Write for Profit with Professor Dick

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Easy Recipe #1

Blog #6

You face an assignment of a 1500-word article, let’s say. You quake. 1500 words?

Don’t worry. It’s a snap. We’ll just use alternating statement and quote. It’s easy.

When convenient, refer to an article in print for ideas. Let’s do that with “Model Planes” by Willow Bay on page 98 of the May 2006 issue of Reader’s Digest.

Start your article with an illustration as this author does: “In late fall 2004 a powerful rainstorm battered New England, reducing visibility and snarling traffic.” In this case, the storm created havoc at Boston’s Logan International Airport. Flights had backed up that Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. In response, one “enterprising crew member” at JetBlue Airways New York headquarters loaded a bus with staff and drove north to help.

“The guy at the wheel? JetBlue’s founder and chief executive, David Neeleman.”

At this point, we begin an alternating statement and quote description of what’s going on at that fast growing airline.

The first quote has “the 46-year-old entrepreneur” saying that in his business “you have got to be close to the action.”

The statement following that explains how financial acumen, common sense and religious faith (he’s a Mormon) have lifted his airline into competition with the nation’s best.

Then follows a quote from an editor who has watched JetBlue from its beginnings and another quote from Neeleman telling that he’s eliminated the frustrations that worry passengers. The statement that follows explains how he did that.

Another quote from the editor is followed by another quote from Neeleman, a statement that all employees enjoy profit-sharing rewards and opportunities to buy stock at a discount.

A flight attendant says that customers constantly say, “You’re always so happy.” She adds that the employees have every reason to be happy.

A statement tells that the boss has a reputation for working alongside employees and serving passengers. “He’s a mingler,” a vice president says of him.

The next statement tells that he will take the non-reclining back seat when flying so that the crew will see it’s more important to keep passengers comfortable than the CEO. He’s “egalitarian,” believing everyone should be treated equally.

The next quote, “I was raised in a home where my father was always for the underdog,” leads into statements that tell how Neeleman learned on a missionary trip to Brazil that no one person should be put on a higher ground than another. “No first-class seats, no second-class citizens” is the quote that follows.

The article works through his early life and comes back to how Jet Blue is developing. The author narrates for longer stretches here and comes back to alternating S and Q at the end: “It’s time for us to really shine, and do better at the things we do,” Neeleman says.

A statement ends the piece: “Given the strength of its founder’s faith, Jet Blue is pretty likely to keep flying high.” Notice there is a tie back to the beginning when the author mentioned the founder’s faith. It’s always good to play plant-and-pick-up when you write an article.

Rule: Never let the quote repeat what came before or what follows after. If it follows the statement section, it will expand on or comment on what has been given just as the “You’re always so happy” quote followed the statement that employees share in the profits.

Conversely, that quote could have come first and introduced the profit-sharing policies of the company.

Alternating statement and quote is easy to do. Granted, you must have the subject matter well in hand. But when you follow a structure such as this, writing comes easily and looks very, very professional.

Professor Dick Bohrer

Friday, May 26, 2006

Your Living Inkwell

Blog #5

Who you are, who your parents and family are, who your friends are, whom you love, where you’ve lived, where you studied, when you were saved and the circumstances, what you think, what you know about life, what crises you’ve faced, what decisions you’ve made, what disappointments you’ve suffered, what successes—all these and everything else you can think of are waiting in the inkwell of your memory. Dip in your pen and write.

Jay Ratliff in his article, “Bases Loaded, How my father’s advice paid off in the game of life,” (Reader’s Digest, May, 2006, page 29) recounts baseball games he played as a kid. His father had told him to know what he was going to do with the baseball before he got it. He writes that he ignored that “stupid advice” until he realized in a crucial game that Dad was right. He would have to tag the batter, run toward home plate and threaten the runner at third in order to keep his opponents from scoring.

When a ground ball came toward him at first base, he did just that. On his job as an adult, he put the same advice to good use. In retirement, he has done the same, always anticipating in advance what he will do when opportunity knocks.

Jay wrote a chronological narrative in first person, dipping into his mind for a significant memory that colored his whole life.

Have you such a memory when you took some advice and it worked? Write about it in chronological order.

