Monday, April 05, 2010


Philip Yaffe is an unlikely writing and speaking coach. When in school, his passion was mathematics; however when he went to university (UCLA), he fell into journalism. Applying mathematical logic to writing seemed to work. He rapidly rose through the ranks to become editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA's daily student newspaper. On graduation in 1965, he joined the Peace Corps and went to Tanzania to teach math, physics, and journalism.

In 1968 he became a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal. He has also been a senior account executive with the advertising/PR agency, and marketing communication director for the European subsidiaries of two major U.S. companies with European headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974.

He now runs workshops on effective writing and public speaking for persons who use English as a second or third language. He says that dealing with people who don't take the language in which they write and speak for granted has given him important insights into the fundamentals of these vital disciplines, which form the basis of his book. This makes The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional quite different from anything else currently available.

How did you start out your writing career?

It's a strange story, fully detailed in the book. But in a nutshell, I am a scientist by temperament and education. Writing never interested me very much. However, in last year in high school for whom I had great respect suggested that when I went to university I take a beginning course in journalism to learn how to simplify my then complex, gothic writing style. I did so and discovered that writing clearly and concisely was much more of a challenge than the complex, abstruse writing I had been doing. I took up the challenge by joining the student newspaper (UCLA Daily Bruin). In my senior year I became editor-in-chief. I graduated with a degree in mathematics, but a somewhat different outlook on life than before I had joined the newspaper.

Have you had a "Wow" moment since you have been an author? What made it a "Wow" moment for you?

As a professional writer, I have long argued that the basic principles of good writing are few and easy to understand, but applying them is hard work. Producing a good piece of writing always requires at least two drafts, and usually three, four, or more. However, there are exceptions.

For me, the exception occurred the day John F. Kennedy died. I sat down at my typewriter and just started writing. When I finished, I hardly changed a word. I felt as if I had been typing in a trance, as if someone else had actually been doing the work.

The article won a number of awards, which I was pleased to receive. However, in all honesty, I cannot take credit for it. Now, nearly 50 years later, I still feel as if someone else wrote it and I was simply the vessel used to strike the keys.

What did you hope to accomplish with this book?

In my 40+ years of experience, I have been appalled by how many otherwise intelligent people (students, business executives, academics, researchers, etc.) are unable to convincing express themselves, either orally, in writing, or both. They are not to blame because the small handful of fundamental principles of effective writing and effective speaking are seldom taught. Instead, they are buried in an avalanche of tips and techniques. I want to clearly highlight this handful of key principles, so that these often prescriptive tips and techniques can be more effectively applied.

What’s playing on your CD while you’re writing?

Nothing. When I write, I write. Music would be a distraction.

If you had the opportunity to talk with three writers, who would you choose and why?
Mark Twain, George Orwell, and Voltaire. These writers, among others, were uniquely talented at saying complex things simply, and investing apparently simple statements with meanings way beyond their words. I very much admire this kind of writing and try to emulate it.

What movie had the greatest impact on you as a kid? Why?

The movie that had the greatest impact on me as a kid was Rogers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma, because it stimulated my interest in the art of musical comedy, which has been a passion of mine ever since. This was in 1957. Even 50 years ago I was saying that Richard Rogers is destined to be considered one of the premier composers of the 20th century. People laughed at me because musical comedy was not considered to be a serious art form. Today, they are no longer laughing.

If you could visit any place in the world where would you travel to?

I have always wanted to visit Japan because the culture fascinates me. In general, however, I am much more attracted by Nature. My favorite place in all the world is Bryce Canyon, Utah, which I have seen seven times and still can't believe that it truly exists. It must be the most indescribable place on earth.

What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?

There are no short-cuts. Good writing is hard work. It is easy to read, it was hard to write. The compensation is, when you have produced a truly good text, it gives you a feeling of satisfaction that would be hard to match in any other occupation.

What was the best advice you’d ever gotten about the publishing industry? The worst?

I don't know how to answer this question because I have never been given much advice about the publishing industry other than, "Be prepared to be disappointed." Writing a book is often the easy part. Getting it published, promoted and distributed can be a major challenge.

Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?

Keep in mind that writing is a craft, not an art. Obviously some people do it much better than others, but everyone can learn to do it reasonably well.

Don't try to be a writer if you don't truly enjoy it. It is sometimes painful—and always hard work. To quote two authors:

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. --Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. --James Michener

What is something readers would be surprised you do?

I love learning languages. Not necessarily to use them, but to be educated by them. Different languages do things in different ways. Each time you come across an unexpectedly different way of doing something, it broadens your horizons. Living in Brussels, I am fluent in French and have a working knowledge of Dutch, German, Italian, and Spanish. My first foreign language was Swahili, which I learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania (East Africa).

Our theme for this month is GETTING THE CALL. Did you receive the call from the editor? What was the experience like?

No, I had to struggle for over two years to get my book published. In obedience to Murphy's Law, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. However I believe the book adds something original and important to helping people write and speak better, so I persisted. I now commend it to others to decide if it was worth of the effort.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?

I have produced numerous articles on writing and public speaking that explain the ideas in The Gettysburg Approach in rather more detail, with more extensive examples. If The Gettysburg Approach succeeds, I think it would be useful to publish these articles as a kind of companion piece under the tentative title The Gettysburg Collection.

How can readers get in contact with you?

I would be happy to hear from anyone who would care to write to me. My two email addresses are,

The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking almost like a Professional

Effective writing and speaking are critical for all students and professionals in this challenging and competitive world. Professional-level writing and speaking depend on only a handful of easy-to-understand principles.

The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional goes straight to the foundations, defines these principles and shows how to apply them.

Because the principles are few and, when explained, are almost self-evident, the theoretical section of the book is quite short. "Fundamentals of Good Writing" runs only 55 pages; the follow-up on "Oral Presentations: Giving Voice to Your Words" runs only 43 pages. The remainder of its 275 pages are devoted largely to examples and simple exercises.

This exceptional guide will help anyone sharpen their skills and rapidly learn to write and speak clearly, concisely, and persuasively.

“Quite simply, this book is terrific.” Mary Jae Kleckner, Ph.D & Professor of Writing

“You’ve done an admirable job of dealing with the extremely difficult problem of teaching business people how to communicate intelligibly, let alone effectively.” William Blundell, former Wall Street Journal writer, editor, and Teacher of Writing

Leave your name and email for a chance to win a copy of The Gettysburg Approach to Writing & Speaking like a Professional.

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1 comment:

Missy said...

LaShaunda - thanks so much for introducing us to Mr. Yaffe. Had I not be subscribed to this blog I doubt that I owuld have had the opportunity to know of his works. I love public speaking and writing reviews, letters and Human Resource stuff for work. So you can imagine that his work would certainly benefit me in my world.
Thanks a bunch~

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