Last night I went to Scott Berkun’s launch party for his new book, Mindfire. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a literary event and I started the night off right by going to a bookstore.
During his speech, he said two things that I keep thinking about. The first was an anecdote about how writers don’t normally self-promote by telling a story about a poet who did (Walt Whitman) and how the art of the essay has been lost in this age of blogging.
The Art of the Essay
‘Essay’ is a dirty word that brings back memories of learning how to master the five-paragraph essay in high school and endless late-nights to crank out three-to-five double spaced pages with correctly formatted citations in college.
What’s the difference between writing an essay and writing a blog anyway?
According to every high school teacher, an essay is like an inverted pyramid that introduces a broad idea, delivers a thesis, and leaves you three more paragraphs to defend it, and it all comes together in a very fine point at the conclusion.
Essays contain the author’s personal point of view and require that you take a stand on a subject, research it, defend it, and convince your reader to agree with you. They also take a lot of editing to make sure your point is crystal clear and cohesive.
Essays are akin to articles, which exist as a ‘published’ piece of work to generally deliver news, research, academic analysis, or debate (thanks, Wikipedia!). Notice that articles are not required to represent the author’s point of view, but facts; very important distinction.
Blogs offer real-time, fresh content that’s updated on a regular basis. (Or to the bane of most bloggers, they want to update it regularly.)
Blogs can provide commentary on news and events, be the blogger’s personal (and public) diary, or provide a content marketing platform for a personal or corporate brand or product. A blog can be anything, though common characteristics include visual graphics, links, and the ability to comment (hint, hint).
The conversation and commentary is the main distinction between an essay, an article, and a blog. Though, with the way that the media has shifted, readers expect to be able to ‘comment’ on any and every piece of writing that appears on the web and have their point-of-view be listened and responded to (and the latter part of that cycle rarely happens). As readers, we don’t write letters to the editor in hopes of receiving a response; we demand it.
Blogs can be articles, but not all articles are blogs.
Citations, quotes, and proving your point
Essays require you to cite your sources in lists or very specific ridged ways that the MLA, APA, or CMS guides require. Articles are based on eyewitness reports, interviews, and quoted references, and again, provide a non-biased perspective on the subject. Blogging, well, there are no rules for citing sources, just common courtesy to link back if the blogger is ‘inspired’ by someone else’s ideas so they can prove that they didn’t steal them.
Are we all on the same page now? Good, now we can move forward with the initial point I was trying to make.
500 words or less
Scott Berkun said one thing in his discussion about essays and blogs that stuck with me – “If you can’t make a topic interesting in 500-words, what right do you have writing a book?”
What I think he was getting at – and this is not confirmed by the time of posting – is that many
people bloggers write and ramble. They toss their ideas out there online and add to the content overload that we experience every time we log into Facebook or check our stream on Twitter. And the process of writing an essay requires restraint. It requires you to think and process and prove what you want to say before you throw it out there.
And the 500-word limit means you need to get to your point. Fast. It’s a reflection of the 140-character, enlighten us, but make it quick, world that we live in. If you can’t get to your point right away, then you shouldn’t even bother.
Photo Credit: Erunion
Note from lamiki: Everything that did not sound like my usual voice for it was too formal can be attributed to articles on Wikipedia to help define the difference between an essay, blog, and article. And in case you were wondering, this post was over 500-words.
great advice here. i wonder if any reader is interested in individual contract work:
Fix this blog! http://curtrice.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/fix-this-blog/
Well said. I like 500-words or so. Short and sweet. Depending on the topic, it could be longer. To me, it seems like people have little attention span these days especially with social media being more popular. See: Twitter.
The trick is also know how much is enough. Like you said, sometimes 140-characters is enough and other times it’s 500, while in the rare case it may be 500 pages. But hte goal is don’t use more words than what you really need.
Writing skills need ed to be brushed up with the changing times. A small and precise write up will help readers focus on the topic. Also using good vocabulary will enhance the quality of your essay and article.
Yeah writing skills now have changed a lot. 500 words too long to write :(…Concept of writing long essays needs to eroded now, creativity is the key not always the length!