible and let the short-attention-spanners stumble along to their next page.

I’m not certain if that is the answer to this dilemma. I’ll leave that to someone with much more talent and wisdom than I. Ahem. That would be YOU, dear readers.

On a final note, I am wondering how many of you did a cut and paste of this post into your word processor to see the word count. I know you are out there. I can hear you breathin’.

Thanks for having me Jan.

About the AuthorGeorge Angus is an Author, a Teacher and an all around good guy.  He owns Tumblemoose Writing Services, lives in Alaska and has a beautiful six-year-old daughter whom he orbits around.

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  • replicarolex
    good post
  • I have not been counting the words in my every post. I wonder how long I have been writing, or how long I have been boring my readers? :)

    But I have to agree with you. Sometimes, merely seeing that a post is a thousand words long already makes me lazy of reading it. Sometimes I would simply read a comment for me to have a summary of what has been said in the post.
  • "Sometimes I would simply read a comment for me to have a summary of what
    has been said in the post."

    That's a great way to cheat, Madz. You just gave me an idea. LOL
  • This was very intriguing to me because I have the opposite problem. I've never really gotten into the "blogging" groove, and never altered my thinking to fit into the sub-500-word-attention-span world of popular blogging. Neeedless to say, I'm not a popular blogger, and my ability to ramble is certainly one factor in that.

    The way I think of it is that I write what comes naturally. Fiction wiriters have always been told to let the material find its own length, and that's what I do. And there's also the fact that I like reading long material. That doesn't mean I read every long blog post I come across, but I'm more likely to fully read a long intersting post than a short one, which I will likely skim over.

    Does writing long get you more eyeballs? Absolutely not, but I guess short vs long are two different philosophies of blogging with drastically different audiences. You're right, somethings just need more length to discuss, and we each have our own 'walls'.

  • James_Smith
    "Impact on your writing"? What has had the EFFECT is your inability to comprehend English. "Impact" is not a verb. The word you want is either "effect" or "affect" depending upon usage.

    Try this, "The meteor impact shook the mountain. What will be the effect on the ecology? Will it affect plant and animal life?"

    Yes, I know using impact as a verb is common. So is robbery, rape, and murder. Does being common make them right? Mugging the English language doesn't make semi-literate usage right, either.
  • I'm sorry how impact is used in this post makes you uncomfortable, but the fact remains impact can be used as a verb. That George's usage of the word impacted negatively on your equilibrium is rather unfortunate.

    Is it a semi-literate usage? As far as I'm concerned? No, my good sir. Although, of course, I appreciate your candor.
  • Hi Jan,

    It's always interesting to get a visit from the grammar police. You handled the visit with your usual good grace and common sense. I guess what intrigues me is how often these folks will not post with their real name or URL/email. Although that is really ok because my preference is to just let comment wither on the vine.

  • James_Smith
    Impact can be used as a verb? Where is your authority stating that? Strunk and White? The Chicago manual of Style? I would love to see it.

    As far as you're concerned? I see, you are your own arbiter of what is right and wrong in English usage? You might be amazed to learn that many educated people, even those with English degrees, defer to established authorities and guidelines. As a professional writer for over 30 years, even I do not make my own rules. So, I repeat, "Impact" is NOT a verb. I would like to see any manual or authority that says it is. Mug the language, if you like, but don't try to say it's OK because you say it's OK. Circular reasoning never improves one's credibility among those that can reason.
  • You have a lot more stamina than I do. My writers block hits me at around 300 words...lol. I wish I could write more sometimes but I just find it hard to write on some topics, although others I have no problem running my mouth :-)
  • Great post, but why consider your nice, tight writing a case of "writer's block?" I subscribe to the under 500 word limit and have learned to write flash fiction following the rule. Since I'm a fiction writer and flash fiction is more popular than other fiction, it has been a happy development.

    I do not only write flash fiction, however. I much prefer writing novellas or novels in serial episodes, which I post on my blog. My goal is always 500 per episode but I'll inevitably run over that.

    Five hundred or 700, however, I have trouble finding and keeping readers. Could be me or maybe it's fiction.

    Lucky for you, you write non-fiction. You can write 500 word episodes to your non-fiction story. Even if sticking to a sequence troubles you, just stay with the subject. Rewriting after you've accumulated 10,000 words (more or less) is required either way.
  • I haven't really thought of it as a writers block issue, even though I more or less unconsciously write my posts apx. 500 words, and that this might be why I doesn't write as often as I used to.

    Well, sometimes I publish 400 words and sometimes more than 500. But never more than 800 (I think that's the maximum of what I've written).

    On the other hand, I have read many posts of more than 1000 words. I think it's built on trust. I rarely read a post of more than 1000 words if the title is boring, and I don't know the author.

    I read every single post Yaro Starak writes, even if it's close to 2000 words... that's because I know that it will be worth reading.
  • Berget,

    I agree that there are longer posts worth reading. If I have a strong interest and the content is fresh, I may stick around. A re-hash of standard blog topics or a dry and boring writing style will cause me to evacuate the premises - pronto!

