What does a paragraph usually consist of?
A paragraph usually deals with a single idea. In general, you’ll have an introductory sentence expressing that idea, and several supporting sentences to round it off. Paragraphs are usually about 100 – 200 words long, but there are more exceptions to this rule-of-thumb than you’d expect.
Commercial writing breaks all the rules. Whether or not you find it irritating, your task is to hold your readers’ attention and get them to read what you’ve written. The average person doesn’t like to see solid blocks of text. It looks like it’s going to be difficult to get through, and nobody likes to work harder than they have to.
“White Space” is a great way to make your information look easier to master, and one of the best ways to create “white space” is through using paragraphs. For commercial writing, it’s best to keep sentences short and punchy, and the same goes for paragraphs.
People don’t usually like to see paragraphs that are more than three or four lines long. How many words is that? Again, although it’s not helpful, the answer is “It depends…” Font styles and font size will affect paragraph length – at least from a psychological perspective.
For example, this is a blog post, and I want to keep the reader engaged. The longest paragraph under this heading is only 61 words long. This is the shortest one so far, and it only uses 37 words.
I want to get your attention!
The above paragraph is only six words long, and you can count the words in this one if you like.
To make things easy for your reader, you’ll switch paragraphs every time you switch speakers, for example:
“I don’t know how long a paragraph should be,” said Mary, “but I hope to find out by reading this article.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” John replied, “but don’t let that limit your creativity!”
“Really? Can I bend the rules?”
“The rules are really more like guidelines.”
As you can see, I was able to stop identifying the speakers as soon as the conversation began to flow because John and Mary each had paragraphs to themselves. Neither of them said anything that was even close to 100 words, but it’s still easy to see who said what. Mary’s final paragraph was one word long.
In academic writing, paragraphs will usually consist of the “standard” 100 – 200 words (Burns, 2002). You will begin the paragraph with an idea and then explain it in the light of currently accepted knowledge (Phillips, 2014) with references. Bear in mind that your tutor will want to see some original thought, but will expect it to be motivated according to your reading (Williams et al, 1994). Smith (2004) supports this concept and confirms that academic writing requires longer paragraphs than those generally found in commercial writing or even story-telling. 200 words is really a bit long for any paragraph and since this one is just over 100 words, you’ll soon see why this should be the case (Me, 2015).
Whew! That was a marathon to read, wasn’t it?
How many words per paragraph? It’s really up to you!
As a takeaway, I’d like to suggest that there are absolutely no hard-and-fast rules as to how many words a paragraph should be.
Making them too short, can look a little odd.
This is an excellent example.
But it can work in some cases.
On the other hand, having really long paragraphs might work for you, but not for your reader. A lot of text without “white space” is hard on the eyes, and the brain. I’ve seen blog posts and web pages with absolutely no paragraphs to speak of. Did I want to read them? Not really. It was too difficult to separate the ideas from one another and there just didn’t seem to be a good enough reason to read them if I could find the same information split up into bite-sized chunks that were easier to digest. So, whatever you do, don’t forget the importance of paragraphs – and keep them a bit shorter than this one, unless you’re trying to baffle the reader.
By the way, the above paragraph is “only” 122 words (656 characters) long. Do you see what I mean when I say that longer isn’t always better? I’m ready to bet that you do.
(Photo courtesy of Enokson)
So I decided, there was only one way I was going to be able to pull this off: write 1000 words a day. It had to go from being a task on my to-do list to a habit. What I didn’t realize is just how much that was going to change my life.
It wasn’t long before I figured out the necessary elements to easily write 1000 words a day. I would wake up every morning and I would just put my fingers on the keyboard. Most of what I wrote was garbage. It mainly still is.
But when I powered through the garbage(sometimes the first 200 words), I ended up with gold. I figured if I was willing to produce enough garbage, I would come with just enough gold to meet all my deadlines and expectations. In his book Unthink, Erik Wahl calls this creating for the trash can. If you create for the trash can, some of what you create will probably be worthy of being in a museum.
*If you’re interested in hearing an interview with Erik Wahl, click here.
In this process a few things happened.
Momentum kicked in. On many days I found myself writing more than 1000 words. Things just flowed. My voice got refined.