Molly O’Neill in her “The Home Team” article on page 174 of the May 2006 Reader’s Digest used chronological narrative to tell how “every one of my five younger brothers was bred to play baseball.” She begins at a time “before they were even old enough to seriously practice” and progresses well into Little League, climaxing when a brother single-handedly wins an important game.

Ruthie Just Braffman in “Stand Tall” on page 109 of the June 2006 issue of Reader’s Digest also used advice to cope with a problem she had. In her adolescence, she grew taller faster than the other girls in her class. She hated when well-meaning people gushed, “Ruthie! Look how tall you’re getting.” But her grandfather urged her to “Stand straight and tall.”

“And each time, I would sheepishly comply. Even at age 15, I understood that his advice was about more than just feet and inches.”

See what Ruthie and Jay are doing? They are taking advice and showing that there is more to it than meets the eye. This is a technique professional writers use to bring depth to what might have been an ordinary story. Ruthie ends her article with “His advice to me has become much more than a challenge to improve my posture. It tells me to be proud of who I am. 'Stand straight, stand tall,' my grandfather told me. And I do.”

Think of some advice you were given once. Share your initial reaction. Show how you began to use it. Search for a deeper significance you realized as you aged or as you put it into practice time and again.

Begin at a point in time and write in chronological order. Try to give three incidents when you put the advice into practice. End with your realization that the advice changed your life or changed your outlook or changed your beliefs and convictions or changed someone else.

Bring conversation into the narrative. Tell what was at stake that prompted you to take the advice. Don’t give away your “Aha!” realization until the end.

Many magazines publish personal experience articles. As you stand at the magazine rack in your local library or supermarket, look for those that do. Some writing gurus suggest that you send your article to one of the assistant editors.

I recommend that you send your article to ten magazines, indicating in your introductory letter What I have to say, How I said it and Why I am qualified to say it. Try to have an interesting first sentence in that letter. End by saying that you are sending simultaneous submissions to other editors. Use those two words, “simultaneous submissions.”

If two editors show their interest, choose one and follow up. NEVER SELL your article to more than one editor at a time. Wait until your article has been published before you send it out again. Some writers sell the same article time and time again, each time to a different strata of reader—auto mechanics, horse trainers, cooks, sewers, gardeners, grannies, kids—whoever might be interested.

I include a self-addressed post card with my manuscripts, telling the editor to discard the article if it does not interest him/her and to simply return the card with the decision. It’s cheaper to make another copy at home than to pay for the return of a battered sheaf.

Let me know if these blogs serve you well. I have 40 years worth of experience to share.
If you wish to know more about me, look up my website at www.professordick.com.

Professor Dick Bohrer

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

You Gotta Think! You Gotta Dig!

Blog #4

You want to be a professional writer?

You must think.

You must use your senses.

You must search for details.

You must know structure.

Just as you can’t just sit at a piano and ramble your fingers haphazardly over the keys and expect your audience to roar approval of your great concerto, you can’t sit at a word processor, randomly pour out your soul and expect editors to buy and publish what you write.

As performance takes practice, practice, practice so it is with writing.

I have 72 lessons on my website (www.professordick.com) that deal with structure. Good writing comes more quickly when your article follows a structure.

Will you use Cycle? Alternating action and reflection? Problem and solution? Frame and flashback?

When you know what you are doing, where you are going and how you will get there, the writing task becomes easy.

Once you have your structure, you must choose your subject and go for details. Use your senses to find them. Look closely. Listen . Really listen. Ask questions. Ask and ask and ask. Find out everything. Use a recorder and make sure it is not on pause.

Realize that editors can turn to recognized authorities for their articles. Why would they want one from you and me?

Because we have the time to do the necessary research. Editors don’t. The publishing regimen keeps their hours full. And not every scientist can write.

You and I need to know where to go to find information. We need to know how to interview, how to use our library reference room, how to file information so it is available when we need it, how to keep our office picked up so we have room to work.

Given all this, we’ve got to think, strategize, and recognize what interests readers.

