Napoleon Hill Sayings Applied to Writing

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve discovered that I have gained a great deal of value from the writings of a couple of successful businessmen, W. Clement Stone and his frequent co-author Napoleon Hill. Although I was privileged to meet only one of them (Stone) in person, their practical wisdom has been of help to me many times during my careers in education and writing/publishing.

In fact, I get a daily e-mail “thought for the day” from the Napoleon Hill Foundation that has included numerous offerings  helpful to me in my writing. Perhaps you would find some gems that will help you, too. (You can subscribe to the same “thought for the day” at the above link.) In subsequent posts, I will share a few of the quotations that have been of greatest inspiration to me.

I copy and paste into a Word document the Napoleon Hill posts that seem most applicable to my situation. Occasionally, I look over those accumulated statements for reaffirmation of my purpose and inspiration and encouragement to continue in my efforts. While doing that recently,  I realized that certain topics among the quotations recurred repeatedly. The most frequently mentioned subjects were

  1. attitude,
  2. initiative and action,
  3. dealing with defeat, and
  4. purpose and goals.

One’s attitude and outlook determine whether he or she will take actions toward fulfilling the primary purpose and the several goals for achieving that purpose. Anytime one takes the initiative and steps out in action, of course, he or she risks suffering defeat or rejection. How one deals with those setbacks often determines whether he or she is able to achieve success. So all four of these categories of thought work together for either success or failure.

In future blog posts, I will share several of Hill’s statements on each of these categories and apply them to the writing process. I hope that they will reveal ways that you can apply them to your own writing efforts.

Here’s a little teaser dealing with the need to continue looking for opportunities to learn and improve in our craft.

Don’t be satisfied with being good at your job. Be the best. . . . One of the surest ways to climb the ladder of success is to choose a job that you would do even if you didn’t earn much at it. (Napoleon Hill)

Now if that doesn’t describe writing, I don’t know what does! Periodicals are paying today about the same as they were when Mark Twain was writing–if you can get even that much. But if you’re called to write, then write, even when the money doesn’t follow immediately. But keep learning your craft, always improving your knowledge and skills and striving to be the best writer you can be. If you do, success will come eventually. Perhaps not in monetary terms, but in many other ways.

Check back for similar gems of Napoleon Hill’s wisdom, and find ways of applying them to your writing.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson



Thirteen Days Later. . . .

In our finite sense of time and events, we often lose our sense of perspective. We often mentally compress time and events without realizing that much more happened in the intervening time span than we think. Such it is with the invasion of Normandy during World War II.

We recently commemorated the June 6, 1944, Allied landings on Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold, and Juno beaches that began the push that brought down the Third Reich. We then somehow jump mentally from the carnage along the beaches and cliffs of Normandy to the joining of U.S. and Russian forces at the Elbe, forgetting the long struggle that occurred among the hedgerows of the bocage, around the Falaise Gap, and in the fields of Belgium. We pause to recall the German surprise at the Bulge, but otherwise we tend to forget what took place between the initial clash on D-day and the celebrations of V-E Day.

On this date in history, June 19, 1944, my Uncle Dillon Summers had his own landing on Omaha Beach. He, a lowly, unassuming corporal, and the rest of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 3rd Armored Division assembled in a predesignated marshaling area, fired registration rounds from their 105 and 155 mm mobile gun platforms, and almost immediately engaged enemy targets. As they did so, the beaches were still under fire from German artillery. Thirteen days after the much-celebrated D-day landings.

Thirteen days later. That should tell us something about how hard the fighting was after the initial landings.

To identify the enemy artillery pieces that were raining death and destruction on U.S. troops on Omaha Beach, the 391st AFA had forward observers (FOs) who crept to the front-most edges of the battlefield, noted the location of the enemy guns, and radioed the coordinates back to the U.S. artillerists, who then unleashed their own death blows to the offending German artillery.

Uncle Dillon was one of the few soldiers assigned to get the FOs to that forward edge. Many such tank drivers, and even more FOs, never made it back. Dillon was wounded and won two Bronze Stars for valor while doing his job, and he made it back. He and others like him enabled the Allies, one enemy artillery piece and one enemy troop concentration at a time, to defeat a powerful, diabolical enemy.

