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Conciseness Counts (even better: Be Brief)

March 26, 2010

Chris Gillebeau is offering two free Empire Building Kits on his blog. All you have to do to be considered is submit a comment stating why he should give one of the kits to you. “Please be concise,” he advises, “no need to use the entire 1,000 word limit that we have on the comment form. The biased judges and I are more interested in what you have to say than how long it takes you to say it.” No problem, I thought, I can easily state my case in less than 500 words.  I spent the next hour writing and editing until I had what I consider a masterpiece of prose.

Imagine the blow to my ego when the blog truncated nearly 2/3 of what I had written. I re-checked the restrictions: not 1000 words, but 1000 characters…WITH SPACES! $#%*! I almost gave up, but decided to take up the gauntlet. Why use 500 words if it can be said in less than 200?

Here is the original draft (498 words, 2764 characters):

“Check out Guitar George; he knows all the chords, but he’s strictly rhythm. He doesn’t want to make it cry or sing.” (from “Sultans of Swing” by Mark Knopfler)

Chris, I’m 51 years old. I picked up the guitar 40 years ago and for three decades I didn’t believe I could make it cry or sing. I was convinced I didn’t have the licks, so I settled for rhythm guitar. I was pretty good, but strictly rhythm. No crying or singing aloud.

The truth is, I was afraid. Lead guitar is riskier than rhythm. If you screw up a solo, everybody knows it. The rhythm guitar can hide in the background.

Then about 10 years ago I was forced to choose. Step up and play lead, or risk losing the opportunity to play at all. The pain of losing it all was worse than the pain of looking like a fool, so I crept into the spotlight. There were some awfully painful moments at first, but the old cliché rings true: no pain, no gain. In retrospect, the pain was nothing compared to the freedom of breaking through self-imposed limitations.

As a writer I am at a similar crossroad. For 25 years I was content to work for someone else, mostly as a professional grant writer. “Grantwriter George,” if you will. Afraid to express the cries and songs of my soul, I settled for a chair in the rhythm section of a nonprofit. I gained a lot of experience and gratification as the grant proposals I wrote secured millions of dollars for good causes. But as I approached my 50th year I grew restless in the strangling comfort of my profession. My wife and I discussed my discontent. She went back to work full time so I could explore new territory. We built up a cushion of savings to prepare for the unknown. I started a blog (http://hardrockphilanthropy.blogspot.com/), then gave it up. I went to a summer writer’s workshop. My boss gave me the opportunity to put it into practice (http://www.cwla.org/voice/0901management.htm). I found other opportunities to be published (see Writing Samples, www.richardmpotter.com). Last summer I started a book with the working title, “Make It Click: a guide for redeeming your purpose in life.” This month I started a new blog along the same line: https://richardmpotter.wordpress.com/.

I left my job in January. Some days I feel like an Israelite looking back over my shoulder at the (false) security of Egypt. I’m tempted to slip quietly back into the rhythm section of another job. But that’s not what I want to do. I want to build an empire that helps people discover and redeem their purpose in life, so they can cash it in for the benefit of others as well as themselves. If you choose to bless me with one of your Empire Building Kits, you can count on a powerful ripple effect. I have already broken out of one self-made prison, and I am ready to do it again!

And here is what I posted (184 words, 1003 characters including spaces):

Check out Guitar George; he knows all the chords, but he’s strictly rhythm. He doesn’t want to make it cry or sing. (from “Sultans of Swing” by Mark Knopfler)

For 30 years I played rhythm guitar. No crying or singing aloud ;-). Then I was forced to step into the spotlight or risk losing the opportunity to play at all, and I learned the benefit of busting through self-imposed limitations. As a writer I’m at a similar crossroad; Grantwriter George, if you will. My wife and I discussed my discontent. She went back to work full time and we built a cushion of savings so I could explore new territory (see Writing Samples, http://www.richardmpotter.com). I left my job in January. I plan to build an empire that helps people redeem their purpose in life, so they can cash it in for the benefit of others as well as themselves. If you choose to bless me with an Empire Building Kit, you can count on a powerful ripple effect. I have already broken out of one self-made prison, and I’m ready to do it again!

I think the revision communicates 99% of the original. Even if I don’t win the Kit, I have forced myself to be concise. It is a good discipline to practice.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. christinamackie permalink
    April 8, 2010 8:51 am

    Good job, and ditto. Conciseness does wonders for the soul, don’t you think?

  2. April 8, 2010 10:57 am

    Yes indeed, for my soul AND for the soul of the reader!

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