Category Archives: On Writing

Driveshaft: A one-act comedy in a time capsule

You should know that I tend to abandon my past with the casualness of a snake shedding its skin. I’m not proud of this. (Maybe snakes aren’t thrilled about the shedding thing either.)

I remember vividly, and wincingly, the night my first wife — probably during an anniversary celebration early in our 23-year marriage — reverently pulled out a shoebox brimming with the multi-page letters I had sent her. For a couple of years we had a long distance courtship over snail-mail. And because she, like me, fancied herself a comedy writer, she would thrust, in her letters, and I would parry. I would do my best to match her sparkling urbanity and Martini-dry wit. Because it was fun. And yes, to win her love.

Who am I kidding? To get laid. And this primal motive will factor into what I’m about to share with you. But first, the tragic news you’ve already surmised …

Effervescent and deeply sublime as her letters were (and believe me, they were!), I saved none of them. Not a scrap. Not a scintilla. Wait, not even one witty Christmas card? No, sorry. What about less witty but holiday-appropriate Valentine’s Day cards, scented with the perfume of future eros? Nope. Nary a heart-shaped outline.

I had no concept of mementoes. I still don’t.

Your Honor, I confess this humiliation with one defense: I am nothing if not an equal-opportunity discarder. Not just the flotsam and jetsam of past loves. Hell no. I have maybe a dozen photos total of my youth and extended family. It’s seriously a pathology. If Marie Kondo were to look at the totality of my sentimental totems, she would sit me down grimly and ask, “Does nothing spark joy for you?!?”

Possibly no. But I’ll tell you the plus side of this autobiographical slovenliness.

A few weeks ago one of my roommates from college, who I have not seen literally since that distant era, found me on Instagram and asked me a question about a piece of writing I produced literally 45 years ago. I could barely remember its title, let alone contents.

Let that sink in. Someone else saved a copy of what is a one-act comedy I wrote in (I’m guessing) 1978 that I had totally forgotten existed. It was surely the only copy anywhere.

My mind reeled.

My long forgotten (but truly wonderful) old friend asked if I would give him permission to share the play, Driveshaft, with his son, a professional Hollywood writer.

My stomach clenched.

L.P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” The question leapt to mind: What in the hell did the Jeff of 1978 do?!?! I asked my long-lost friend to send me a copy. He did today.

You can judge for yourself what Jeff did. This is the scan he sent me.

In reading it I got my answer: The me from back then was a very young man. A horny one. But also one who had studied comedy enough to pull off the first draft of an at times quite funny one act play. I actually kind of like this guy. And please understand: I don’t very much like me today.

Check out the PDF I linked to. Yes, it’s typed. That’s what 1978 was like.

And, let’s see. What else do you need to know as someone not from the country called the distant past? “F.M.” stands for Fleetwood Mac, and was abbreviated because it was common knowledge. Every household, it seemed, had a copy of Rumours. On vinyl. And yes, corduroy sofas were a thing, but unlike that still-exhalant album, even then those things were a punch line. As were polyester disco clothes. And league bowling. But not disco! That was still cool. It wasn’t until Disco Sucks became a mantra in 1980 that the world would turn away from the genre (and recently return … Thank you Dua Lipa. … Call me!).

I used to say on my blogs that with comments off, you could always find me on social media. But today popular social media is a dumpster fire. The best way if you’d like to share your thoughts with me is to use a medium that would not emerge for 20 years after this piece was written. Email me. Send your thoughts to ID jlarche on the platform Gmail.

A Business Communication Reading List

A month ago to the day, I provided a crowd-sourced list of recommended readings for the career-minded. I didn’t have room in that post to talk about all the excellent suggestions from one extraordinary friend. Jill Stewart is a professional lecturer at DePaul University’s College of Communication. I’ve never told her this, but hand’s down my favorite business class in college was Business Communication. I thought I’d ace it without breaking a sweat. Boy, did I have a rude awakening!

My professor, lo those many years ago, showed me that communicating in business is hard. It’s also vital to career success.

I was reminded of all of this when I read Jill’s reading list, provided here verbatim. If you can find a smart, dedicated professor like Ms. Stewart, take her class and heed her words. Next best thing: Dip into this list. You can let her know what you think here.

Books on how to improve your writing

Clark, How to Write Short (2014) and Writing Tools (2008)
Danziger, Get to the Point (2001)
Gray-Grant, 8 ½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better (2008)
Fiske, The Dictionary of Concise Writing, (2006)
Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (2008)
Kallan, Renovating Your Writing, (2013)
King, On Writing, (2000)
Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences about Writing (2012)
McCormack, Brief (2014)
Norris, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (2016)
O’Connor, Woe is I (2012)
O’Connor, Words Fail Me (1999)
Rubin, Hey Wait How Do I Write This Email? (2015)
Strunk & White, Elements of Style, (1999)*
Watt & Bradford, An E.B. White Reader (1996)
Yagoda, How to Not Write Bad, (2013)
Zinsser, On Writing Well (1998)

Online resources, tips

American Copyeditors Association
AP Style Guide
AP Style Quizzes
Flesch Readability
Grammar Girl
Harvard’s Shorenstein Center’s Journalist’s Resource (for PR practitioners, too!)
The Publication Coach
Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab
Ragan’s PR Daily
The Writer’s Almanac, American Public Media
Writer’s Circle

Articles on writing tips

BrainPickings Blog (link is to a sample post)
Writer’s Digest (link is to a sample post)

* I do have to add that if you are new to Strunk and White’s legendary The Elements of Style, be aware that much has changed in language since E.B. White updated the work of his beloved teacher, William Strunk, Jr. Mind you, I used to consider this my bible, carrying a ragged, coffee-stained copy with me from apartment to apartment. But I now realize most of the rules have become quaint. This was a recent shock to me. I recommended the book last year to a dear friend, and then revisited it with her. It was sort of like visiting the house you grew up in, realizing it wasn’t an extravagant, magical palace as you remembered it. I still adore White’s short fiction and essays, his The Second Tree from the Corner — both the short story and the collection named after it — will blow the top of your head off. His mastery of language is that impressive. Likewise the book Jill listed as well, An E.B. White Reader. But if you buy The Elements of Style, listen to this podcast by the delightful John McWhorter for a strong dose of context.

For more career advice, these are two posts I reprinted on my blog from an Accenture Career site: