5 Things that Shaped Me as a Writer

Jan 31, 2017 | Better Writing

I’ve got a new e-book coming out this week, Become A Better Boss One Tip at A Time, and it’s got me thinking about all the things that shaped me as a writer up to this point. I can identify five of the most important ones.

That’s A Fact

My family was big on debating issues, and pretty much any opinion was tolerated if you could support it. What wasn’t okay was getting your facts wrong.

Often, my sister and I would get into a debate about something, and my mother would render one of her classic lines: “That’s a fact. We don’t have to argue about it, we can look it up.”

Off we would go to our set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, complete with all the yearbooks. If that and the statistical abstract and the almanac, or any of our other reference books couldn’t help, we would head to the phone and call the reference desk at the New York Public Library.

Looking back, I’m sure that there were at least a few occasions where one librarian would answer the phone, punch the hold button and say “It’s those Bock people again. Who wants to help them this time?”

The result: facts are sacred and we verify everything.

“What Did You Think of My Sermon?”

My father was a Lutheran pastor and in my teen years, he was the pastor of one of the larger, more prominent Lutheran churches in New York City. Every Sunday, he preached three times. After the final service, we would have Sunday dinner, which would always include a critique of the sermon.

First, my mother would say “I think it’s the finest sermon your father ever preached.” She said that every Sunday, as far as I know, for the entire 40 plus years they were married.

Once she was finished with her assessment, we all got to pull the sermon apart to find the things that were good and the things that could be done better.

I learned from that that you can always get better. My father was an excellent preacher and someone that other preachers looked to for advice and inspiration. But every Sunday, he subjected himself to a critique by his family of his latest sermon.

The result: You can always get better and feedback makes that happen

“Come Around Here”

Jon was one of the many editors who helped me. When I thought I had done my best work, he would show me how it could be improved.

I’d hand Jon the manuscript and he would look through it quickly. Then, almost always, he would look up and say “Come around here” and motion me around to his side of the desk. There, he would mark up my manuscript with full commentary and lots of questions. He rewarded and praised hard work, but he would not let you go with anything less than your best.

The result: If you’re going to work hard, you might as well do something good.

Bronx Science, Playground Basketball, and the Marines

The Bronx High School of Science, playground basketball, and the Marines all taught the same important lesson. You don’t have to have the most natural gifts to succeed.

At Science, I learned that I didn’t have to be the smartest. In playground basketball, I learned that I didn’t have to have the height or the physical gifts that some other people had. In the Marines, I learned that I could succeed at almost anything if I worked smart and worked hard.

I learned that the work of the world isn’t necessarily done by the people who are the smartest or who have the most talent. The work of the world is done by the people who work hard. Some of them are the smart and talented ones, and the rest of them are like me.

The result: You can do great things. Hard work trumps talent most of the time.

Writing A Book with A Partner

Jeff Senne and knew each other slightly before we wrote two books together. By the end of that process, we were friends.

Before that, I had written several books, but all on my own. Jeff introduced me to how much more fun it could be and how much better a book could be if you worked with a partner. I think that my work as a ghost writer and writing coach grew directly from that experience of working with Jeff and learning about the joys of writing partnerships.

The result: Writing, at least for me, is a team sport.

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