That’s usually how it is. Whereas we often hear of the exploits of the generals and commemorate the single-day actions of divisions, we sadly forget that it is the grueling, day-to-day work of thousands of anonymous, unsung individual heroes who just faithfully do their jobs that make those big victories possible.

Who are the unsung heroes in your life? A teacher? A preacher? A parent?

Are you an unsung hero to someone because you are faithfully and consistently doing your job? Are your daily actions making it possible for someone else to gain victory in his or her life?

Someone may be watching and learning from your life. They might look upon you as their hero.

Think about it!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Lessons from Current Reading

Lately, I’ve been reading a sadly ironic biography of a talented but confused author who spent his life trying to find himself. He rejected what he had in his own backyard and wandered to strange vistas in search of what he thought he wanted only to realize that what he had had was really what he was and what he wanted all along.

Sound confusing? It is. But that’s life. Or rather, it’s the life of John Orley Allen Tate as recounted in Thomas A. Underwood’s book Allen Tate: Orphan of the South (Princeton, 2000). Growing up in the post-World War I South, in a dysfunctional family with parents who chased get-rich-quick schemes and could never settle down in one spot, Tate hated everything about his lot in life. He did everything he could to distance himself from not only his family but also the South and its traditions. Yet, he found himself bound to an overly protective mother who even went to college with him.

Tate wanted to be a famous poet. He wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. Above all, he wanted affection, attention, and approval by the literary elite outside the South. He enrolled in Vanderbilt to gain the education he thought he needed to achieve all those things, but he quickly found himself caught up in the group of writers known as the Fugitives, so-called after the name of their little literary magazine called The Fugitive. Among the group’s members were several faculty members with whom Tate developed a love-hate relationship. Men such as Donald Davidson, John Crowe Ransom, and Edwin Mims. As Tate’s literary career struggled along, his grades suffered along with his finances, and he ended up getting his older, financially successful brother to pay his way. He sought the approval and acclaim of such Northern literary critics as H.L. Mencken by striving to write in the newly arising Modernist style.

Tate produced several poems that he considered magnificent Modernist works of art, but they were so convoluted and complex and lacking in message that even fellow Modernist writers in his circle failed to understand them. Tate seemed to think that the more obscure his writing the better it was. Enough people whose opinions he valued encouraged his continued production of such writing that he became increasingly disgusted by the uninitiated and unenlightened Southern morons who couldn’t understand what he wrote.

Eventually, Tate became so disgruntled with the perceived boorish literary ignorance of the South (they didn’t know good writing when they saw it, he thought) that he decided to leave the South for good. He finally achieved his dream of living among the literary luminaries of New York City. Later, he traveled to Europe and lived among the expatriate Americans in London and Paris who were trying to produce avante garde, Modernist literature. At first, Tate was enamored of those writers, meeting, partying, and rubbing shoulders with such writers and publishers as Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Mark Van Doren, and others. And he relished the libertine life they lived.

Over time, however, he realized that those people were no more than literary snobs who cared for only their own writing, the people who gushed about their writing, and other writers who sought to imitate their writing. About the time this light was dawning for Tate, a publisher offered him contracts to write sequential biographies of Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis. His research for those books took him back into the South, and that was when he realized that what he really longed for was a return to his roots in the South.  So the prodigal returned.

Tate became a motivating influence for the development of a movement known as Agrarianism, a protest against the ill effects of industrialization, and especially what he saw it doing to the South. He helped organize a group of like-minded writers known as the Agrarians, who became most famous for their collection of essays titled I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition.

Although I haven’t yet finished Underwood’s book, I’m learning that the overriding lesson from it is that one should not despise or be ashamed of where he or she is from but rather to honor and reverence it. One should be himself, not try to be someone else from somewhere else. Look to your own backyard and make the most of what it holds for you.

Oddly, one of my favorite authors also was influenced by many of the same authors with whom Tate worked at Vanderbilt, but he turned out much differently. Rather than rejecting his roots and seeking literary success somewhere else, Jesse Stuart followed the sage advice of Donald Davidson: “Go back to your people. Go back and write of them. Don’t change and follow the moods of these times. Be your honest self. Go back and write of your country. Your country has your material.” (For more on Stuart, see my article “The Beloved Country” in The Writer, April 2016 at this link:

Stuart’s writing is everything Tate’s was not. It’s understandable. It deals with common people. It honors Stuart’s Southern heritage and people. And it has a message, a legitimate “takeaway.”

