Do you give too much (as an entrepreneur)? On keeping healthy boundaries with Shel Silverstein and Topher Payne

August 2021 Vol 3 Issue 8

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):

Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!

Welcome Mid-August 2021!

As I prepare this issue of “Tell Your Story Newsletter,” a lengthy heatwave (with temperatures nearing 40 degrees Celcius) has finally broken and not a moment too soon! One can’t help but wish we could “bottle” the heat we’ve had since June, to release it next January or February!

In this issue, I describe a wonderful revisionary re-writing of the late Shel Silverstein’s fable, “The Giving Tree.” More specifically, the document alters the end of the tale, by providing entrepreneurial–and human–insights on the importance of healthy boundaries.

And in “Storytellers’ Corner,” I return to the perennial problem of differentiating between “immigrate” and “emigrate,” a problem patiently explained by American etymologist Bryan Garner. To use these terms correctly is especially relevant to me, as I tutor new immigrants to Canada in English as a second (or foreign) language.

These past nearly two years have been deeply trying for most of us. Recently, the drought and extensive summer heat have been devastating for farmers, gardeners and for all of us who worry about our beleaguered environment.

At such times, and with a Covid variant surging in our communities, do your spiritual leanings take you to mindful meditation, contemplation or prayer? I certainly have, and such belief can become our best resort.

May this week’s cooling trend and the passing of our last full month of summer, bring our province– one troubled corner of the planet–some lasting relief.

Storytelling Communication



ARTICLE 1: Do you give too much (as an entrepreneur)? On keeping healthy boundaries with Shel Silverstein
and Topher Payne
The perennial case of “immigrate” versus “emigrate”

Article One: Do you give too much (as an entrepreneur)? On keeping healthy boundaries with Shel Silverstein and Topher Payne (for the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund Story Time)

The American writer, poet, cartoonist, songwriter and playwright, Shel Silverstein (1930-1999), is fondly remembered for writing children’s literature. His online biography says that his books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold some 20 million copies. I still remember taking
delight in his cartoon images which I found in Greystone Heights’ (elementary school) library.

Arguably Silverstein’s best-known children’s story, “The Giving Tree” (first published in 1964), is really a parable about the importance of setting boundaries for ourselves, when we serve others. The publisher’s jacket aptly labels the book: for “all ages.” I summarize and quote the story, here:

“Once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.
And every day the boy would come and . . . gather her leaves,” to play with,
He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches,
and eat apples . . . .
And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree . . . . very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.”

When the tree asks the boy to return to playing with her, the boy says he is “too big,” and that he
wants “to buy things and have fun.”
He asks the tree to give him money.

She offers him her apples to “sell . . . . Then you will have money and you will be happy.”

The boy sells the apples. But afterward he stays away a very long time, causing the tree to grow sad.

When she invites him to play again (at a third period in the boy’s life), he refuses, saying he is “too busy,” that he “wants a house to keep me warm . . . [and] I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?”

The tree asserts that she has no house, other than the forest, but offers to give the boy her branches to build his house, which he hurriedly takes. Again she says, “Then you will be happy.”

The narrator next says: “And the tree was happy.”

The boy again stayed away for a very long time. But when they meet again (a fourth period in the boy’s life), the tree is “so happy she could hardly speak.” When she invites the boy to play once again, the boy says he is “too old and sad” and that he now wants “a boat that will take me far away from here.” He asks the tree if she can give him a boat.

Giving once again, the tree tells the boy to “cut down [her] trunk” to make a boat, and “Then you can sail away and be happy,” she says.

The boy does so, leaving the tree with only a stump. The narrator says that “the tree was happy . . . but not really.”

Again after another long time, the boy (now an elderly man) comes back to the tree. The tree says she’s sorry but she has no apples, branches or trunk to give him: “I wish that I could give you something . . . but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry . . .”

But he says he wants “just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.” So the tree “straightening herself up as much as she could,” invites him to “sit down and rest.”

The boy does so, and the narrator says, “And the tree was happy.”


The publisher of “The Giving Tree” summarizes this story as one of “unforgettable perception,” without specifying whose perception is at stake.

The story tells us that “as the boy grew older, he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave.”

The publisher goes on to refer to the story as “an . . . interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.” The statement implies that the tree accepts the boy’s very limited capacity to feel and share love, after she gives him everything she has—including
her life.