  • Yes. The only longer posts I ever read on a regular basis, is the ones from Yaro Starak.
  • nobe
    lol. i felt like this blog post was talking to me.


  • Hi, good morning, Nobe. You're the poster girl of snackable post. That's why.

    In your case, however, alchemy is involved. Own up now and teach us a few lessons. Really. ",)
  • nobe
    I will go ahead and take that as a huge compliment jan. lol

    How I wish I can get rid of my ADHD so I could write longer posts (and comments). But that's probably taking my soul outside of my body. Huwag ng ipilit! lol


  • It is a compliment. ",) Just play to your own strengths then. It's working
    extremely well for you.
  • nobe
    i just felt funny, having my own "micro blog". oh well, whatever fits.. wear it!


  • zorlone

    Cool speed limit! I guess that is enough for gnats like myself to read. he he he. After all, it must be the content that made me stay a little longer and I was able to go through your post plus all the 38 comments so far.

    I didn't cut and paste. Tempted, but opted not too.

    BTW, were you able to find out how many words is your longest post?


    So, what is your speed limit? Uh! I have a number in my head. hehehe.

  • Z-man,

    Thanks! Ummm, no I haven't gone back to look at my longest. Great idea, maybe I'll try that today

  • I go for quickies now, Doc Z? Haven't you noticed? Short, sweet and snackable. Ahehehe. Dave Doolin has got a point. You've got lots of things to say? Make it a series. Great formula for more page views. ",) And there's something for readers to look forward, too.
  • There has been quite a number of guest posts in your blog Jan. I wonder if I should do the same.
  • I welcome you Tyrone to guest post on my blog. I think our niche is on the same environment. Let me know if you're interested. :D God Bless!
  • You're always welcome here, Tyrone. I've told you this before, remember? ",)
  • Hi George,

    This is similar to Doc Z's 140FF (flash fiction). Composing an article with 500 words takes considerable skill and talent. On the other hand, it would be difficult to use this in creative writing (except for FF) as it would limit and constrict the "flow" of the author's ideas.

    Thanks for sharing such vital information.
  • Jena,

    You are right. It's like trying to craft everything to end at a specific artificial point. After a while, that artificial point is ingrained!

  • ha.. I was prompted to copy&paste your post for a word count but didn't in the end, I chose to trust you instead. ^^ For me, length is not really a 'big' problem as long the topic catches my interest. Of course, a moderate length may be more welcoming, everyone is busy right? Sometimes I would just save the page and finish it later in the afternoon. Troublesome? Not if it's a valuable read.

    I wouldn't do a post length-control on my blog, which is why sometimes it's TOO lengthy. Shame on me. Perhaps I shall consider a series? Maybe.

    Nice meeting you. ^^

    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • wchingya,

    It's nice to meet you as well. Thanks for the trust :-) I'm not sure I would cap my posts at a specific word length either. For me, I'm just finding that I've been writing at 500 words for so long that I just naturally fall into that groove whenever I write.

  • Word counts are not important. It is how it affects the readers that counts. :-)
  • Lion,

    I've got to echo Jan on this one. It takes as many words as it takes to get the point across.

  • If in your drive for brevity, you make your reader puzzled as to what you mean in your post, would you say it's effective communication? If, on the other hand, you punished your readers with a 2k-word post when you could have said your piece in half the length, that's bad reader experience still, right?

    In this sense, you're correct. How it affects the reader or how effective you are in conveying your message is more important and that's regardless of word count.

    Generally speaking, however, shorter posts make for more effective blogging. It's just the nature of the blogging beast. ",)
  • Ahahahhaha UU nga ano... jijijijijiji... pero mahirap magsulat ng 500 words ah.... Teka di ko pa pala binibilang kung ilang words gawa ko.... jijijijiji... pero malamang maswerte nang umabot ng 30 words... nyahahahahhaha
  • Thirty words? But you spice it up with great pictures, Jaydee. What is worse reading experience is if you stretch a terse post just to make it seem longer. As long as you've made your point, that's okay for me already. ",)
  • my latest post has almost 2,000 words. i don't even like to reread it because of its length. hehe.

    but under normal circumstances, i stick with the 400-700. thanks for this post George!
  • Nice ceblogger, I can relate to that. :D
  • ceblogger,

    You are pretty funny. I'm now curious about what my longest post may have been. I'll have to go through my archives...

  • Hello, Maki! Este, Novz. Just kidding. A 2k post. Well, I have to check that one out now.
  • I am wondering how many of you did a cut and paste of this post into your word processor to see the word count.

    Almost did as you suggested but I changed my mind because I have a feeling that I could trust your words that this entry is indeed has "500 words," counts.
  • Hi Darbs,

    Hehe. Ok, ya got me. :-)

  • Hi George!

    I did?

    Hey, where is my point?

    heheh... there, you get one point from me.
  • I can confidently say that I've never paid the least amount of attention to the speed limit.

