Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Commencement Address for Music Majors

The Oregon State University music faculty invited me to speak to its graduating class. This is what I said.

by Tom Strini

Early today, instead of writing this speech as I should have been doing, I took my guitar outside into the cool morning air and practiced Fernando Sor’s “Variations on a French Theme.”

How could I feel comfortable doing that, with a deadline breathing down my neck? Because I knew that somehow, in ways I couldn’t necessarily articulate, playing that Classical-period music would help me write the story I’m telling you tonight – a story that might help you grasp how your musical education can shape, in ways you can’t begin to imagine, the adult and professional life you are about to commence.

As an undergrad, I was pretty sure that even though I had almost no musical education until college, I would become an important international composer. As a master’s student, I thought I had a shot at writing guitar music and maybe touring with my own repertoire. As a PhD candidate, I knew enough to aim lower. Maybe I could be a music professor. Or a guitar instructor. Or both. At a small college some place. Or at a junior college.

None of that happened. I quit my doctoral program after two years. At age 30, I phoned Celin Romero, my guitar teacher, to say that I was quitting lessons. Upon hearing this news, he said: “Well, that makes sense to me.”

But I wouldn’t trade my theory-comp and guitar degrees – or my two years as a theater major -- for any other sort of education. For one thing, when I was a grad assistant at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Lee Ann Garrison enrolled in my guitar class. We married in 1976, and here we are, together in Oregon.

I didn’t become a professional musician, but my education did have some direct application to my career. From 1987-2009, I was the music critic of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But I didn’t start as the music critic.

I began as the dance critic, in 1982. Of all the arts, I knew the least about dance. I started writing about it only because, as a needy free-lancer in St. Louis, I never turned down an assignment. To my delight and astonishment, I found that I could see the logical argument in dance, the structure of it – the repetitions, the variations, the inversions, the retrogrades, the counterpoint. I saw in dance everything that I’d learned in studying, composing and playing music, and I discovered that I could articulate those things to a readership.

I discovered that high-level intellectual discourse can occur in dance. I would have missed it without music in my life. (I also might have missed it without soccer, baseball and theater in my background. Three of my favorite things – athletics, show business and abstract structure -- come together in dance.)

Anyway, my free-lance dance writing for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat won me a full-time job in Milwaukee. In 1987, after I had turned down the job twice, the paper added the music critic title to my byline.

Erin Sneller photo.
Now I want to turn to some less direct but no less important ways my musical background shaped my life.

Professor James Woodard inexplicably agreed to be my undergraduate mentor, even though I knew next to nothing about music when I started college. Now, Jim did not have a big career. He taught at a middling school, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, and had occasional publications, occasional performances. But he had a big life. He taught me a lot about music, but more importantly, he taught me awareness and insight, and in a way, how to live.

Once, he interrupted our dash to the admin building to take care of some pressing deadline, because a tree had suddenly bloomed outside the music building. He practically skidded to a halt in front of it and peered intently at a bough of flowers for at least two full minutes. Then he said, “Now we can go.” He taught me how not to be blind (or deaf) to beauty.

When we were studying Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, he told me to take a really good look at the old railroad bridge just outside of town. “All the timbers are exposed, and you can see the logic of how everything holds together, how the cross-bracing multiplies and the legs lengthen as they run down the hill, and then plateau on the valley floor until they climb up the far slope.” He was right. The bridge sort of looked like a page from a Bach score. Bach helped me understand the bridge and the bridge helped me understand Bach. My mentor taught me to make the connection.

Decades later, I was watching a UW-Milwaukee Panther soccer game, just after I had given a presentation on the C-minor fugue BWV 847. The Panthers had a very good team that year, very organized on the field. Suddenly, in a flash, I saw the overlaps, moving triangles, diagonal and contrary runs as strands of counterpoint dancing before my eyes, a dynamic structure so beautiful that I could hardly bear it. That moment changed forever the way I coached, see and play the game, and I have music to thank for it.

And I have music to thank for making a living as a writer, including my late career as a business writer and editor and writing instructor at OSU. Everything I learned about music applied directly to my writing.

