7 Writing Leaders

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November 3, 2010 by David Gillaspie



What do great leaders and great writers have in common?  They find a way to be heard.  It’s not always pleasant, but they find a way.  Some of the best:   


1.  Thomas Jefferson

The next time you need a mission statement, or business history, you know who to call.  The author of the Declaration of Independence laid the foundation for all copywriters to follow.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Anyone who calls life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness an ‘unalienable right’ points down the Wal-Mart road toward too much stuff.  Tom showed the way from the beginning.      


2.  John Kennedy

Won the Pulitzer Prize for Profiles In Courage, and he’s not giving it back.  Ted Sorensen‘s name is not on the prize, no matter what he says.

He wrote it in bed while he recovered from back surgery.  Or he supervised its construction.  Mr. Sorensen says he saw the first drafts of most chapters, and made suggestions, like which words to use.  Small contributions like that eventually add up.

JFK saddled up his book and rode it all the way to the top.  If that’s not a writing role model, what is?


3.  Abraham Lincoln

When this old rail-splitter sharpens his pencil, magic happens.  He soothes a nation; he sets people free.

He writes the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln’s words unlocked the chains clamped onto millions, yet added just enough of a twist to qualify his work in the ‘mystery’ genre:

“And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”

In other words, you are free, free to join the Army or Navy.  The line starts over there.  Be all you can be.


4.  King John

He didn’t write Magna Carta, but neither did Ted Sorensen.  It was forced on him by a group of unhappy barons. 

Think Ted Turner.

King John agreed to limit his powers; agreed to proclaim certain liberties, that he couldn’t rule arbitrarily.

By accepting Magna Carta, King John’s name is forever linked to the what some consider the greatest constitutional document produced in the history of man. 

If Thomas Jefferson had been around on June 15, 1215, he would have claimed authorship.  He wouldn’t have called it ‘The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest’, but you never know. 


5.  Mao

Did Big Red write the Little Red Book?  I have a call in to Ted Sorensen for confirmation.  Until he calls back, let’s give Mao the benefit of the doubt, which is more than he’d give someone who doubted his authorship.

He solved his problems quickly.  Try and understand this quote:

“There are at least two basic kinds of contradiction: the antagonistic contradictions which exist between communist countries and their capitalist neighbors and between the people and the enemies of the people, and the contradictions among the people themselves, people unconvinced of China’s new path, which should be dealt with in a democratic and non-antagonistic fashion.”

“”Dealt with in a democratic and non-antagonistic fashion” means taken out back and shot, which means Mao had the perfect book distribution system installed.  Little Red Book was in great demand.  Copies flew out the bookstore doors.  You’d die to get one.


6.  Martin Luther

In 1517, the man took his theses against The Church, that The Church, the Catholic Church, the only Church, the Church most powerful, and nailed them to a church door; or they appeared at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

By 1558 the Spanish Inquisition began the Lutheran phase of their trials.  Between 1517 and 1558 Luther also translated the The Bible from Latin to German.  Martin Luther knew about platform building.


7.  Franklin Roosevelt

The thirty-second President, and first Cheerleader In Chief, signed his name to many books, including Fireside Chats of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Addresses by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Looking Forward, to name a few. 

His four successful elections added huge numbers to the chats and addresses.

In 1935, Roosevelt recognized the value of writers and inked the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) funded by Federal Project Number One (Federal One) within the Works Progress Administration (WPA.)

The FWP employed writers, editors, historians, researchers and a host of others.

In all of the support he threw toward writers and artists during The Great Depression, the most important words to come from him may or may not have been written by him, or by Ted Sorensen.

From FDR’s first inaugural address:  “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

For all writers who stare down a blank page, screen, or notebook page, Franklin D. Roosevelt knows our pain.

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