The parable reminds me of the Brothers Grimm fable of “The Fisherman and His Wife.” In that fable, the gender roles are reversed and the fisherman’s wife is the one who has an overweening desire (for her husband) to grasp and take (money and power) for her own benefit.

We don’t know how Silverstein interpreted the story he wrote and even if we did, that would reflect the fallacy of authorial intention. But 21st century readers like me are struck by the imbalance in “The Giving Tree” between the tree’s motherly generosity and the boy’s selfish exploitation of her.

And then . . . seemingly a world away from Silverstein’s parable, in a recent entrepreneurial workshop that I attended, the great American copywriter, Ed Gandia, shared something very special–a contemporary “alternate ending” to “The Giving Tree,” written by Topher Payne (and created for the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund Story Time).

The group deserves our credit, thanks and a contribution (which I’m looking into.)  Gandia referred to Payne’s revised ending to illustrate the importance of psychological boundaries for freelance creatives, including writers, of all kinds.

Payne calls his “revision” to the parable, “The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries.” Beginning in the part of the story where the boy asks the tree for a house,” Payne’s boundary conscious tree sets a limit! She says: “Okay, hold up. This is already getting out of hand.

Look, I was fine with giving you the apples to help you get on your feet. They’ll grow back next season anyway. But no, I’m not giving you a house. You know, I’ve seen boys like you pull this nonsense with other trees in the forest. First it’s the apples, then branches, then the trunk, and before you know it that mighty beautiful tree is just a sad little stump. Well, look here, Boy, I love you like family, but I am not going down like that.”

Payne’s tree next confronts the “boy” about how he only visits “when he needs something,” and how inconsiderate he is of the tree’s, feelings,” and so on.
The boy responds by doing research to learn that the tree will not lose her health by hosting some nearby squirrels—a point of concern she had expressed to him. In fact, the boy, says Payne’s narrator, “loved his friend [the tree] and was concerned about her long-term health because she had taught him the importance of empathy.”

Empathy, we know as humans, and especially as entrepreneurs, requires that we maintain our own boundaries. Payne’s rewriting becomes consciously entrepreneurial, when the narrator says that the tree and the boy accepted each other’s boundaries in this way:

“The boy attended culinary school. The tree took courses online and got her certification in small business management. They did their homework together nearly every day. The boy became a pastry chef. Together, they opened a bakery selling the best apple pies anyone had ever tasted. It turned a profit in the first eighteen months, which is most uncommon.”

Payne’s narrator mentions that the boy had a son of his own, and, in time, that son also had his own family. So, “because of their friendship, the boy was successful and fulfilled, and the tree grew wider and stronger, standing tall and beautiful in the forest for many, many, many years.”

The narrator then concludes that, had the tree years earlier given the boy her trunk for a house and boat she “would have had nothing left . . . for herself [or] anyone else”: “In truth, she would have gladly given the boy her branches to build a house” and “her trunk to build a boat. She loved him that much.”

But such giving without limit would have obliterated her boundaries: she would have had no home for the squirrels, no games with the boy’s grandchildren and no successful bakery selling legendary apple pies.

Payne’s narrator closes: “Setting healthy boundaries is a very important part of giving. It assures you’ll always have something left to give.” So not only the tree was happy, but “everyone was,” and not because they gave something to another, but because they remembered first to take care of (and
responsibility for) themselves–and, it follows, for their own happiness.

Does Topher Payne’s wonderful rewriting of Silverstein’s classic fable speak to you, in your entrepreneurial or personal life? Please send me your response; I’d be delighted to hear from you.


Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . .

This month: the easy-to-forget distinction between “immigrate” and “emigrate”

One of my recent pupils during my recent practicum with Nevy’s Language (Toronto) reported that the difference between “immigrate” and “emigrate” was “hard to remember!” And I myself sometimes forget it.

So from Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage, here is a refresher:
To “Immigrate” means to migrate into or enter (a country). This verb considers the movement from the perspective of the destination.

To “Emigrate” means to migrate away from or exit (a country). This verb considers the movement from the perspective of the departure point.
Garner writes further: “Emigrate is to immigrate as go is to come, or as take is to bring. People emigrate from or out of [a country] and immigrate to or into another.

He offers two examples, which I am reporting in corrected format:
(1) “The store is owned by Maria Guadalupe Flores, a native of Mexico who immigrated into the US at age 17.” “Cinderella Story MN,” Pioneer Press (St. Paul), 19 May 1996, D7.