I hear the words on the page. I hear the tempo, the dynamics, the timbre, the weight, the rhythm, and most of all the phrase. Sentences can spin on and on, like Brahmsian melodies that overarch phrase after phrase and linger over certain words or even syllables as they connect and twine around meanings as some exotic and extravagant flowering vine strives on and on through shade until finally breaking into sunlight. Or they can fall, axe-like. Hard. Heavy. Abrupt.

Musical form supports everything I write; my words run atop it the way trains ran over that old railroad bridge outside of Edwardsville, Ill.

I’m still writing, and I’m still playing the guitar. I’ve been playing classical guitar a lot more since we moved to Corvallis and I got involved with the Corvallis Guitar Society. This morning, I had an especially good go at the Sor Variations, and I think I impressed my girlfriend.

“Hey Lee Ann, did you hear that? I’m getting better!”

“Yes, you are, honey, good job!”

It's true. Guitar players do get the girls.

It’s also true that this little talk proves my point about music and writing. I wrote it in arch form, A-B-C-B1-A1. I learned about that from Jim Woodard, when I studied the Bartok String Quartets with him.

And now the coda: Once music takes hold in your brain and in your heart, no matter how your career might turn out, music will inform and enrich everything you’ll ever do.

Congratulations on graduating as students of the noble and practical art of music.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Living in the Overlap of Journalism and Marketing

Can a story tell the truth and sell stuff at the same time?

Three years ago, I hadn't heard of content marketing writing. As it turns out, I'm good at it.

A little short of three years ago, a long-time reader -- I'd been in journalism in Milwaukee for three decades -- emailed to ask if I knew anyone who might be interested in and good at writing and editing content for Northwoods Web Solutions, a local software development firm.

"This will be great branding for
the monastery AND elevate the
morals of the faithful."
I read the job description and told Fred Pike, my contact and a partner at Northwoods, that I did know someone -- me. After 27 years at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and four years as senior editor and at Third Coast Daily, an online magazine, my journalistic career was winding down. I was looking for something else to do.

During five months in-house at Northwoods, I came to know and admire the people and the work they do. I enjoyed helping them to clarify their message internally and broadcast it externally. I learned a lot about software, web design, information architecture, user experience, social media marketing, SEO -- all the things at which Northwoods excels -- and about business in general.

Northwoods management long ago committed to the idea of enlightened self-interest in marketing. They have opened their doors to all for free workshops on a wide spectrum of topics, from how to build a good website to how to leverage that website to enhance branding, increase engagement and drive leads and sales.

The marketing strategy for these extraordinarily generous and sales-pitch-free workshops came down to this: We will serve the industry because an educated customer is more likely to become a Northwoods customer; because we want the world to know that we are not only on top of best practice but in a position to shape best practice; and that we are given to imaginative leaps that help clients shape their vision of their online corporate lives of their businesses.

I came along just as Northwoods reshaped its own online presence according to the same principles that guide the company's workshops. I helped them stock and maintain a blog that has become a bedrock source of information -- and sometimes inspiration -- for anyone who owns a business website.

I could help them because their values align with journalistic values. They don't want rah-rah marketing speak. They want honest, vivid, engaging stories. I can do that.

My wife and I moved from Wisconsin to Oregon in the fall of 2014, but I have continued to work closely with Northwoods and have edited or written over 150 stories for the company.

Tavi Jinariu plays Corvallis June 5. So buy a ticket.
I also teach a variety of courses at Oregon State University. One is the sophomore-level Introduction to Writing for Media. We cover news writing -- from an internet-first perspective -- with all the ethical rigor that goes with it.

But few, if any, of my students will become journalists. So I go to great lengths to instruct them on how journalistic skills and practice apply to business and marketing. The art of the interview, research skills, and the ability to produce tight, engaging copy on deadline apply directly to content marketing. So does journalistic veracity. People want truth and authenticity in marketing these days; the internet public comes to your copy armed with hair-trigger bullshit detectors.

The takeaway: Yes, ultimately, you want to sell something. But first, you must tell a good story.

