We Are All Writers

I began my writing career in first grade, as most children do, but it ramped up in the 8th grade at Ft. Logan Elementary with Mrs. Eardley. She was a stickler for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. She diagrammed sentences on the blackboard and taught me such things as the difference between “over” and “more than,” which she said was often misused. Over means “above:” The light was over the table. So according to Mrs. Eardley, it’s incorrect to say “Over 400 people attended.” One should say, “More than 400 people attended.”

The fact that this rule is constantly violated has plagued my adult life.

My first year in pre-med at the University of Colorado in Boulder was tough. Back then, there were too many freshmen, and the school attempted to flunk out the bottom performers.

Professor Aspect, my English teacher, assigned an essay each week for ten weeks. In high school I had been an A-student; so I expected at least a B on my first paper. There were eight students in the class, and the professor passed out seven Fs and one C.
Mine was an F.

The same grades, seven Fs and one C continued for five weeks, until the grades began trending up. The essays were due at 10:00 a.m. on Monday. I worked all weekend on my papers, from Friday night until 9:00 a.m. Monday morning. I got an A on my final paper and a B for the class, the hardest B I’ve ever earned. I don’t know if my writing got better or the grading got easier. I suspect a bit of both.

When I transferred to Colorado State University, my English professor Dr. Martin Bucco told us, “Only two things will change your life: the people you meet and the books you read. So choose books carefully; you have limited time.” He taught me the love of words through such masterpieces as Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Dr. Don Crosby was my philosophy professor in undergraduate and graduate school. Crosby was precise with words, because as Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” He also wrote, “The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.”

                  (Ludwig Wittgenstein (April 26, 1889–April 29, 1951) was an Austrian-born
                   philosopher who spent most of his life in England, including teaching at Cambridge.)

In a “special study” for my master’s degree, Dr. Crosby and I spent an entire 10-week quarter interpreting a one-page philosophy journal article. It was a class of two, quite intense. We may have met only once or twice each week, but still, that’s really drilling down into the meaning of a text. What are the implications of a sentence? What happens if you change a word? Philosophy taught me to think and to write.

To expand CareerLab® and to help others market their careers, I built a library of advertising, sales, and marketing books. I devoured “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. In the classic “Tested Advertising Methods,” John Caples said to write fast and furiously: “You can tame a wild horse and make the animal useful. But it is impossible to put life into a dead horse.”  

In 1995 I discovered a two-page article called “Pack Every Work with Power,” by Gary Provost, the best article on writing I’ve read. I’ve earned my living writing letters, resumes, proposals, and business plans for my clients at CareerLab®, and I never put words on paper without Gary’s guidelines in mind.

(“Until his untimely death at the age of fifty, Gary Provost was one of the most beloved writing instructors… and arguably the leading teacher of writing in the United States.” ~Writer’s Digest)

It might seem odd to cap off this training with a journaling class, but that’s what happened. My wife wanted us to take a journaling class, and I hated the idea. I just knew it would be full of folks complaining about their lives.

I was wrong.

Kathleen Adams, who had written “Journal to the Self,” taught us a 5-minute writing drill which forced me to get words on paper quickly. She gave us a topic, set a timer, and we handwrote 5-6 pages until the bell sounded.

It’s amazing what one can write in five minutes, and the exercise forced me to stop wasting time trying to word things perfectly. It’s important to get thoughts on paper, and later you can edit or amplify.

Julia Cameron’s book, “The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life,” is especially encouraging. She says that “We are all writers whether we call ourselves writers or not.”