I’ve been blogging consistently for almost 5 years. I’ve learned from the best writers on the web. But through this process of 1000 words a day I found my voice. One of my friends said “the progress in your voice is like you’re 10 years ahead of where you were 6 months ago.”
I started to get withdrawal symptoms on the days I wasn’t writing.
- If I woke up hungover, I wrote 1000 words.
- If I woke up at a place that wasn’t home, I wrote 1000 words.
- If I had no idea, what to write, I put my fingers on the keyboard, my ass in the chair, and I wrote 1000 words.
- If I didn’t feel like it (this one is really important), I wrote 1000 words. Some of my best work was produced on those days.
If you do anything enough, it has byproducts
- My writing got me invited to speak at my friend AJ Leon’s Misfit conference, where I gave a talk titled the Art of Being Unmistakable.
- I compiled all of my work into a collection of essays called The Art of Being Unmistakable. I self published it on Amazon.
- I ended up creating my first poster titled 15 Principles for Living a Creative Life (which was born in one of my writing sessions)
- I learned how to be vulnerable, honest, and transparent without being a hot mess.
- I started planning a conference called The Instigator Experience. We opened up applications this week and in 24 hours received 50 applications for 60 spots.
And the universe delivered a life-changing moment. Glenn Beck found my book on Amazon, raved about it on his show and it went on to become a #1 Best seller, selling over 10,000 copies in a week. I even ended up making an appearance on Glenn’s show.
You could argue that this was a stroke of luck. And it was. But the quality of my words wouldn’t have been what they were when Glenn read it, if I hadn’t put in the work of committing to a craft. The only part of any of this I had any control over was showing up, and putting in my 1000 words.
Note: The Art of Being Unmistakable hit the Wall Street Journal Best Sellers List on November 7th. I didn’t even know until a friend told me because I was so caught up in writing 1000 words a day.
Developing the 1000 Word Habit
I received quite a few questions on twitter about how I turned this into a habit, so I’ve outlined some hacks below.
1. Using Activation Energy:
In his book The Happiness Advantage, the author Shawn Achor talks about how reducing the amount of energy it takes to do something increases the likelihood you’ll do it. Something as simple as decreasing the number of mouse clicks to do something will increase your odds of doing it.
The simple hack for this is using a distraction free writing tool like Macjournal. Set it up the night before, so when you turn on your computer in the morning, it’s the first thing you see. Then you just write.
Another variation of this hack is to write one sentence the night before, ideally right before you go to sleep. Then your brain can dwell on that idea. It also tricks your brain into thinking you’ve made some progress already when you wake up and see a screen that’s not blank.
2. Dealing with Writer’s Block
This is one of the most common challenges that I hear about from content creators. The simplest way to overcome this is to put your fingers on the keyboard and move them. Write whatever you are thinking. Don’t stop until the screen has 100 words on it. I don’t know why this works, but it does. Maybe it’s the principle of momentum.
3. The Willingness to Create Garbage
One of the other questions I was asked is how I know what to keep and where it will go. The way I see it, I just produce alot.
- Some of it will be good.
- Some of it will be crap.
But I’ll have so much to choose from that it can be used for books, blog posts, etc. That best selling book of mine was written using ridiculously long Facebook status updates.
Writing 1000 words a day changed my life. I don’t know how it will change yours. But I’d recommend doing it.
Interviews about Writing That You Might Find Valuable
Mastering the Craft of Writing with Dani Shapiro
Dani Shapiro has made her living as a writer for more than 20 years. In this interview we have an in-depth discussion…unmistakablecreative.com
The Moment When Everything Starts With Sarah Peck
Podcast published 9 months ago. Sarah Peck is an writer/designer/entrepreneur whose life has been deeply influenced by…unmistakablecreative.com
Unmistakable Classic: Scientifically Proven Advice for Becoming Happier with Shawn Achor
Podcast published 7 months ago. In this Unmistakable Creative Classic, we speak with happiness researcher Shawn Achor…unmistakablecreative.com
The Neuroscience of Storytelling With Lisa Cron
In this episode of the podcast Lisa Cron talks to us about why as human beings are we are biologically hardwired to…unmistakablecreative.com
Changing your Identity to Change your Habits With James Clear
In this interview we speak with James Clear about highly effective methods to create lasting habitsunmistakablecreative.com