At the moment, I'm trying to sell tickets to a classical guitar concert. I'm on the board of the Corvallis Guitar Society. We're presenting Tavi Jinariu in concert; we have to sell 174 tickets to break even.

Tavi's a great story. I wrote and published that story, with two goals in mind: Write the best piece I could and sell a minimum of 174 tickets. Is that marketing content or a journalistic story? Or a little of both? Read it and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Skylight Music Theatre: Meet Your New Artistic Director

Dear Skylight Music Theatre Board of Directors,

Do not hire a consultant to search for a new artistic director to replace the brilliant Viswa Subbaraman.

Do not run a year of auditions with visiting directors and conductors.

Do not bother to form a search committee.

Just listen to me: Hire Jill Anna Ponasik. And don't mull it over. Hire her today.

I suspect that Viswa has already told you to take this action. Viswa, like me, immediately recognized Ms Ponasik's intelligence, daring, work ethic, resourcefulness and -- last but certainly not least -- her utterly disarming charm. Viswa hired her to direct at the Skylight and collaborated with her at every opportunity because of the qualities I've listed.

Jill Anna understands the Skylight ethos exactly. She has an audience following in Milwaukee already, and they will follow her 100% into the Cabot Theatre seats. She puts on productions that are original, daring, innovative, and often unique, yet not alienating. And she knows her way around a balance sheet. She brought the dormant Milwaukee Opera Theatre back to life and put on amazing shows with threadbare budgets.

She has worked closely with Viswa and her vision would dovetail with his, so she would be a good steward of the 2016-17 season that he designed. She would extend his vision, but I believe that she would also sweeten it in a way very congenial to the Milwaukee audience.

Actors and singers adore her; she does not bully their best work from them, she charms it from them. And no one spots local talent and develops it as Jill Anna does. She's a fine singer and actress herself, and a superb director. She knows theater, she knows opera, she knows musicals, she knows a thing or two about dance.

I haven't spoken with Jill Anna about this, but I know her well enough to say with certainty that Skylight AD would be her dream job. She wants to do it and would be in for the long term.

And how would she do with donors? Just try to resist that beautiful smile and those sparkling eyes, the enthusiasm and clarity with which she articulates ideas, and that warm, welcoming personality. She's also funny. Checkbooks will jump out of purses and pockets for Jill Anna Ponasik.

On top of everything else, she's a Milwaukee-area girl. Jill Anna is the complete Skylight package, and she's right there in front of you.

Don't blow this. Let her know now that you want her most of all, and spare her the vetting, interview and audition process. She's a known quantity in Milwaukee, so there's no need for any of that. Call an emergency meeting board meeting, offer her a tentative contract and negotiate the details later. It won't be hard. She loves the Skylight.

The Skylight would be an utter fool to fail to love her back.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Strini still writes. My latest, for Corvallis Arts Review: Guitarist Jose Luis Rodriguez

Berto Boyd, of Corvallis, will play along side Rodriquez at Oddfellows Hall

by Tom Strini
Corvallis Arts Review Editor in Chief

Jose Luis Rodriguez, a reigning master of the flamenco guitar, was born in Morocco in 1962. His father was the doctor in a small village there. The family returned to Spain when Rodriquez was 3, so he doesn't remember much of life in Morocco. However...

"My father told me many times that when I heard the Muslim call to prayer, I would say, 'I like that music,'" Rodriguez said, in a telephone interview from Miami Thursday. Rodriquez will make his Corvallis debut, under auspices of theCorvallis Guitar Society, in a recital at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13, at Oddfellows Hall.

Moorish North African music profoundly influenced flamenco, so it wasn't such a wide leap from the call to prayer outside to the flamenco playing inside on the family phonograph.

Once back in Spain, Rodriquez's father, a serious flamenco aficionado, arranged lessons for his son with Antonio Souza, an established flamenco professional. Jose Luis was about 7 years old, just big enough to handle a guitar. Souza knew everyone and introduced his pupil at every opportunity.

"I studied with him for three or four years," Rodriquez said. "We drove all over Andalusia, to all the flamenco festivals -- in a very old car."

