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

Professor Dick Bohrer


Blogger bornfool said...

Prof. D, I'm enjoying this blog. It is very informative and helpful.

6:51 AM  

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