The subtitle of Underwood’s biography is Orphan of the South. If Tate was an orphan, it was an orphanhood that he himself created. Maybe by the time I finish the book I’ll find something about Tate that I like. To this point, however, I find him to be an orphan that I wouldn’t want to adopt!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Primary Election Day

Well, the day has finally come. The day when we see a temporary decline in robo-calls. The day when the spiders in our mailboxes will once again be able to build their homes without risk of having them destroyed by the multitude of campaign literature–all of them oversized this year, it seems–that have filled the boxes every day. And we’ll be able to watch television and see tire, car, and medical pitches rather than political ads. At least for a short interim. It’s primary election day.

I don’t think I’ve missed an election–primary, general, or run-off–since I’ve been voting. My first ballot I cast in a presidential election, and I did so by absentee ballot because I was out of state attending college. Not all of “my” candidates have won, of course. Too often, I’ve been on the losing side, it seems. But that’s okay. I’ve made my tiny, conscience-driven voice heard.

Today’s election is a strange one for us here in our district. We have races from local offices;  state representative; and state-wide offices for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. (A few other state-wide offices are on the ballot, too, but the incumbents have no opposition.) We have five candidates running for governor, including the incumbent. But the weird race is for the U.S. House seat for which the incumbent is not running. An unprecedented 13 candidates are vying for that seat. What are the chances of anyone winning that race outright? We’ll soon be voting in a run-off!

My impact on the voting has declined over the years. I used to be able to deliver five votes: my wife, three of our four daughters, and myself. (The fourth daughter had already moved out.) But now that my daughters have married and moved to other states, we’re down to a mere two votes. In fact, who knows, but I might be down to even fewer if my wife cancels out my ballot by voting for someone other than the candidates we’ve discussed!

Be that as it may, I’m fulfilling one of my most important duties of citizenship today. If your state is one of the others voting today, do your duty. If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain if things don’t go as you hope!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

“Eyes on Your Own Paper!”

During grade school spelling tests, my teacher often uttered a cryptic general warning: “Please keep your eyes on your own paper!” Without accusing any particular individual, that was her way of letting someone whose eyes were seeking help with the spelling of a difficult word know that she saw what they were about to do. She was also warning the rest of us not to be tempted to look for help in the wrong

But I’ve also seen this temptation arise occasionally in my writing career, and I was reminded of the lesson by an article in the latest issue of The Writer. In times of discouragement, when rejections seem to multiply like the proverbial rabbits, when acceptances are as rare as the proverbial hound’s teeth (whatever that means!), I find myself looking at the apparent successes of other writers and thereby being distracted from my own projects. I find myself envying those who seem not to have to struggle with their writing, who get dozens of great reviews and other publicity, who hold successful book signings, and who are inundated with invitations to speak. And then I look back at my own track record. Invariably, I get even more discouraged. The stolen glance at another’s work doesn’t help at all; it only hurts.

Every ministry, including writing, is a journey, and that journey is different for each person. Each person has his or her own calling with its attendant struggles, whether apparent or hidden. Each has discouragements. For some, success seems to come unbidden and effortlessly; for others, it’s a continual struggle. One writer struggles to complete a single project and get it accepted for publication; another has his work accepted as fast as he can crank it out. Despite one pastor’s best efforts, his church remains small, and growth seems negligible. For another pastor, his church blossoms and grows beyond all bounds, seemingly without effort on his part.

But we can’t look at what others are doing; we must keep our eyes on our own paper, do our duty, live our life as God has laid it out for us. And what might seem at a glance to be successful might in reality be only a sham. Comparing our journey to that of someone else is counterproductive.

When the Jews were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem under the direction of Nehemiah, each family group was assigned a specific portion of the wall on which to work. Every family did its assigned task without worrying about what other families around theirs was doing. No one tried to tell his neighbor how to do his job. Everyone had problems, both internal and external. But no one compared others’ work with their own. They just focused on their assigned tasks, and, as a result, the wall was finished. (See Nehemiah 3-6.)