Rodriguez's passion and aptitude for the instrument were apparent immediately, and encouragement and opportunity fed his drive to excel. He grew up Huelva, in the far southwest of the country, in Andalusia, the heartland of flamenco culture. By the time he turned 12, Rodriguez was performing in local tablaos -- flamenco clubs -- along side El Niño Miguel, a mercurial, tragic genius of the genre.

He considers El Niño, who suffered from schizophrenia and died in 2013, his mentor on the avant-garde side of flamenco. Paco de Lucia opened that thread of flamenco tradition by adding jazz chords and crossing over in projects with Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin. Rodriguez learned the more traditional styles from Mario Escudero, a flamenco legend.

Both the traditional and avant-garde wings trace to Ramon Montoya (1879-1949). Prior to Montoya, the guitar's role in flamenco was limited to accompanying singers and pounding out the traditional dance rhythms. Montoya borrowed from classical technique and more or less created virtuoso flamenco guitar playing.Escudero (1928-2004), Sabicas and Niño Ricardo extended Montoya's tradition, and de Lucia changed its trajectory.

"Jose is firmly rooted in classical flamenco style, but with a modern touch," said Berto Boyd, in a separate interview. Boyd is a highly accomplished flamenco guitarist based in Corvallis and artistic director of the Corvallis Guitar Society. He and Rodriguez have worked closely on several projects, including the recent Avalon, a 55-minute concerto for guitar and orchestra.

"In my generation," Rodriquez said, "we had that conflict with the old flamenco and the new. So I was learning two different things at the same time. It took me three or four years to understand everything. Escudero gave me the legacy of the old, but I need the other part in order to be a part of my own generation."

Rodriquez's blended aesthetic has served him well. He won numerous prizes and competitions, and for 10 years he was music director for Cristina Hoyos, one of the greatest flamenco dancers of all time.

All this established him as a leading player in the field and allowed him to strike out on his own. He spends a good deal of time in Spain and touring the world, but lives primarily in Miami. He's become something of the go-to guy in America for flamenco. For example: when Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic needed a guitarist last May for a flamenco re-thinking of Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo, they called Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez needs a help, he calls Boyd. While flamenco has become very sophisticated, it remains essentially a folk art and an aural tradition. Thus, Rodriquez never really learned to read music. Still, he sees part of his mission as bringing flamenco a little more into the classical music fold. That sense of mission drove him to compose Avalon, the concerto.

Orchestras need written scores. Alex Conde arranged the orchestra parts forAvalon after Rodriquez played and recorded his ideas for the orchestra. Boyd took on the herculean task of transcribing the insanely virtuosic solo guitar part. He also crafted the second guitar part and played it at the premiere and the second performance in Florida this past fall. In Corvallis on Sunday, Boyd and Rodriguez will play a two-guitar version of a movement from Avalon. They will also perform Boyd's duo setting of Tarrega's famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

Boyd met Rodriguez in 2003, when Boyd took his workshop at a flamenco festival in Mendocino, Calif. Rodriquez recognized his skill and commissioned him to transcribe a number of compositions. The two worked together on and off over the years, and they sometimes lost touch as Boyd moved to Oregon and Rodriquez returned to Spain and then moved to Florida. They reconnected just under three years ago, in Miami.

At that time, Boyd was leaning back toward classical guitar. He went to Miami to attend David Russell's classical master classes and got together with Rodriguez while he was there. Boyd felt that he had played badly at the Russell master class and was feeling glum. Rodriquez told him to concentrate on original flamenco instead. During the same trip, Boyd suggested that Rodriguez broaden his audience by working more in the classical realm. Boyd changed his style emphasis and Rodriguez launched the Avalon project.

So they've met more or less in the middle - and, at last, they're meeting in Corvallis.

