I started a weekly newspaper in Winona Lake, Indiana a couple years after that first exchange and struggled to be the reporter, the photographer, the ad salesman, and the publisher, all in one. Enjoying relatively small success, I called him again and he said, “Write, write, and then write again. Always write from the heart. And one more thing,” he said, “get a job on a major newspaper.”
I moved from paper to paper for the next fifteen years moving from small weekly newspapers to larger daily papers and finally settled at the Santa Barbara News-Press, a property of the New York Times Corporation, thirty-five years ago. Although I was a greater asset as an advertising executive for the paper, I continued to struggle with my writing; I continued to call, write, and e-mail him for advice. His encouragement each time propelled me to continue writing.
One special letter I am particularly fond of rereading is one he sent me forty years ago. He had typed it on a continuous roll of newsprint that he had ripped into four pages of about 10 inches long, as was customary to do with news stories that would later be sent to typesetting. It was typed on an old Underwood manual typewriter, the trade tool of newsrooms because such a typewriter would endure daily use for thirty, forty or fifty years. The four-page letter of instruction and encouragement had many typographical errors that he crossed out with a soft #2 newspaper pencil. Although the paper has aged and yellowed, and it is torn in places where it was originally folded, I cherish it and frequently reread his words of instruction, “Write from your heart.”
That has been my guidepost for my writing of yesterday, today and--hopefully-- the future. Thanks, Uncle Ray.