In the New Testament, after Jesus had told Peter what Peter’s future ministry held in store, curious Peter asked him about John’s program of ministry. Christ answered him bluntly, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me!” (John 21:22).

Rather than looking at what others are doing or achieving, we should be so busy doing our own God-given work that we’re not tempted to compare ourselves with others. More specifically, if we should look anywhere else for instruction, guidance, or inspiration, let it be to Jesus Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). We should “consider Him” (Heb. 12:3). It’s when our eyes wander from Him that we lose our direction, focus, and purpose.

Whatever your God-given calling, “keep your eyes on your own paper!”

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

Books Re-Read

It finally happened, just as I had long fear it someday would.

Several times, I have blogged about having too much to read (for example, I’ve often feared that with my voluminous reading habit, I would someday read (or worse, buy) a book that I had already read or (worse yet) already had on my shelves.

On a recent trip, my wife and I stopped at an outlet mall beside the interstate to stretch our legs. Amid the plethora of shops was a bookstore. We strolled through its aisles, not to buy but just to browse and stretch.

I breezed through the history and Bible study sections untempted by any title, although those are the sections in which I’d normally be most tempted to buy something. After all, I had only recently donated 13 boxes of my books to charity in an attempt to downsize my library for retirement. I had no intention of buying any more books!

But when I was passing through the section of reference books, a title grabbed my attention. My hands lifted the book from the shelf, and my eyes skimmed its pages. The title sounded vaguely familiar. And I seemed to recall having seen the cover before. But neither the author’s name nor the table of contents rang any bells of remembrance.

The longer I studied the book’s pages, the more I heard it crying out to me, “Buy me! I’ll help you with your writing!” That plea–and the 60-percent-off sticker in the upper right corner of the cover–won me over. I walked out of the store with yet another book.

Shortly after returning from our journey, I began reading my new acquisition. It was pretty good. I began to underline key points and to jot down in my notebook ideas for writing projects that the book brought to mind.

But in the back of my mind I kept hearing another little voice crying, You’ve read this before! Finally, I decided to silence that annoying voice once and for all. I climbed the steps to my office and scanned the dusty shelves. The newly purchased book was nowhere among my other literary trove. Then I pulled the journal in which I write the titles of every book I read as soon as I’ve finished it.

And there was the title of the book I’d just bought. I had checked the book out of the local library a little more than a year earlier. Then why hadn’t I remembered it?

This just shows that it’s sometimes good to read some books more than once. Obviously, I hadn’t received that book’s full benefit the first time I read it. Or maybe I hadn’t been paying sufficient attention. Or maybe it just wasn’t the right time; now, however, time and circumstances were just right for the book’s message to “click” with me.

Francis Bacon famously said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” I might add, some books apparently are to be read more than once.

I also know of another Book from which I would benefit from a second reading–or, rather, numerous readings. Even daily readings. God’s Word. Human authors can teach me some things; God’s Word can teach me so much more. It teaches me everything I need to know for this life. More importantly, it promises eternal benefits, what I need to know for the life to come after this earthly life is ended.

Why not join me in reading the Bible–again and again?

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


The Evolving Writer, Part VI–Write for the Intended Audience

If a writer wants his or her message to be understood, one must keep the readers in mind and write to them on their level. Failure to do so results in misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and possibly the total loss of the readers as they, in either frustration or boredom, quit reading.

Many writers make one of two mistakes regarding their audience. They write either above their audience members or down to them. Neither extreme is acceptable.

The writer must know who his or her target audience is. Before you begin writing, ask yourself who will be reading your work. (Whom do you want to reach with your message?) Write using the vocabulary and the sentence structure appropriate to the target readers’ educational level, matching your vocabulary to their vocabulary and prior knowledge of the subject. Don’t assume that the readers know as much as you know about your subject. On the other hand, don’t underestimate them or their knowledge.

Okay, it’s confession time: One of my pet peeves is the writer who tries to impress the readers with his knowledge and vocabulary. Please don’t try to wow or con your readers in this way. Be yourself, and use the terminology and style that is most appropriate to your audience. Remember that your goal is their understanding, not the elevation of your reputation as a scholar or literary genius.

