“No compulsion in the world is stronger than the urge to edit someone else’s document.”
—H. G. Wells
Recently I wrote an annual fund letter for the Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest, Illinois. The target audience was foundations, but the letter will also be adapted to target donors.
I suggested a few possible themes, including community spirit, the chosen theme. Weaving the theme throughout the letter and capturing the right tone were probably the two main challenges.
Beginning in 2005, I’ve written annual fund appeals and other communications that have helped major universities and colleges raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. (See samples on Portfolio page, scrolling to “University Development.”)
1. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland). I worked with multiple people in the Annual Fund office to craft appeals for various colleges within Johns Hopkins, signers and audiences. I learned and honed a fundraising workhorse during this time. (See 5 Elements of a Magnetic Appeal.)
2. University of Delaware (Newark, Delaware). I did similar projects for University of Delaware, writing a range of appeals for multiple audiences, as well as writing for the university’s website. Here’s a letter from David Morris, senior associate director of Annual Giving, that tells how I helped increase giving by nearly 30%.
3. Roanoke College (Salem, Virginia). In my own backyard, I wrote many appeals for The Roanoke Fund during two annual fundraising cycles. “The Roanoke Fund is at its highest level since 2008,” the director said in an email, “and, once again, your letters helped make that happen.”
4. Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia). Also in my backyard, I’ve done advertising and fall solicitation projects for the University Development department at Virginia Tech.
5. Heritage University (Toppenish, Washington). When a longtime client became vice president of marketing and communications at Heritage University, he called on me to help with messaging for a new center.
+1: In the 2007 timeframe, I wrote a major brochure for Marshall University (Huntington, West Virginia) while working as a freelancer for Charles Ryan Associates based in Glen Allen, Virginia.
+2: University of North Carolina Greensboro (Greensboro, North Carolina).
+3: Cornell University Law School (Ithaca, New York).
I spent most of Friday at the local elementary school talking with sixth graders about writing and storytelling. It was fun. I loved it. They are smart, those sixth graders.
We discussed their current project: writing short stories. They had completed their rough drafts.
I also talked with them about the writing process, which they already grasped. I realized something. The writing process is essentially the same no matter the project. I think it holds true whether one is writing a slogan or a headline, a short story or a speech, a 300-page book or a screenplay.
I’ve distilled the writing process into these five steps:
This is the brainstorming stage. Get the ideas out of your head. Many will stink. And you know that’s OK, right?
Collect information. Observe the world. Talk to people.
3. Notes and outline.
Get organized. Shape the material you have collected. Get ready to write.
4. Rough draft.
This is the step during which you write everything down, so to speak. Get the story out. Don’t edit yet. Or at least wait until the end of the day or next morning to clean up what you’ve drafted.
5. Rewrite, edit and polish.
This step, I believe, is self-explanatory. If your writing was woodwork, this is the chiseling and sanding stage. And the stage when you add a finishing coat.
If you faithfully follow the above steps, and if you put adequate effort and quality into each one, I believe you will produce a sturdy piece of writing and perhaps even a small masterpiece.
HERE ARE MORE REVIEWS of my new Ryder Cup book, DRAW IN THE DUNES: The 1969 Ryder Cup and the Finish That Shocked the World. The book, which includes a foreword by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, is in bookstores and also available online at the usual places in hardcover and ebook editions.
The Wall Street Journal (September 13):
“Many fans are drawn to sports for excitement, the twists and turns. Some favor the moral underpinnings, the virtues of grit and determination, teamwork and sportsmanship. Still others are inspired by passion, whether for the stakes or for the game itself. The 1969 Ryder Cup, the 18th installment of the biennial competition between the best golfers from the United States and Great Britain, had it all. In ‘Draw in the Dunes,’ Neil Sagebiel brings the memorable tournament to life.” Read entire review
The Tampa Bay Tribune (Bob D’Angelo):
“As he demonstrated in ‘The Longest Shot,’ Sagebiel is a marvelous story teller, who uses the right pace to build drama. It helps that he had some great characters to work with….Sagebiel takes the reader through every match, and builds to the final climax, in which Nicklaus and Jacklin battled to the final hole….’Draw in the Dunes’ is a lively, interesting look at the Ryder Cup, chock full of insight and anecdotes.” Read entire review
Other Reviews and Mentions
(Click the below links.)