(2) “His most recent hire is a programmer he recruited and helped to emigrate from Singapore.” Lisa Biank Fasig, “Jetsoft Co. Scans Its Way to Innovation,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 15 May, 1997, J3.

The best way to resolve what my ESL student called “hard to remember” linguistic differences is to keep using them, actively, in spoken and written English.

And if that fails, consult Garner’s Modern American Usage on an as-needed



Thanks this month go to the “Happiness Team” of Ed Gandia, based near Atlanta, GA, for sending me Topher Payne’s rewritten ending to “The Giving Tree.” Ed’s support team are generous in spirit and I am grateful.
And a huge thank you to Topher Payne for revising Silverstein’s disturbing fable!

In other news, special thanks this month go to novelist and friend, Lesley-Anne McLeod, for sharingher beautiful garden and wonderful conversation, two weekends ago.

Despite the drought, Lesley, as a devoted gardener, has daily watered (manually) and maintained beautiful plants and flowers, over the past three months. Her garden has even offered refuge to a wild rabbit (a “rabbit-in-residence”), which also shared his/her company, during our recent visit.

Have you found it wonderful to reconnect with old friends, after you’ve become fully vaccinated? I see plenty of photographic evidence over Facebook and Instagram!
I’m also delighted to be asked to reprise my business communication seminars for the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship. I look forward to adapting curriculum to meet the needs of new entrepreneurs-in-training in an online (Zoom-based) format.
Another word of special thanks to entrepreneur and language teacher Steve Cavan (formerly of Paddock Wood Brewery) who has generously shared his insight, tips and skills with me, as I register to teach ESL online.
And my thoughts this month are with the province’s teachers and educators who strive to return to in-person learning, when children have not been able to be vaccinated, and when some adult learners have refused (for various reasons) to do so.
And thanks to my faithful readers for their patience with this month’s newsletter, prepared when the iContact platform was not fully functioning–especially with its spell-check!
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help Canadian newcomers to secure better jobs by improving their language skills; I assist SMEs in closing more sales by communicating more effectively; and I write the legacy stories of major companies.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant
website (

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!
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On Wanting to Change–a Meditation on Entrepreneurship from Brianna Wiest

In 2020, Anthony Hopkins received an Oscar nomination for his role in “The Father,” as a man with dementia struggling for control with his daughter, played by Olivia Colman. (The film was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.) Hopkins commented that the film was his personal favourite, following astonishing performances in such earlier films as “The Remains of the Day”  and “Silence of the Lambs.”

Hopkins himself has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and in an interview with the CBC”s Tom Power (during TIFF)  spoke with characteristic humility about the film and about aging.

Over the last few years, the essay I post below has been attributed to him.

Like so much on social media, the attribution is incorrect. (As readers well know, over the years powerful epigraphs have been misattributed all over the internet.  For instance,  I remember several associated with the Dalai Lama which were not his, and that only scratches the surface.) attributes the  essay associated with Hopkins to writer Brianna Wiest:


While we could debate the problems of misattributed writing forever (remember when it was new to question Shakespeare’s authorship?), Wiest’s essay warrants reading, especially given the  attention recently devoted to the role of boundaries in entrepreneurial relationships. The essay speaks (allegorically) to those and not only to romantic relationships. It could better be called, “On Wanting to Change.”

“I Need This In My Life” (Brianna Wiest)

′′Let go [of] the people who are not prepared to love you. This is the hardest thing you will have to do in your life and it will also be the most important thing. Stop having hard conversations with people who don’t want change.

Stop showing up for people who have no interest in your presence. I know your instinct is to do everything to earn the appreciation of those around you, but it’s a boost that steals your time, energy, mental and physical health.

When you begin to fight for a life with joy, interest and commitment, not everyone will be ready to follow you in this place. This doesn’t mean you need to change what you are, it means you should let go of the people who aren’t ready to accompany you.

If you are excluded, insulted, forgotten or ignored by the people you give your time to, you don’t do yourself a favor by continuing to offer your energy and your life. The truth is that you are not for everyone and not everyone is for you.

That’s what makes it so special when you meet people who reciprocate love. You will know how precious you are.

The more time you spend trying to make yourself loved by someone who is unable to, the more time you waste depriving yourself of the possibility of this connection to someone else.