Someone (I’ve seen this quotation attributed to several different people, including the ubiquitous “Anonymous”) once said, “Never try to impress your readers with the profundity of your thought by the obscurity of your language. Whatever has been thoroughly thought through can be stated simply.”

If you keep your intended readers in the forefront of your mind as you write, you’ll avoid this pitfall, and your writing will be brief, concise, precise, and understandable.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

The Evolving Writer, Part V–Be Precise

Precision in writing is as important to good writing as brevity. In fact, precision, and it’s cousin clarity, inevitably produce brevity. The evolving writer will strive to develop all three qualities. Failure to do so will result in confusion and misunderstanding.

In writing, precision means using the best word for your intended meaning. This usually will not be the first word that pops into your head. It will be the word that you discover on your second, third, or an even later revision of your original work.

Mark Twain famously said (and has been quoted widely ever since he uttered the words), “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

For example, we are often tempted to write something like this: “I feel that we should. . . .” What we really mean, however, has nothing to do with our feelings. Rather, we mean something that has occurred in our logic or reasoning. The more precise term would be “I think (or believe) that we should. . . .” We have way too much acting on feelings; what we need is more thinking.

Here are a few ways to get you started on your quest for more precise writing.

  • Use active voice. Rather than writing “The ball was hit by John,” write “John hit the ball.” That construction not only makes the sentence shorter by a third (brevity) but also gives the opportunity to be more precise, as illustrated in the next suggestion.
  • Use vivid verbs. Rather than writing “John hit the ball,” choose a more precise term for hit. The word hit could be interpreted in many ways, whereas more precise options, depending on your intended meaning, might be tapped, tipped, bunted, dribbled, whacked, clobbered, creamed, or a host of other terms, each of which creates a slightly different image in the reader’s mind.
  • Avoid euphemisms, jargon, and cliches. These are the lazy writer’s tools. Euphemisms are words that soften the real meaning, such as writing passed away instead of died.  Sometimes, a euphemism might be appropriate, but such “softeners” tend to open the door for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Jargon is tired, overused terminology that often is confined within a specific profession. Akin to jargon are worn-out idioms and cliches. Rather than using these, come up with new, more precise ways of saying things.

These are just three ways you can make your writing more precise and lively, thereby achieving both brevity and clarity. Begin to use verbal calipers in your writing, striving for precision, the best way of saying what you want your reader to know.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


The Evolving Writer, Part IV–Cut the Fat!

The next stage for a writer who continues to evolve in his or her skills is learning to “cut the fat.” First drafts are enveloped and permeated by streaks of fat, things that do not really help to carry the essential message. But the evolving writer can learn how to streamline that message and get quickly to its various points, to “cut the fat,” just like a butcher might do.

I’ve already discussed how to “speed your lead,” cutting out nonessentials to get to your point quickly in your opening paragraph(s) . One of my earliest lessons in cutting fat in the body of my writing occurred when the editor of The Christian Writer (now out of print) replied to one of my submissions that he would accept my manuscript–but only if I cut it by half! Those were the days before personal computers and clip-and-paste, so I literally cut my manuscript apart using scissors and taped the pieces together. I then inserted transitions to link those somewhat isolated points. After retyping the whole thing, I resubmitted it, and it was accepted and published.

More recently, the editor of The Writer accepted one of my submissions but asked me to reduce it by two-thirds! It took a lot of work, but I was able to do so, and it was published .

More was involved in my cutting the fat for both of those projects than I can explain here, but here are a few of the ways I trimmed my writing to produce exactly what the editors wanted. These actions seldom will hurt your writing but always will help in communicating your message.

  • Eliminate needless repetition and redundancies.
  • Give only the number of examples, quotations, or Bible references needed to get your point across; don’t pile them up like cordwood.
  • Don’t use a long, complicated word when a simple one will do.
  • Avoid “Pauline” writing (i.e., a long series of complex sentences). Instead, use a variety of sentence structures: simple, compound, and a few complex sentences.

These are only a few of the many ways you can trim the fat from your writing. Begin practicing them and you’ll soon discover many others.

How badly do you want to get published? Be willing to put in the work necessary to cut the fat, radically if necessary (as in the two examples I’ve given), and you’ll begin seeing more progress in your publication record.

What are some ways that you’ve discovered to cut the fat in your writing? Share a few of them with us.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson