Dumb is Good … or how I got started as a writer.

Contrary to what they teach you in school, dumb can be very good for you. My writing career started because I was extremely dumb. If I were smart, I would have never done any writing. It all started when I applied for a job that I was not qualified for at all.

At the time, I was a teacher who was also working part-time as a wedding photographer. My wife noticed an ad in The New York Times seeking an editor for a newsletter about Nikon cameras. Since I was a photographer, owned Nikon cameras, and was looking for ways to make extra money, it seemed ideal. Never did I think that one should have any writing or editing experience before applying for such a job. The ad was somewhat unusual. Instead of asking for a resume, it asked three technical questions about photography. I answered them all and sent off my answers. This was back before email or even faxes.

About six weeks later, I got a call asking me to come in for an interview. The interview was with the editor-in-chief of Amphoto, the largest photography publisher (at that time) in the world. Of course, he asked if I had writing samples. I didn’t. After chatting for a while, I mentioned that I was a wedding photographer. He said that he wanted a sample of my writing on wedding photography. At the time, Amphoto and Kodak were releasing an encyclopedia of photography, one issue at a time. The issue that would include wedding photography was not completed. I wrote the sample and they used part of it in the encyclopedia, and gave me credit as one of the editors.

Another interview was scheduled with the editor. I thought that we were going to discuss the job that I had originally applied for. Instead, he told me that they were in the process of releasing a series of books. He asked if I could write the book on wedding photography. I instantly said, “No problem.” He said fine and would send me a contract. When I got home, my wife asked me if I could really do it. My answer to her was a little different. I said, “I have no idea!” My Amphoto Guide to Wedding Photography came out a couple years later.

It doesn’t end there. The editor suggested that I write an article for a newspaper – The New York Times. I laughed. He wasn’t kidding. He told me who edited the then weekly Camera Column that appeared in The Sunday New York Times. I sent in the article and was shocked a couple of weeks later when I saw it in The Times.

If I knew that you had to be qualified to apply for a job, I wouldn’t have ever written anything that was published. Dumb was very good.

Incidentally, I didn’t get the job. They said I was over qualified for it!

Bucked Teeth Wasn’t Bad Enough … I also Stuttered!

As a boy, I wasn’t like everyone else. My front teeth stuck way out. My teachers, the neighbors and my parents all didn’t think I was too bright. And…I stuttered. Wearing braces, although sometimes painful, took care of the teeth. A variety of review books and hours of studying dissipated the concerns over my intelligence (or the lack thereof). Those were pretty easy to solve compared to the stuttering.

Throughout elementary school and junior high I attended special speech classes. The teachers were genuinely concerned for my well being. Their eyes told more than what they said. They cringed as I tried to speak. Everyone had a suggestion on how to stop the stuttering. One speech teacher suggested that I try to speak more slowly. Didn’t work. Another suggested that I deliberately repeat the first sound of troublesome words until they would be able to pop out of my mouth like a jack-in-the-box. Didn’t work. There were too many words to think about. One person even told me that if you sing you don’t stutter. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sing either. Of course, everyone suggested that I try to relax. Although relaxation may help to reduce your heart rate, it didn’t help reduce my stuttering.

My parents were upset and probably embarrassed. Their only child was so different from the others on the block. In my Brooklyn neighborhood, I was the only one who stuttered. For about the first ten years of my life I never even heard another stutterer. Friends tried to help by saying the word that I tried to say and added to my frustration. I don’t remember if I was made fun of more for my over bite or the slowed speech.

The summer of 1962, between junior high and high school, proved to be memorable. We moved from Brownsville to the Glenwood Projects in East Flatbush. I had to adjust to the new apartment, the new people, and worry about starting the fortress that they called Tilden High School the next fall.

That was probably my best and worst summer ever…because it happened. I remember it as though it happened yesterday. I went into that plain white bathroom, looked into the dirty mirror and started having a conversation with myself. “You look as good as anybody else,” I said. After thinking for a minute, I added, “You can do whatever others can do.” The conversation ended abruptly…and so did the stuttering! That was it. A thirty second pep talk and the stuttering that lasted for more than ten years ended…suddenly.