Cathy Free, who wrote “Diving Buddy” on page 32 of the May Reader’s Digest, piled detail on detail. Her first sentence tells where Larry Cummins, her character, worked in Kaneohe, Hawaii.
Her second sentence tells the date, January 14, and the fact that all he wanted getting off from work were some snacks and drinks from the fridge on his nearby sailboat and to drive across town to play poker with friends.

Her third sentence tells that the 37-year-old Navy aircraft mechanic was walking across the marina boardwalk “shortly after 5 p.m.” when a man from the Waikiki Yacht Club lounge tells him a white Cadillac had hit Larry’s pickup. Virtually every word is a significant item worth knowing.

As Larry walks to the Club lounge to report the incident, he learns from a boating friend that a lady from a highrise called in to report seeing a white car drive off the pier into the water.
Larry stares at the murky water and sees books and papers scattered everywhere. “But when he noticed bubbles, he stooped down to take a closer look and caught a glimpse of something white below the surface.”

See what the writer is doing in her chronological retelling of the event. She’s probed into his thoughts and actions as he confronts a tragedy.

Cathy then switches to the attempts of the victims to escape. Alena called 911 on her cell phone. “The water’s coming in. I don’t want to drown! Hurry!”

Larry dives down. “Although the Ala Wai was the temperature of bath water, under the surface, it was darker than a cave,” Cathy writes.

See? She’s asked for everything she needs to make this an article that commands our interest.
How did you hear about the accident? What did you think when you saw the bubbles? What made you decide to dive in. What was it like? Where did you go when you got down there? How did you get the door to open? What did you feel as you groped inside?

Larry dives down four times before he can get a door open and Alena out. The next time he finds her grandfather who died en route to the hospital.

“Alena, a Girl Scout who hopes one day to become an attorney like her granddad, says she’ll be forever grateful to the lanky sailor who saved her life.” In that one sentence near the end we learn even more about the people involved.

Cathy Free ties the article end to the beginning with more details and a reminder:
“Cummins has two children of his own, Daniel, 14, and Pearl, 8. ‘I’d like to think somebody would do the same for me,’ he says. ‘I believe I was meant to be at that yacht club at that moment, on that day. All I was after was some stuff for a poker game. What are the odds?”

Read that article for yourself and let it be a textbook to show you the kinds of details you should look for when you retell what has happened.

We’ll be studying Reader’s Digest in detail month by month. Subscribe and come with me. (I get nothing for this commercial). It’s a good text, and I’m a teacher.

Professor Dick Bohrer

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Magic Key Professional Writers Use

The Magic Key Professional Writers Use

Blog #3

They use it near the beginning, often just following the lead-off sentences. I call it the “thesis statement.” It says in one sentence what the article that follows tells from there on out.

Take “No Guts, No Glory” on page 53 of the May Reader’s Digest magazine. It opens with a first sentence that asks a question: “How did a high school English and art teacher, with no business experience, create a multimillion-dollar company?”

The second sentence identifies the teacher, gives her age and tells that she originated a line of Baby Einstein videos and books for little kids that millions of people around the world know all about.

The third sentence in this three sentence paragraph* presents the thesis statement that says in few words what the article will be about: “She credits her success to common sense—and tenacity.”

*Try to hold your paragraphs to one-to-three sentences in length. Editors like this. Such articles are easy to read. For editors and readers, long paragraphs are tiresome.

The rest of the article explains how she used common sense and tenacity to achieve her goals. This method gives a brief table of contents to the article.

The article, “Show Us the Money” on page 65 also begins with a question. It asks whether you have ever heard of phantom nurses.

The next sentence, the thesis statement, tells how Dr. Kyriakie Sarafoglou of Cornell University’s med school grew suspicious of the way government grant dollars were being spent there. The article tells the chronology of her concern as she discovered that top scientists were treating federal grants like their own personal playthings.

Halfway through, the author inserts another thesis statement, “The shocking thing is that this is happening in many of America’s best universities and hospitals.” He develops this by listing the names of some of those institutions and by telling what they are doing.

Near the end is his last: “And here’s the final insult: diverting grant money.” He explains that recipients can use the money to fund other things.

Use of the thesis statement technique gives direction to the article. By keeping to the point, the author gains authority. Readers believe he is writing the truth. Editors like articles like this!