Concert Details
Who: Flamenco guitarist Jose Luis Rodriguez, with Berto Boyd
When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13
Cost: $15 at the door, at Grass Roots Books and Music or online through Brown Paper Tickets
Location: Oddfellows Hall, 223 SW 2nd St. (second floor), Downtown Corvallis

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Nostalgia: Loving the Milwaukee Ballet's "The Nutcracker"

I'm not given to nostalgia. I'm the sort who lives in the present and looks to the future, no matter how old I get. I love living in Corvallis, Oregon, teaching at Oregon State and embarking on all sorts of new adventures, including playing the guitar in public again for the first time in decades.

So I would never move back to Milwaukee. But I do admit to missing Milwaukee culture -- Present Music, the incredible Milwaukee Symphony, the Rep, the Skylight, all the smaller theater companies, Danceworks... And I long to visit the remade Milwaukee Art Museum.

But this time of year, I'm thinking about the Milwaukee Ballet and Michael Pink's "Nutcracker." Michael wouldn't consider it his greatest work, but I do. So here's a link to a little preview I wrote about it back in 2009, for Third Coast (since subsumed by Urban Milwaukee).

Merry Christmas, Milwaukee! Enjoy the dance.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mark Watney, "The Martian," Inspires Home-Repair Heroics

Obsolete technology
The mission: Remove 1980 semi-recessed lighting fixture from bathroom ceiling, replace with bright, modern Pixi® brand TruFlat® LED.

The crisis: The old ceiling cut is 1.5 inches wider that the pre-drilled holes in the new Pixi® TruFlat® mounting plate.

The inspiration: Fortunately, I had just seen The Martian, in which an astronaut marooned on the red planet survives and inspires the entire world through ingenious re-purposing of abandoned equipment and a lot of duct tape.

So I asked myself: What would space hero and Martian MacGyver Mark Watney do? And then I thought it would be nice if Matt Damon plays me in my biopic, Scribbling in the Dark for 35 Years: A Critic's Heroic Life. I'm working on the screenplay.

The process: I retrieved the old mounting bracket from the recycling bin. A dozen mighty blows with a tack hammer and some vigorous bending removed all the once-necessary but now superfluous flanges. A plain 8.5" metal square, with a 1-inch lip at 90 degrees all around, remained. I inverted the square from its customary position and set it into the ceiling cutout. Perfect fit!

Obsolete bracket, adapted, inverted, re-purposed.
Working quickly against deadline pressure (I wanted this done before Lee Ann came home), I drove screws through the lip of the bracket into 1x2 lumber I'd cut to form a square around the hole and give the new fixture support on all four sides. Then I drilled four holes in the face of the bracket, to match the factory holes in the mounting plate for the Pixi® TruFlat® LED fixture.

The new lamp came with four toggle bolts. I placed the toggle nuts on top of the bracket, ran the bolts through the new mounting plate and the bracket into the nuts and tightened them up. Solid.

The most delicate and dangerous part of the operation was still to come: Holding the heavy fixture while connecting the ground, positive and negative lines. Gathering up all my Mark Watney ingenuity, skill, steely focus and good humor in the face of danger, I recited a couple of knock-knock jokes and made the connections. I slid the lamp over the mounting spurs and we have DOCKING!

Light. Cue the triumphant music.
But the suspense continued. As I pulled the old Romex toward the hole to have adequate wiring to work with, had I disturbed some 35-year-old connection? After all, this is a two-way switch. A lot can go wrong in the dark mystery of an overhead crawl space.

I flipped the breaker to re-supply desperately needed power to the bathroom circuit. I flipped the local power switch and... LIGHT!

I totally could have done this on Mars.
Matt Damon as Mark Watney, doing duct-tape home repair on Mars. By the way, do see "The Martian." Great movie.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Efficient Writing for Better Business Blogging

Strini at work on his first blog, in 1527.
Readers of this long-dormant blog know me as Milwaukee's fine arts critic. Most of you also know that we have moved to Oregon and started new lives in Corvallis. I plan to revive this old blog to reflect those new lives and this is my first post toward that end.

An ongoing business relationship with Northwoods Web Solutions, of Shorewood, Wis., is part of my new life. I've written and edited for that fine company for about 18 months. Turns out I'm a very good content marketing and business writer. Northwoods gave me permission to republish my latest piece for the company here. I'm sharing this one in particular because it applies to writing in general as much as to content marketing writing. In this little piece I sum up what I've learned 38 years as a professional writer. Bookmark it and consult it when you have to write something. I guarantee it will help.