When the fall came I was put into a special class for stutterers at Tilden. The teacher couldn’t understand why. According to her, I wasn’t a stutterer. I spent that time looking at the other stutterers and thinking about how I had felt a few short months before. They looked down upon me as an outsider who could speak normally. The subject of how I stopped stuttering never came up. It wouldn’t have helped anyway. I’ve never heard anyone say that they stopped stuttering the way I did in all the years since that fateful day in 1962.

I’ve since read of various methods used to help stutterers including one where they tell people to speak with marbles in their mouths. Sorry, I don’t know why.

All I did was have a talk with myself. Why did it work? I have no idea. But, it worked!

Occasionally, I hear myself hesitating when I speak. However, it never interfered with my life after that. During my 33 years as a teacher no student ever made a comment about my speech…and kids always look for something to criticize. Over the years I have gone out of my way to speak in public. I’ve given dozens of workshops for adults. On a couple of occasions I had the opportunity to speak in front of audiences of more than a thousand people! After one such occasion a colleague said, “You didn’t even look nervous.” I wasn’t. I know that public speaking is supposed to make folks into nervous wrecks. The opposite is the case for me. I like speaking in public. I’m comfortable with it. All because of a pep talk in a bathroom in apartment 2A in Flatbush.

Save Your Family

Murray and Family in Poland

Family memories fade! Pictures help. Unfortunately, a picture alone will be useless in a few decades.

When you take a family photo it’s important to describe who’s who…in writing…preferably on the back of the photo.

My father came from Poland during the 1930s. Before he left Europe this family photo was taken. All except two of the people in the family were victims of Nazi execution. My father and his brother were the only ones to survive. Incidentally, my father is #9. The problem is that this is the only photo that survived. Unfortunately, the paper that described who was who has been lost…forever. Writing a caption is one of the best ways of preserving your family heritage.

25 Down to Earth Writing Tips

1. “Do not blame anybody for your mistakes and failures.” ~~Bernard Baruch

2. Switch your point of view. Would that make your story better?

3. You can re-start your life right now! If you weren’t a writer yesterday, you can be a writer starting right now!

4. Life begins every second. Don’t waste time thinking about it, start writing.

5. To be creative, you might want to do things the un-techie way (for example, postcards instead of emails).

6. Start your next short story by writing the last line first.

7. Go for perfect! Book writing has never been easier. Years ago, when I had to change a word I had to re-type (with a typewriter) the whole chapter.

8. Can you tell your “story” using a series of pictures (with and/or without captions)?

9. Try writing a short story that incorporates a line from The Story Starter.

10. Follow less, lead more (especially on Twitter and Facebook).

11. Watch less TV and write more.

12. All of the writers on the best sellers lists had (and probably still have) the same doubts as you.

13. Read a magazine you never read before. It’s full of ideas for writers.

14. Starting a sentence with an “ing” word is a great way to start.

15. Whenever you want to say “someday” substitute “today” and you’ll do better.

16. Many procrastinators masquerade as writers. If you want to be a writer write. Period.

17. Gardeners will tell you that you have to be patient to see the fruits of your hard work, sometimes it takes years!

18. Get a 2016 almanac! Read through it when you have time. You might (probably will) come up with article ideas.

19. Fine writing, like fine wine, doesn’t happen over night.

20. If you can write a 5 paragraph composition, you can write a magazine article. Same thing, just a bit longer

21. Does your character transform for the better or worse? What would happen if you switched it?

22. You can learn more going to a place you’ve never been than spending hours online. It must be the air!

23. Going to the movies is nice, reading a movie script gives you a sense of how the story comes together.

24. To learn how to write, study gardeners, photographers, poker players, pizza makers, etc. Learn from everyone.

25. Just like the tango, it takes TWO to write: one writer and at least one other person to read. I’m not big on writing for myself.

I Remember Mr. Green

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I knew Mr. Block (the butcher), Mr. Dubinsky (the tailor), Mrs. Chursin (candy story owner), Mr. Gerber (the grocer), and Mrs. Berlin (the owner of the apartment building that I lived in). Just about everyone called them by those names, adults and children. Respect was an integral part of life in Brownsville back then.