    The internet is so big, I figure if I only cater to folks who will read longer posts, that's still a nice sized chunk of people.
  • Hey Tracy,

    Yeah, but you've always got good stuff going - makes a difference it does.

  • wow, you're a great writer! i stumbled upon your post about "10 ways to bring sexy back to your blog" and i agree that to improve on writing, reading the works of good writers will help. i should visit this blog often then. :)
  • Doc Grace: I wish I could say I wrote this post. Perfect little gem, isn't it? Humorous, conversational and to the point. But it's by George Angus!

    The other post you're referring to was mine though. Thank you. I'm very much flattered you still remember that. ",)
  • sheesh. i was too excited to tell you i love your writings then i realized i posted on a blog by a guest writer. :P but then george is amazing, too. i have to agree about the difficulty keeping the audience interested when the blog is more than 500 words. That was also a tip I got from ezine, although it didn't exactly state 500. :)

    i read your previous on the "sexy back" from jaypee's blog. it's so nice to find people who can write really well. i was at the clinic this morning and i had fun reading your entries through the google reader. kudos to you and george and the other guest writers! great works!
  • Doc,

    Perfectly ok. Thanks for the kind words. It's nice to have you come by and comment!

  • No problem, Grace. I'm sure it's all right with George.

    Wow, a confirmed feed reader. Thanks a lot, Grace.
  • 502 words actually (without the bio), that is in accordance with my word processor at least:). That is amazing, did you actually shoot for the 500 words? haha. Anyway, I really don't think very much about the word counts, unless of course it requires more than three page down hits by my readers.

    Maybe there should be a "speed limit" for commenting as well, lol. I have seen comments longer than posts, can you believe that?
  • Hey DiTesco,

    I have seen some gasconading comments. If they added value I had no problem, but sometimes I swear people write to hear themselves talk!

    Lol and believe it or not, when the post was complete, I did check the word count in OpenOffice (tonex). It was 499. I made a few changes and the word count (not including title) on the document I sent Jan was... 500 words


  • Hi George, I couldn't agree more. I've been in the same prison, though recently I've decided to shed the shackles! So far so good.
  • Sean,

    Yeah, but you could write ingredient labels for junk food and I'd be all about reading them! :-) hostessdotcom :-)


  • Sean,

    Yeah, but you could write ingredient labels for junk food and I'd still be all about reading them! :-) hostess.com :-)
  • George, very interesting your experience with word count.

    Here's my experience:

    I regularly write 800-1200 word posts. Sometimes longer. Considerably.

    My average time on site (Alexa): 3.9 minutes.

    I've tried to cut down my post length in the past, and will try harder in the future, but what I'm doing right now seems to be working.

    Even if it does fly in the face of expert advice.

    Granted, I'm not monetizing heavily at the moment. So my experience may change later. But that's what I'm seeing right now.
  • Dave, I wholly believe that if you have something that is working with you, stick with it. it is impossible to attach a single standard to anything in this crazy, mixed up blogging business.

    Rock on wi you bad self

  • George, thanks for the encouragement. I try really hard to make my prose snappy and readable, not always the easiest with some of the technical stuff I seem to write. Sometimes, I'm sure it comes across as "try hard," but I'm not giving it, and it's getting better.

    I tried writing Seth Godin "snackable" type articles a while back. That's hard too!

  • Hmm... I wonder my name didn't have a link. (Fixed it. Suddenly my Disqus profile didn't have any information. Sorry, Jan.)
  • It shows the link now, Tonex... Wordstar - it's still in use? LOL
  • What's a word processor? Nowadays, I use CMS tools more than Wordstar. I mean...
  • Hehe. Wordstar. What a hoot! Reminds me of the heady days of word-vs-wordperfect...
  • Reyjr,

    Thanks for the comments! I'm so glad Jan let me guest over here. From all I've seen of this community, this ought to be a blast!

  • @Rey: Your taste in the culinary arts is showing. ",) Thanks, Rey.

    @George: I was shy to ask you in Twitter about the guest post. Just reassured myself you're polishing and buffing it. And it turned out just that - a gem of a post. Thanks, George!
  • Jan,

    I used the same buff and polish cloth that I use on my head.

    Mmmm. Shiny!

  • @LJ - bite sizes always make me think of Cloud 9 chocolates. lol. I don't know why. haha!

    @George - lol, yes i can see from the photo. very shiny indeed. :) hehe.

    On a slightly more serious note though (nah!), I'm quite the opposite, sometimes wanting to write a short story and then ending up with several paragraphs. lol. That's how I learned the value of breaking up posts into chapters. hehe. Actually, if you look around my archives (wear a dust mask please) you'll still find loong posts. Hehe. Have to find time to break those up.
  • Haha! I had to comment as soon as I finished reading, no time for MS Word counters lol. As a reader, just seeing a huge blob of text intimidates me - yikes. And I think if a post will be lengthier than 500 words, it should be broken up into bite sized portions. :D Yummy.

    Thanks for the fun post George!
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