There are billions of people on this planet and many of them will meet with you at your level of interest and commitment.

The more you stay involved with people who use you as a pillow, a background option or a therapist for emotional healing, the longer you stay away from the community you want.

Maybe if you stop showing up, you won’t be wanted. Maybe if you stop trying, the relationship will end. Maybe if you stop texting, your phone will stay dark for weeks. That doesn’t mean you ruined the relationship, it means the only thing holding it back was the energy that only you gave to keep it. This is not love, it’s attachment. It’s wanting to give a chance to those who don’t deserve it. You deserve so much, there are people who should not be in your life.

The most valuable thing you have in your life is your time and energy, and both are limited.

When you give your time and energy, it will define your existence.

When you realize this, you begin to understand why you are so anxious when you spend time with people, in activities, places or situations that don’t suit you and shouldn’t be around you, your energy is stolen.

You will begin to realize that the most important thing you can do for yourself and for everyone around you is to protect your energy more fiercely than anything else. Make your life a safe haven, in which only ‘compatible′ people are allowed.

You are not responsible for saving anyone. You are not responsible for convincing them to improve. It’s not your work to exist for people and give your life to them! If you feel bad, if you feel compelled, you will be the root of all your problems, fearing that they will not return the favours you have granted. It’s your only obligation to realize that you are the love of your destiny and accept the love you deserve.

Decide that you deserve true friendship, commitment, true and complete love with healthy and prosperous people. Then wait and see how much everything begins to change. Don’t waste time with people who are not worth it.

Change will give you the love, the esteem, happiness and the protection you deserve.”

And now it’s your turn: As a new program year begins in this “fourth wave” of Covid, what changes are you making to your career or personal relationships?


Read more, read better? Developing a reading habit with Stephen Cavan, Stephen Krashen and Brad Stulberg

When I teach students for whom English is a second (or foreign) language, they often express a desire to practice orally to help them become fluent as quickly as they can.

Less often, one will ask me what book titles I would recommend; when they do, they usually are interested in books on language skills (e.g. ESL textbooks), not books of fiction or poetry, written in English.

An advocate for reading by second language learners, my colleague (and a great ESL teacher, himself) Steve Cavan has recommended the writing of Dr. Stephen Krashen, an expert in theories of language acquisition and development.

Krashen has published hundreds of books and articles and given more than 500 lectures at universities world-wide to promote the “natural approach” to language teaching. By this he means to encourage students to read recreationally and for teachers like me (and administrators) to ensure that school libraries are well stocked.

Krashen says that “what is good for language development and literacy development is . . . pleasant [to] the acquirer and the teacher.” He has found that time spent free reading is more efficient for developing language skills than the equivalent time spent in traditional instruction.

Reading can (and should) be fun—and can help us learn new languages better.

So many readers and writers find life boring (even or especially in this digital age), when devices can leave us with minds feeling dry, uninspired, even cranky. What Krashen calls the “pleasure path” of reading often lighthearted fiction in a foreign language accelerates our learning of that language.

For instance, Krashen refers to one study in which new immigrants to the US who have progressed very slowly in learning English showed a remarkable spike in progress, due mainly to reading pleasant (potboiler) romance novels, such as the “Sweet Valley High” series. These students were not taking ESL classes at the time.

My colleague, Steve Cavan, has referred his students to free, online ebooks in English on the following site, where classics have been simplified to levels comprehensible to new learners:

Whether we are new to a language or native-speakers, however, reading deeply, what freelance writer and coach Brad Stulberg calls “full engagement in a book,” can be a joyous experience. When people’s attention spans are shortening by the day (or so it seems), Stulberg says that to be a deep reader “is also a competitive advantage in today’s knowledge-based economy.”

In a recent article in “Forbes” magazine, Stulberg argues that getting lost in a book “is good for the mind and spirit,” allows us to understand topics more deeply, to sustain attention for longer periods of time and to enhance our creativity.

Now, whether for non-English readers or the fully fluent, who would argue against all that?

Stulberg recommends six practices that can help us all read more and read better:

(1) Use a hardcopy book. Research shows that we understand and connect ideas better when we read physical (not digital) pages. There are fewer distractions than with digital media and our brains remember better knowledge acquired through “tactile experience.”

(2) Have no digital devices in the room. Even “the sight of these devices and everything they represent—not to mention the willpower it takes not to check them—is a huge distraction.  So find a non-tech room for reading.