(Dan Smith wrote this piece in late August and allowed me to publish it here.)
By Dan Smith
Copyright © Dan Smith. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Today marks my 50th year as a journalist. I walked into Asheville Citizen-Times Sports Editor Bob Terrell’s office Aug. 22, 1964 and asked for a job. My mama had told me to give it a try. I was working as a fry cook at King Arthur’s Roundtable.
I had no idea what the job would be, just that I wanted to work there, to become a sportswriter. He said, “Our copy boy left for the newsroom yesterday. Want that job?” I didn’t know what a copy boy did, but I lept at the opportunity and began work that night. The pay was $5 per shift. I was happy to get it.
It has been an often bumpy, always gratifying ride through embarrassing failure and soaring success and it has never been dull. I don’t consider myself to have been an exemplary journalist, or even an especially good one. When Casey Stengal was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he said something to the effect that his career was not a glorious one, but he always showed up and “when you do that, people notice.” I probably fall in there somewhere.
The fact is, however, that regardless of the quality of the journalism I have practiced over the years, I have loved the profession since that August day in Asheville. I have met and become friends with people who would never have been in my life without journalism. I have been presented opportunities to do some good, to influence the community, to help shape opinion.
Here’s how I remembered a day that would shape my entire life in my memoir Burning the Furniture:
“The first time I walked into a newsroom—a late August afternoon in 1964—I couldn’t see enough of it in my view shed. I turned around and looked at people and machines; listened to clattering, urgent noises; smelled cigarette smoke and coffee and paste and an asphalt- and oil-tinged breeze off the parking lot, as it wafted through open metal-framed windows. I wanted to touch something, and knew instinctively that a final level of stimulation would complete this sensual feast.
“As I sat in front of Bob Terrell’s editor’s chair in the sports department while he interviewed me for a copy boy job, my head continued to roam. His office had walls only rib high and above that I could see the activity at the city desk; I could watch reporters type and argue simultaneously on telephones; I saw the AP wire editor as he tore copy or watched AP Photos as they rolled out of their machine in magical fashion, making a screeching noise.
“At one point, I heard Bob say, ‘Dan, are you listening?’ and I realized I’d strayed from the interview. I said, ‘This looks like so much fun. I want to do it.’ I think the depth of sincerity of that innocent pronouncement from an 18-year-old who’d barely ever held a job got me a desk, a chair and a typewriter that I didn’t know how to use, starting that day, that hour, that minute.”
There are lots of ways to do this writing thing. Take prolific mega-selling author James Patterson, for instance. In a Daily Beast Q&A, Patterson told Noah Charney this:
I write in pencil, for one thing. I don’t use a computer. That’s the craziest thing. I’m sitting here looking at three or four things on my desk, all written in pencil, and I have an assistant who will type up pages, or I’ll dictate over the phone. I drink a fair amount of orange soda. I find myself chewing bubble gum at least once a day. I was chewing just before we began to speak, in fact! I never get writer’s block, because I always have a good dozen projects that I’m working on, so if something isn’t working I’ll just switch gears.
A pencil, orange soda and bubble gum. Who knew?
The bestselling author of the Alex Cross novels also said he writes seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Patterson rises at 5:30 a.m., gets started, takes a walk around a golf course for an hour or so, and then writes until 11 or noon.
He’s big on outlines. He told Charney he writes about 900 pages of outlines each year.
“Most outlines are three or four drafts, so it’s a lot!” Patterson said. “Then one full novel a year, and whatever polishing…”
Lastly, Patterson’s advice for aspiring authors:
People that want to write commercial fiction, for them I still think the three rules are story, story, story. You really should be able to tell somebody, in a paragraph, what your idea is and they should say “Ooh, ooh, that sounds really good.”