Each Friday afternoon a man came to the house with his tools: a mop and a pail. He washed down the floors of the apartment house each week. He was a black man. There weren’t any black people who lived on the block. This was back in the mid to late 1950s. Civil Rights and Political Correctness weren’t big back then. But…everyone called him Mr. Green.

Respect is very easy to give and costs nothing. Wouldn’t it be nice if we brought some of the memories from Brownsville back to life again?

The Best Way to Get a Raise

When my father was a teenager in Poland, he made shoes. He would take his horse-and-buggy and go from town to town getting orders for shoes. He would then go home and make the shoes from scratch. Once he came to America, he worked in shoe factories for his entire life. After decades of work, he retired.

After being home a few years, his brother, also a shoe maker, told him about a job offer. They both agreed to help a young factory owner and went back to work as shoe operators. Operators were the workers who worked on sewing machines making leather shoes. The other operators were young men, mainly Hispanic, who were making minimum wages.

My father and uncle worked for a couple of years and decided that the travel was getting to them. Getting up at five in the morning was too much for them. The problem was that they felt funny about quitting. Their old fashioned sense of loyalty made it difficult to tell the boss that they wanted to retire…again. So…they came up with a plan. Instead of quitting, they decided to ask for a raise that they knew the boss would not agree to because they were asking for a 30% raise. My father went in to speak to the boss. He came out with a 30% raise!

Another six months went by and they really wanted to stop working. They asked for another raise. Again, they got the raise. Now they were making about 60% more than the workers who were doing the same work!

After about three months, you guessed it, they asked for another raise. They really, really wanted to stop working. Again, they got the raise. Now, they were earning twice what the other workers were making!

Within a few months they finally quit! The travel finally got to them.

At about this point, I asked my father why he got the raises. He smiled and said, “When they needed to make a new shoe style, I was the only one who could make the sample, without a form.” His experience in Poland, fifty years before, was the reason he was worth the pay.

You never know … when your education and experience will pay off … big.

12 Basic Photo Tips…regardless of the camera you use.

  1. Move in closer.
  2. Shoot from different angles.
  3. Simply the background.
  4. Point and think instead of point and shoot.
  5. Nobody likes to carry around a tripod, but they do make pictures better.
  6. Watch the shadows on your subject’s face. They will look darker when you see the pictures.
  7. If you use an on camera flash, ask the subject to look slightly away from the camera’s lens in order to avoid red eye.
  8. Enhance the important photos (i.e. crop, lighten, darken, adjust highlights, shadows, and saturation).
  9. Preserve your important photos.
  10. Display your important photos.
  11. Send photos to grandma. She’ll like that.
  12. Take family photos. Weddings are great, but there’s a lot more you want to remember. Take the pictures now!

Exercise Your Brain using Old Photos on eBay


Did you ever think that you could exercise your brain using eBay? I think you can…using old photos. You can search eBay for tons of vintage photos. Most have little information about the history of the photo. Here’s where the brain exercise comes in. Using clues you can find on the old photos you will be surprised how much you can learn about them.

Maureen Taylor, known as the Photo Detective, has plenty of information to help you. She has several books that you can use. She’s also available to help you through personal consultations and she can speak to your group.

Learn a little, exercise your brain, and have fun with old photos. It’s a win, win, win!

New iPhoneography Workshop for Non-Techies


The iPhone is today’s Brownie Hawkeye! It’s the most often used camera today.

One of the problems I’ve encountered when doing iPhoneography workshops is that some of the audience looks like they are in a trance when I mention something that’s a bit technology oriented. They also cringe if I mention expressions like exposure, shutter speed, and ISO.

So…I’ve designed what I consider to be a practical, hands-on, and tech-free workshop to show folks how to get the most out of their iPhones. It’s called iPhoneography for Non-Techies.

If you’re organization is interested please contact me for availability.

Bad pictures make good memories…


It’s corny.

It’s out of focus.

Posing is terrible.

Outfit is embarrassing.

Old Dumont TV weighted a ton and was only about 10 inches across.

Everything says terrible picture…except one thing. It’s a picture of me taken about 60 years ago in Brooklyn.

Pictures like this are not examined for quality. They are thought of as old memories that remind us of bygone days. The quality of the picture is unimportant. Only the memories count.

As you take a zillion pictures on your iPhone think about what memories will last 60 years from now. Preserve the ones that are important.