(3) Read with a pencil, pen or highlighter. When we engage with books more deeply, actively responding to their ideas, we become more fully absorbed in the material, which improves our “associative thinking and subsequent creative insight.” (This will of course mean that you need to buy the book, which in time means you may wish to donate it to charities, through which others can benefit from it, too.)

(4) Keep a notebook nearby. Even when we’re closely engaged in a book, irrelevant thoughts can pop up in our minds (e.g. groceries to get; errands to run). Stulberg suggests that we right them down in a retraceable place, so that we can “off load [our] brains from trying to hang on to them.”

(5) Read for at least 30 minutes. Deep reading is similar to physical exercise. Our minds are muscles and need to be trained to read over a significant amount of time. Filling in brief moments of your day with an audiobook, though not terrible, cannot compare.

(6) Read as much as you can. Stulberg rightly says that “books are the best bargain there is” for sharing insights, wisdom and experience. As a professional coach who recommends reading, he has helped Olympic athletes to progress through life, post-sports; business founders through career-defining and challenging times; and has observed that wise leaders “from Bill Gates to Ruth Bader Ginsberg  . . . all read a heck of a lot.”

So why shouldn’t we, too? And that’s whether we are new to the English language or not.


And now it’s your turn. Do you practice deep reading in your professional or personal life? Has the thinking of Cavan, Krashen and Stulberg convinced you to get started?

Please share your experience. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

A creative response to a late pandemic world, by Tomos Roberts (“TomFoolery”)

In May, 2020, Tomos Roberts (aka “TomFoolery”), a spoken word poet based in the UK, wowed our Covid-stricken world by composing and performing “The Great Realization.” (I blogged on the performance, some 15 months ago.)

In that “pandemic poem,” Roberts argued that the earth-shattering effects of Covid-19 offered an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate what matters–from one’s family to the environment that groans from our abuse. Other narrative poems have followed, all featuring Tom’s trademark rhyming couplets and indomitable cheerfulness, which coexists with his awareness of the injustices that fill the news.

Shortly after the success of “The Great Realization” (which American actor Jake Gyllenhaal  promoted as a future children’s story), Tom encouraged the Covid-weary by delivering another poem, “The Inventor.” When Covid continues to wear on us and when so many of us lament the ongoing degradation of our earth, Tom’s speaker’s exchange with the cynical “inventor” (an authority figure and naysayer) may offer us insight and thereby hope:

“Sat in a chair, with a desk in the way, he’s looking at me looking like I know what to say.

What would you like to be, he unloads to the air, with his steely hard, unhelpful stare.

An inventor, I say, as I hold his eye, there’s a smirk across his face that doesn’t fail to pass me by. “An inventor,” he exclaims and then giggling repeats. “Do you have a new invention that this planet really needs?”

I’ve held my tongue for long enough, the effrontery’s too great, but calmly I stay smiling like I’m talking to a mate.

I’m sorry, I’m not here to pitch your product. I’m sure you couldn’t comprehend but if I were you I’d cool down a touch and try not to condescend.

I haven’t reinvented the light bulb, there’s plenty of people making phones. I don’t have a shiny gadget or an appliance for our homes.

No, I picture a new society. One of freedom, and of beauty, where people aren’t given menial positions and where every member knows their duty. I picture one in which rights and freedoms are afforded every soul, and not dependent on arbitrary factors but with a humanistic goal.

I picture a place without such structures, where only a tiny few can win–a place where we don’t oppress one another based upon pigmentation in our skin.

Maybe we could get to a place where health and education are free, since they’re things of incalculable value or at least that’s how it appears to me.

Maybe we could work less, as I see no reason why, if we had the technology available, anyone should toil until they die.

I picture one where leaders are chosen for diplomacy and not selected for brute power, one with structures of support for those that meet their darkest hour.

I picture a place where big business would be tasked with innovation and we instilled societal guidance to deter from domination. Competition is good. If it drives us to improve. But the utility doesn’t last long, if all the rest of us must lose.

I picture a place where dance and art and poetry can be held in high esteem, where children are encouraged to be creative, to imagine, and to dream. I can see you rolling your eyes at this but telling me it’s not true that imagination and creativity are things that robots just can’t do. A place where justice learns to operate without such human bias, that we can enjoy the gift of music, and the calm effect of quiet.

I believe that this is possible. I believe this is where we’re heading. I believe that this isn’t  fantasy or just a story that I’m telling.

I believe that I have a part to play and I believe that so do you.

I believe that by believing it becomes more likely to be true.

I believe there are those who will slow us, due to lack of wisdom or private gain.

I believe that it’ll be hard to create and even harder still to maintain.

I believe we’re in touching distance, of being so much greater, because life’s a game, and a game will always be so much bigger than the player.

I know you don’t believe it’s possible. I can see you shake your head. But you know, the only reason we don’t already live in that world is because we haven’t invented it yet.”

Listen to Tom perform this poem, himself:

(c)  Tomos Roberts (TomFoolery)

And now it’s your turn:  Who is the “inventor” in your life, who challenges the value of your creativity, your inventiveness?  Could it be the pandemic, itself?

Please drop me a note; I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Precision sells: On its importance in stories, business copy, and other writing (with Henneke Duistermaat)

A few months ago, a colleague of mine commented that she preferred to read copy that was “less detailed” than mine, because less focus and concentration were involved. “Shortness sells,” she quipped, half jokingly, rewriting the age-old writer’s adage that “specificity sells.”

But that moment stayed with me, since most writers are neurotic about the effectiveness of their writing and because it is not specificity per se (or brevity) but precision that should win the day.

To answer my colleague, I’d say that yes, brevity can be useful, but unless we’re talking about aphorisms and taglines or other hard-core, digital marketing, brevity won’t sell.

One of my favourite copywriters, Henneke Duistermaat, recently blogged on why longer-form copywriting is useful—the form in which I have specialized for the past 10 years (e.g. writing blog postings, articles, media releases, case studies, website copy, etc.).

Length, when written well, can be more precise, vivid and, in her words, “full of zest” than its shorter counterpart. “Even if your text becomes longer,” Henneke writes, “precision captivates readers.”

Business-to-Business copywriting (B2B) is a good example of this, as it is often longer than its Business-to-Consumer (B2C) counterpart. The former features more detailed content and research.

The non-writerly colleague I mentioned at the outset of this post disputes the need for detail in business writing. I certainly strive to avoid long, rambling, boring writing. But I disagree that detail means doldrums. Writing should not aim to be brief, but sufficiently long to express its insights and engage its audience. As Henneke comments: “Brevity can suck the spirit out of your writing. Writing that’s too brief is soulless. It lacks the power to engage and inspire.”

In a recent blog posting on her website, Duistermaat shows what short copy can lose, when she cites a seven-word, newspaper description of American Arthur Ashe’s serve in tennis:

“Arthur Ashe started the match on serve.”

By contrast, she cites a 165-word depiction of that same serve, written by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, John McPhee:

Arthur Ashe, his feet apart, his knees slightly bent, lifts a tennis ball into the air. The toss is high and forward. If the ball were allowed to drop, it would, in Ashe’s words, “make a parabola and drop to the grass three feet in front of the baseline.” He has practiced tossing a tennis ball just so thousands of times. But he is going to hit this one.

His feet draw together. His body straightens and tilts forward far beyond the point of balance. He is falling. The force of gravity and a muscular momentum from legs to arm compound as he whips his racquet up and over the ball.

He weighs a hundred and fifty-five pounds; he is six feet tall, and right-handed. His build is barely full enough not to be describable as frail, but his coordination is so extraordinary that the ball comes off his racquet at furious speed. With a step forward that stops his fall, he moves to follow.

The precision of McPhee’s depiction of how Ashe serves, the statistical detail it includes of Ashe’s size, the reference to his previous practice and so on, all elicit readers’ interest and pull us into the story. As Henneke says, “When you read McPhee’s description, you feel like you’re on court watching the match unfold.”

Precision (rather than unwieldy length) is also better at eliciting the reader’s emotion. The detail of the above sample is persuasive and intensifies its drama.

And through these qualities, the writing also makes the writer (i.e. McPhee) more credible. We sense that McPhee is an expert about tennis and understands the significance of the performance he’s describing.

Now not all writing can provide such detail. Henneke observes that writing must cycle between an “ebb and flow,” or else it will risk being long-winded. But the alternative to that is not (or not only) brevity.

But when length coincides with precision and all of its ensuing power, we all (as writers) become more likely to serve a winner.

And now it’s your turn. Do you agree that precision can make longer-form copy more powerful than its shorter counterpart? Please include your samples! I’d be delighted to hear from you