As I’ve done more online writing, I’ve struggled with taking my writing from short (less than 500 words) to long(er) form (1000+ words). The longest post I’ve written to date is for College Info Geek–it clocks in at over 4000 words. Don’t worry–today’s post won’t be quite that long.
Being able to write long-form is an important skill to have, since most sites you write for have a minimum word count, and longer is generally better (though not always–refer to your site’s specific guidelines to be sure).
The preference for long-form writing makes sense. People want detailed, in-depth content. Skimmable blurbs have their place, but most sites are after content that delivers real value for their readers.
How do you do this, exactly? It’s not as hard as you might think. It just requires a little planning.
If writing is thinking, then outlines lend our thoughts a much-needed structure.
Creating an outline is a wise idea for two reasons:
- It saves time.
- It allows you to show your editor a rough idea of what you’re doing before you commit to writing 3000 words.
Number 2 is especially important, and it’s part of the process I use to write for College Info Geek. We have a Trello board set up which I use to send Thomas outlines of my posts. If he likes the idea, we’ll move it to a card called “In Development,” and I’ll get to writing. If he wants some changes, I can make those before getting too deep into the process. Best of all, if he doesn’t think the idea would be a good fit, I haven’t invested too much time.
Even if you’re just writing for your own blog, an outline is key to moving beyond the 500-word mark. When you’re running a one-person operation, you’re the writer, publisher, and likely the editor. Much better to create an outline and realize an idea isn’t working before you start. I’ll often sketch an outline, take a short break, and then revisit the outline with my “editor’s glasses” on. Feel free to use a red ballpoint pen if it helps you get in the mood.
Speaking of pens, I often create my outlines on paper, especially if I’m struggling with the topic. In the image below, you can see that I’ve used a mindmap structure, something that allows me to think more freely and creatively than a bulleted digital list.
If you’re really opposed to paper, though, digital mindmapping programs exist. Personally, I just photograph or scan my paper outlines if I want a digital copy–Evernote has no problem searching my handwriting (which is far from caligraphic, as you can see from the image above).
If you’ve ever thought, “I don’t have enough to say,” mindmaps can help you by providing a whole page of ideas to employ in your writing.
2. Lists Upon Lists
Even when you have a page full of ideas, it can still be hard to find a way to turn those ideas into a detailed post.
This is where many writers turn to the ever-popular “list post” structure. With a list post, you create a structure of definite length and then fill it in, simple as that. Certain list items are usually longer than others, but I find that the very act of dividing my writing into well-defined sections frees me to think through a topic in greater detail.
The number of list items doesn’t matter too much–a post with three items could be longer than one with twelve (or vice versa). In general, though, I find that at least five is a good place to start for a longer post, though that’s just my preference.
One final thought on list posts: make sure that none of the items are redundant. For example, in a post about the twelve reasons to visit Tennessee, you shouldn’t include both “Natural Beauty” and “Gorgeous Landscapes”–those both mean almost the same thing, although the second point is more specific.
To learn more about list posts, see the following articles:
Related to the list post but a bit different is the “how-to” or instructional post.
These types of posts usually include:
- and lots of
- and lots of
This segmented structure makes them a great candidate for longer-form posts, and especially if you’re documenting a long or complex process, the word count can quickly stretch into the several thousands (not to mention any images you may include).
N.B: Established blogs tend to love these kinds of posts, especially as guest articles, and even more especially if you can write on a relevant topic beyond the knowledge of the blog’s regular authors.
Don’t think that how-to posts are limited to covering software or technical processes, either. The sea of motivational and self-help books in existence shows that you can write a “how-to” for just about any topic.
4. Let It Simmer
Make sure to give yourself enough time. Don’t write a post the day before it’s due if you can avoid it. Instead, give yourself time to think through the piece. Sleep on it and come back to it the next day. This way you avoid embarrassing grammar, spelling, and usage errors if nothing else, but you also have the chance to write in further depth.
I’ll often come back to something I’ve written and realize that I could explain it in more detail or give further examples.
5. “Say More”
Whenever I’m going back through a post that I’ve written, I frequently ask myself, “Could I say more?” That is, ”Could I explain this topic in more detail, with additional or more specific examples?”
Frequently, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
Ask the same question of your own work, and I think you’ll find the same is often true.
Remember: just because an idea makes sense to you, doesn’t mean your readers understand it. Best to err on the side of overexplaining.
A good rule of thumb is that for every point you make, write at least two sentences to back it up.
I hope that long-form blogging is now less intimidating. It doesn’t have to be any harder than writing a short blog post. All it takes is a bit more time, proper organization, and the right mindset.
Image credits: Scaffolding via Wikimedia Commons
If you want to receive more advice like this, get sneak-previews of my posts before they go public, and get a free copy of my e-book Blogging Is Sexy: Ten Steps to Exceptional Online Writing, enter your email address below.