I wrote the introduction to the eBook, which features experts debating the myths they see, and their version of social media truths. Reading it revealed a few truths to me, too. The following is a version of my introduction to The Naked Truth…
First (and my myth buster), rules offered by social media experts don’t mean much unless you want to be a second tier version of this person (or business).
Even some of the opinions in the eBook offered starkly contrasting views.
After writing professionally for two decades in a variety of media and roles, several key attributes clearly distinguish a great writer. Some of these are ideals that others are better at, some of them are personal strengths. Here’s a look at my top five:
1) Transcending Medium
Great bloggers, strong journalists and fantastic authors impress us with their words. But the writer who transcends medium, style, tone and even first, second and third person narrative just amazes me. The ability to easily work with varying media and styles demonstrates a master wordsmith’s skill.
In college as a literature major, Thomas Hardy was my idol. He wrote fantastic important novels, then became one of England’s most influential poets. He even wrote a play.
2) Tight Active Style
Growing up, my father was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News. I learned from him that Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style was a writer’s bible. “Cut the fat (editing out unnecessary phrases)!” “Punch up the verb tense, make it active!” These were the constant reminders my Dad imparted on me. Impactful sentences deliver great thoughts with as few words as possible.
Because of Strunk & White, I fell in love with Hemingway and Turgenev’s works in college. To this day, I still appreciate good crisp copy.
3) Headlines Make or Break a Story
Stories, book titles and blog posts all rely on headlines to captivate a reader. Another great lesson from my Dad, who wrote epic headlines like “The King Is Dead” when Elvis passed, and “We Win!” when the Phillies won their first World Series in 1980, 97 years after the franchise was founded.
If you want to see great headline writing, read the ads in top magazines. Advertising copy writers live and die by their headlines. There is much to learn from these master craftsmen.
4) Fun Keeps Them Coming Back
Great writers entertain us, regardless of the topic. That’s why so much of today’s boring business copy — regardless of medium — indicates a general focus on delivering messages in a safe manner instead of the reader. Too bad.
This one I learned from Mom, who has been one of the country’s preeminent syndicated astrologers for the past 30 years. Her big differentiator was the ability to make the stars fun and campy, something traditional astrologers were unaccustomed to in the late 70s and 80s. In the past 10 years, we have seen a similar shift with the rise of blogging and funner copy writing.
5) Grammatical Frameworks
Without grammar, writing loses its cornerstone. Many masters of the written word regard Twitter with horror because some updates undermine the very rules of “good English.” Without grammar words lose meaning and become bastardized shells of their former selves.
Grammar has always been my weakest point. Yet as my career progresses, my appreciation for the “Eats, Shoots and Leaves school” of grammar increases. Proper punctuation, tense and word use aren’t the death of writing. On the contrary, they indicate a truly great writer’s (or editor’s) touch.
One of my favorite books of all time remains Turgenev’s incredibly haunting Fathers & Sons. The book, “concerns the inevitable conflict between generations and between the values of traditionalists and intellectuals.” The crazy stories of generational conflict and care between men, unconquerable romantic love, and the constant strife between nihilism and traditional values reminds me of my 20s. My Dad and I had some tough times. Ironically, the only thing that kept our tenuous relationship in place was a third kind of love, the love of the baseball diamond.
With the Phillies going deep into the playoffs this year, it’s been a joy talking baseball on the phone with him. A native Philadelphian, I grew up watching the Phillies of the 80s right behind first base where Pete Rose held court, in large part because my Dad always took me to the games. They won their first World Series back then, ending a 97 year franchise drubbing.
He even took me to a World Series game in 1983. It was Game 4 when the Orioles beat the Phillies Ace Richard Denny in a relatively tight game that pretty much sealed the series for Ripken and company.
Later in the 90s when I was living a questionable life, the Phillies sucked (sans the ‘93 World Series campaign). My Dad and I could barely talk, but when we did it was always awkward until the conversation turned to baseball. The words would come easier, and our admiration for the sport kept the calls coming.
As the 90s waned and I began to change, we had our amends. Watching me go through that period was tough for him. He tells me now that he couldn’t really talk to or help me, and he often didn’t want to know what I was doing…It was too painful.
But baseball was the bridge during that present, and to the future of now. Thank God, we had a common bond; one that he, too, shared with his father through his twenties in the late 60s and early 70s. My Dad was even an usher at Dodgers stadium in the 60s! I was raised on Sandy Koufax stories!
Male love — particularly the father and son relationship — is often a quiet, unspoken one. Stoic in nature, I know my pop had a hard time demonstrating love through words or hugs, yet his care for me was undying. His actions over the past 37 years have demonstrated that.
Today, baseball is still a strong undercurrent in our relationship. For his 60th birthday, my sister and I sent him to Fenway Park for his first trip to that grand daddy of a stadium. I also took him to his first game at Yankee Stadium. That’s why last year’s surprise World Series win was extra special, and if the Phillies get back to the series for a repeat attempt, I am going to try and get my Dad to one of the games. My way of saying thanks.
And for me, like the generations before me, baseball is still religion. I go to at least seven games a year, and have been to roughly 75% of the League’s stadiums (I’ll get to the parks in Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Phoenix, St.Louis, and Tampa Bay before I leave this world). Here are pictures from this year’s games. Heck, even the last time I saw my Mom in Phoenix, we went to a spring training game.
It’s not just baseball for me, or for the Livingstons in general. It’s more than that, and thus, the diamond will always have a special place in my heart. Go Phillies!