One Writer’s Writing Secrets 5: Don’t just write what you know: reflect.

             My father was a very good New York writer and the editor of several magazines over his working life.  He first started seriously typing for a railroad brigade in the war, making the trip from England to Normandy in the twenty-first (or something) wave.  (And he could type a gazillion words per minute on his old Royal, a manual no less).

            After J-School at Northwestern, he was tapped to edit Railway Age.  He did a brief stint at American Builder before he ended up editing Banking Magazine (The Journal of the American Bankers Association) and he wrote the Bank Director’s Briefing (newsletter) for years.

            I am sorry to say, he passed away a year ago; but to be sure, he went pretty far for a po’ Arkansas boy.  To be honest, he never got the Arkansas completely out of his system.  (I even have some of it in me too, and I can’t he’p it).  I understand that when the family heard on the radio that the Martians were invading New Jersey, they did not know whether to be scared or cheer!  I think that was a bit of southern versus northern thinking, and yet I was raised in Jersey, and my dad commuted everyday on the Erie Lackawanna and PATH to New York City.  (No wonder I so often feel conflicted).

            For my Dad, those small town Arkansas roots were an advantage in his work.  He could speak to railroad workers and later to bankers all across the country in a language they could understand as opposed to the language of a brash, elitist New Yorker who wouldn’t know how to call a hog on a bet. 

            At his funeral, I thought briefly of his mother, my Gram.  I remembered when I was young, how she insisted that I put on my shoes to walk the two blocks to town because she was not going to have her neighbors think that she could not afford to buy shoes for her grandchild.  And a picture flashed briefly through my mind of:

            A young boy, barefoot under the hot Arkansas sun, climbing a tree to pick peaches at so many pennies per box, eating a few along the way before bringing his box in for his reward – a coke into which one of those pennies went to see if it would really dissolve.  He watched the shoes at the rail yard while he sat in the cool shade of the station house.  That was what they were to him.  The people attached were of no consequence.  They were shoes that shuffled along between the tracks and loaded the boxes of peaches for transport all over the nation.  They were shoes, immune to briars and prickles and hot pavement alike.  And after a while, he would go home, with his coke and half-eaten penny, and all of the other pennies he had carefully saved.  Gram and Grandad would need them.  The depression, you know.  It was hard on everyone back then, and I know the certainty of that because by the time I was born, my Dad could not have cared less if he never saw another peach in his life.


Writing Tip 5:

You have heard it said, write what you know.  I would rather say, write what you reflect.  I was convinced for years that my upbringing in a typical New York suburb was of no account and boring, like a million, billion other kids in my generation.  It was only when I got older and began to reflect on the people around me and the particular experiences I have had in my life that I began to discover gold.

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