“Spark of Genius” on page 132 begins with a narrative. Marianne is startled out of sleep by the sound of metal banging metal. She finds her husband is cutting up her pie pans with aluminum shears. She tells him he has chemo coming up in the morning. He replies that he’s working on an idea.

Then comes the thesis statement (this time in three sentences) that carries us through the article, “Marianne knew her husband, who called himself a Type-A Plus, well enough to leave him alone with his midnight obsession. His ceaseless drive had made him a success in business. She understood that he had no choice but to fight cancer the same way.”

The article will show us how he used his creative skills to develop a treatment for cancer that has amazed the medical profession. It works on animals and the inventor, John Curley, believes it holds great promise for cancer patients.

Finally, in “Hail to the Chef” on page 159, the author Richard Wolffe begins with a double declarative sentence: “In the world of culinary news, it was one hot morsel: Laura Bush was looking for a new White House Executive Chef.” He follows that with his thesis statement that lays out what will follow: “The right person would have the talent and temperament to handle extraordinary stress—from sprawling events on the South Lawn to state dinners for world leaders to the needs and tastes of the First Family itself.”

A six-month search ends when a woman, already on the White House staff, gets the appointment. The author identifies her—who she is and how she got the appointment—and then shows how she faces the challenges of her new job.

As you read articles, look for the thesis statement. Be aware that you will rarely find one in chronological narratives that begin at a point in time and follow the main character(s) through the story.

“Diving Buddy” on page 32 begins with “It had been a long week repairing engines” at a marina as the main character leaves work and discovers that a white car with people had driven off the end of the pier. No need for a thesis statement. The adventure holds us.

Look through articles you have in the hopper. Do you have a thesis statement at or near the beginning? If not, compose a table of contents in one sentence that will alert your reader to the attractions you have to offer.

Hopefully, this key will help you write articles that sell.

Professor Dick Bohrer

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Secret No One Tells Beginning Writers

Write for Profit with Professor Dick
Blog #2

A Secret No One Tells Beginning Writers

Professional writers have a flair for action. They know their grammar. On purpose, they use verbs that show action and pass action. These pass action from the subject to the direct object, from the doer to the receiver. We call these “transitive” verbs.

Look at: He hit the nail on the head.

You have a doer: He. You have an action: hit. You have a receiver: nail.

To find the object after the verb, ask “whom?” or “what?” Sometimes the receiver is a person, sometimes a thing.

WHEN A VERB PASSES ACTION ON TO AN OBJECT, IT IS CALLED A TRANSITIVE VERB. “Trans” is Latin for “across.” The verb passes the doer’s action across to the receiver.


She screamed at the burglar.
No word answers when you ask, Screamed what?

Professional writers make a point of using transitive verbs. I’ll prove it in a moment.

Some intransitive verbs are called “linking” verbs. I call them the “stinking linking verbs.” These kill action. Professional writers avoid them and their articles sell.

Linking verbs join nouns to nouns or nouns to adjectives without action. These words act like equal signs. She is lovely>She=lovely. He is the fullback>He=fullback.

Item: Linking verbs connect the doer with a noun that renames it or an adjective that describes it.
Gertrude was French. She was beautiful.

Item: English has three kinds of linking verbs for you to HATE and AVOID like the plague. HATE HATE HATE HATE. YOU WILL NEVER SELL WHEN YOU USE A LOT OF LINKING VERBS.

(1) BE verbs: to be, is, am, are, was, were, being, been (when these stand alone and are not a helping verb as in is running, was broken)

(2) SENSE verbs: sound, feel, look, taste, smell
That sounds loud>That=loud.
The turkey smells good>The turkey=good.
The test looks difficult>The test=difficult.
The fur feels soft>The fur=soft.
That tastes sweet>That=sweet.

(3) These are what I call the BRAGS verbs.
Become: He became rich>He=rich.
Remain: He remained a failure>He=failure.*
Appear: She appeared faint>She=faint.
Grow: He grew tall>He=tall.
Seem: He seemed smug>He=smug.