Efficient Writing for Better Blogging

By Tom Strini for Northwoods Web Solutions
“Help! Marketing wants me to contribute to the company blog. I know everything about automated dweezil manufacturing and our leading role in the field. But I slept through freshman English. ”
Don’t panic. You can do this. You speak English. Writing is like speaking, but with time to fix mistakes. Keep in mind a few general principles and helpful hints, and you can become a decent writer.

General Strategies, Procedures and Principles

  1. Your overarching goal: Every user reads all the way to the end of every story.
  2. Don’t wait. Don’t outline. Just start writing, even – especially – if you’re not sure of exactly what you want to say. You write not merely to record what you already know; you write to discover and invent. Think of the page as a laboratory. Run thought experiments there.
  3. Write your first draft freely. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or even structure. That first draft might amount to little more than stray thoughts about your topic. You might jot it down on a legal pad rather than type it into your computer. See which thoughts ring true and sift them out for further study. They might point you toward more research or lead you in a different direction entirely, which can be a good thing.
  4. Let your completed first draft sit for an hour. Revisit it and consolidate far-flung blocks of copy on the same and related subjects. Arrange those consolidations in order of importance. This process will begin to structure your article and lead you to your thesis - that is, your most important idea.
  5. Well-structured writing accumulates meaning as sentence builds upon sentence and paragraph builds upon paragraph. This accumulation of meaning creates a sense of momentum and velocity in the reader’s mind. Perceived velocity, more than brevity in terms of word count, determines whether your readers find your story too long. Five-thousand-word articles can pass in a flash; 800-word articles can go on forever. Your story should run exactly as long as it must – and not one word longer.
  6. Be awake to the possibilities of the Internet. Its infinite space grants us not only the privilege of writing to ideal length, but also of linking to further information, adding video, graphics and photographs.