*Sometimes a BRAGS verb or a sense verb will have a direct object. When it does, it becomes transitive.
He smelled the dinner cooking.
He proved the geometry problem.
(Sometimes prove, turn and go are linking verbs.)


In “Bases Loaded” on page 29, we have 81 transitive verbs and 5 linking verbs. (6%)

In “Diving Buddy” on page 32, we have 142 transitive verbs and 23 linking verbs.

In “No Guts, No Glory” on page 53, we have 135 transitive verbs and 20 linking verbs. Some 11 of those linking verbs appeared in conversations. We subtract them from the total because the writer cannot govern what every character says. So only 6% of this writer’s verbs are intransitive.

In “Show Us the Money” on page 65, 92 verbs are transitive with 15 intransitive. Three of those occurred when the writer complained, “It’s fraud. It’s wrong. It’s illegal.”

NOTICE: In every case, professional writers are using intransitive verbs—but not many.

In “Voice of Courage” on page 85, we have 97 transitive verbs and 17 linkers. But 5 of those were within quotes.

In “Whale of a Rescue” on page 102, we have 167 transitive verbs and 14 linking verbs of which 6 are within quotes. (4.7%)

In “The Amazing Robot Boys” on page 114, we have 284 transitive verbs and 33 linking verbs of which 6 are in quotes. This means 9.5% of verbs are the weak ones.

In “Sparks of Genius” on page 132, we have188 transitive verbs and 15 linkers. (7.9%)

In “Street Medicine” on page 148, we have 182 transitive verbs and 24 linking of which 8 are in conversations. This means 8.8%.

In “Hail to the Chef” on page 158, we have 107 transitive verbs and 16 linkers less 2 in conversations. (13%)

In “Brotherly LOVE” on page 164, we have 281 transitive verbs and 36 less 10 linkers.

Have I proved my point? Professional writers concentrate on using transitive verbs when they write articles to sell. Again, you may have a sprinkling of linkers, but only a light dusting.
Count the linking verbs in your articles. If you have more than 10-13%, be assured you will have difficulty selling. You will have ponderous prose. Measure your work and let me know what you find.
Here’s to good writing.
Professor Dick Bohrer, M.A., M.Sc.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Destination: Sales

What one thing turns an amateur writer into a professional? Sales.
Why can't everyone just sell? Isn't what everyone thinks worth sharing?
Why are editors so picky?

After 40 years of teaching, writing and editing both a national magazine and a national newspaper, I've seen through the mist and found the secret of sales.

Editors want structure, style, competence, authority, originality. They want beginning writers to have the mindset of professionals. They don't have time to do the teaching.

This blog will analyze magazine articles written by those who sold them. We'll discuss what appealed to the editor and how the writer put his work together.

We'll discuss titles, leads, red strings, foreshadowing, structure; and we'll do it in normal, ordinary American language.

I've taught grades three through 18 in grammar schools abroad and in this country, in high schools, colleges, universities and graduate school.

I've written 17 books and edited many.

To see what I'm about, kindly visit my website: www.professordick.com

You'll find 72 low cost writing lessons teaching how to write articles, opinions and stories for children. You will also find my eight novels--also at low cost. They are the J. Edgar Beanpole series of school mysteries: Football Detective, Volleyball Spy, Soccer Sleuth, Basketball Hawk,
Stage Snoop, and a mystery novel out of my years in Africa: They Called Him Shifta. Also there is a version for girls of Basketball Hawk, called "Sink It! Sink It, Becky P."

I've included Bible helps from a nondenominational point of view. "The Preface and the Purpose" is a Bible study on the books of Leviticus and Hebrews. It explains thoughtfully why God Himself became Man and took the guilt of all our sins upon Himself when He died on Calvary's cross.

Another study is the Gospel of Luke, verse by verse.

"The Bible at a Glance" gives a brief synopsis of all 66 Bible books in clarity.

Three commentaries by that great preacher, Dr. John G. Mitchell, for 75 years a pastor and teacher, highlight this section. They are "Let's Revel in Romans," "Let's Revel in John's Gospel,"
"Let's Revel in John's Letters."

Come join me in these writing lessons.

We've set our destination: Sales!
Professor Dick