Tactics, Hints and Examples

  1. Write in active voice with action verbs. Consider these two sentences: (a) The bat hit the ball. (b) The ball was hit by the bat. Seven words in (b), the passive sentence, vs. five words (a). The dropped words, “by” and “the,” convey zero meaning. A mere two words, you say? Two/ seven=28%. Write a 1,000-word post that way and 280 of your words mean nothing.
  2. Paragraphs count in readability, perceived velocity, structure and rhythm. Long unbroken blocks of text confuse the eye, discourage reader engagement and blur topics. Write digestible paragraphs comprising closely related ideas and points of information. If “one of these things is not like the other” within a paragraph, move it to a more fitting one. Paragraphs have no set length. They can contain many sentences or just one, or even one word, set off for special effect.
  3. Songs need hooks. Ads need hooks. Your story must begin with a galvanizing idea couched in potent terms. A boring first line invites readers to bail out before they get to the second. (Check out the aborted leads for this story at the bottom of this page.) Don’t be satisfied until you have a good one. Hints:
    1. Don’t obsess over your lead until you’ve written the second draft.
    2. Beginning writers often bury the lead; be on the lookout for that brilliant opener lurking in paragraph 5.
  4. Listen for the music. Sentences can sound short and staccato and bristle with consonants. Like this bit - which stops short. Or sentences may sway this way and that, looping through modifying clauses as if borne on a breeze before finally gliding to a landing as soft and hushed as a moth alighting on a petal. OK, that might be too poetic for a post on dweezil manufacturing, but do be aware of the sound of your words and the flow of your sentences.
  5. Read aloud, not only for awareness of the music, but also to activate your innate baloney detector. If a point strikes a false note in your ear, you probably need to correct or remove it. Even better: Have a friend read aloud for you.
  6. Be yourself. If you’re stumbling over words and phrases as you read aloud, you’re writing in terms that would never come out of your mouth in 100 years of talking. So it sounds fake to you and it will sound fake to your readers. Don’t imitate the style of something you read somewhere. Write in your natural voice, but with the ambiguities, inefficiencies and errors excised.
  7. Hunt down and kill the verb “to be” when possible. Replace bland, all-purpose verbs with specific and compelling ones. These practices promote tighter, livelier writing. Be especially vigilant for sentences that begin “It is,” “There is,” and so on. Your sentences, like your stories, should lead strong, and that means subject-verb-object constructions. Very often, a form of the verb “to be” adjoins an adverb or adjective that ought to be the active verb. (See example d below.)
  8. Some granular examples from recent editing projects:
    1. ORIGINAL: When most B2B companies start redesigning their website, there are a few questions that pop up right away. BETTER: A few questions always pop up when B2B companies redesign their websites. 17 words vs. 12 with no loss of meaning.
    2. ORIGINAL: Is there anything you can “borrow” from your competitor’s and improve upon? BETTER: Can you “borrow” from and improve upon competitors’ websites? 12 words vs. 9, with a much stronger lead. We’re six words into the original before we really know what it’s about.
    3. ORIGINAL: So you need a dedicated mobile app to deliver your content? Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. With over 1 million apps in the App Store and 1.2 million apps available for Android devices, the first question asked is usually “How can I make my app stand out?” However, the first question should be “Do I really need a dedicated app?” BETTER: With over 1 million apps in the App Store and 1.2 million available for Android devices, the first question marketing and sales people ask is: “How can I make my app stand out?” Wrong question. The first thing to ask is: “Do I really need a dedicated app?” Version 2 rules, and not only because it eliminates 17 words. It also eliminates a glaring redundancy. In the original, the first two sentences and the last sentence say the same thing in different words. Avoid that; say it once but say it best. Version 2 rules also because of specificity. It tells us that marketing and sales people, rather than a mysterious “they” shrouded in a passive construction, pose this question.
    4. ORIGINAL: Flash forward a couple of years, Yahoo and Alta Vista were the search engines of choice and mainstream companies began to have a presence on the web. Even with adoption gaining ground, a large majority of content was simply a “webified” version of their standard print material.BETTER: Flash forward a couple of years. Yahoo and Alta Vista were the search engines of choice and mainstream companies began to build web presence. But most of those companies simply “webified” their standard print material. Word count falls from 47 to 35. “Flash forward a couple of years,” which has nothing to do with the next sentence, breaks off into its own thought and gives some bite to the rhythm. The charming neologism “webified,” in the original masquerading as an adjective, becomes the highly charged verb in a more compact sentence.
  9. At the end of the whole process, before you hit “publish,” pause. Take it from the top one more time and eliminate every word you can without reducing value to your reader. I’m about to do just that right now.
  10. Postscript: 141 words trimmed. You’re welcome.
The tomb of the rejected leads:
In this cacophonous world of online media, if you waste your readers’ time by inefficiently loading limited meaning into an excessive number of words, you will in the long run chase your readers away.
Hmm… 34 words. Starts with a cliché. Try again.
Limited meaning loaded into too many words wastes your readers’ time. Keep doing it and they’ll leave your blog and never come back.
Better; 23 words. But a passive construction opens. And the second sentence scoldsMaybe something more positive…
Help your readers get all the way to the end of your blog posts. Pack lots of meaning into the fewest number of words.
Dang! Twenty-four words. And bland. No rhythm. I miss the part about competition for attention. And brevity isn’t the only thing; something about vividness should be in the lead... How about:
Vivid, economical writing serves readers well and distinguishes your blog from a crowded field.
OK, 14 words, encouraging tone, clear thesis statement. Five strong words to open. Not bad. But why not try something more dramatic, to represent how dragooned, non-writer bloggers really feel?

Tom Strini
Consultant, Marketing Content Writer
Tom Strini is a  consultant and marketing content writer. His work at Northwoods  follows a career as a writer and editor, including 27 years as music and dance critic at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, four years as senior editor and managing partner at Third Coast Daily online, and stints as a free-lancer, in-house advertising writer, and a staff editor at IEEE Computer Magazine. He now resides in Corvallis, Ore., where he teaches courses in writing, music and art at Oregon State University.