Advice on Creative Writing from Daniel C. Lavery

My professors in creative writing classes and forums stressed writing every day for at least an hour at a place where you are comfortable and will have hopefully no interruptions. Some like to write at night, others early. Everyone is different so you should find your time. For me it is 10 am to noon. Some people like to go to a Starbucks to see the faces of people, the bustle of the crowd, and the coffee for inspiration. I prefer my desk overlooking my front yard. Another suggestion is to always use your favorite writing pen (preferably not a ball point-and not typing). The connection of your hand to the pen and what you write is a stimulating one for most writers.

List the most compelling words you can think of in a notebook. I always keep a writing notebook for inspiration. When you have that dream that you won't remember in the morning, get up and write it as you recall it right after you have experienced it. Waiting later will lose it usually.


Don't be afraid to copy a writer's style. This is especially true of a poet. Find a poem you like, and take out your thesaurus, change the words, move around inserting your similar experiences and use the format. Amazingly simple way to create a new poem by just following someone's road map. Always read a great author for at least 30 minutes before writing. This is warming up your creative thinking. Your brain needs this. You will see a difference in your attitude, and willingness to explore language and its beauty.

Revise: All creative writing requires once you have written your piece, to go back and revise with an eye to use of heightened language (metaphor/simile, evocative vocabulary, sense driven language, action verbs and brilliant nouns) and remove any boring adverbs and adjectives. Check spelling by starting at the end of the piece and work backwards so you aren't lulled into accepting a misspelling you may make frequently. Read it aloud and see if there are awkward words when spoken that should be changed. If it doesn't sound right, it won't read effectively. Make sure each of the five senses appear somewhere. See if you can't make your descriptions luminescent.

One of the secrets of nonfiction storytelling is the use of description. Much as a novelist would, these nonfiction storytellers set a scene and describe their story's action. Above all, they have an eye for detail and employ these carefully observed facts to bring scenes alive for readers.

Look for opportunities to put the reader into the action. Where are we? What's it look (smell, sound) like? Who are the characters? What do they look like? How do they act? Strive to be specific, not general: Name names, measure things, count so you can report exact numbers. Learn to identify trees and birds, car makes, and architectural styles.

So instead of writing, "A lot of birds perched on the ornate rooftop," do the homework and note taking necessary to report, "Thirteen purple martins perched on the Italianate rooftop." Rather than describing "a big pile of old cars," aim for "a 20-foot pyramid of rusting, windowless Fords, Toyotas, and Chevrolets."

This kind of descriptive writing starts at the very beginning—at the note-taking stage. You can't just plop down at the keyboard and conjure this up; you have to be there, all eyes and fully alert, and noting details. Don't forget the senses beyond sight. Are the bees buzzing, trucks rumbling, horns honking? Do cockleburs scrape your pant legs as you walk to your subject's front door? Is your interviewee's desktop smooth and new or pitted with age and use? Give detail and description a try, and you'll find that you can be every bit as "creative" a writer when you're not making things up.

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All the Difference, a memoir by Daniel C. Lavery, available at for purchase or free look inside of the first 6 1/2 chapters at Dan's website:, and on Amazon's Kindle at, A paperback version is available at book-cover-all-the-difference.jpg

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Book Review of All the Difference from Author USNA Class of ’71

Book Review of All the Difference from Author USNA Class of ’71


Hello Dan,

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book.  I jotted down a few things that resonated for me.

My dad was a Beta at University of Cincinnati.

Reef Points!  How can we ever forget them!

Naval Academy indoctrination of plebes in etiquette

Rifle range.  Who can forget those Marines!Scientist CliffsTarget for BB gun

Heinz Lenz was still there for me, too.  (I think he died only in the last couple of years?)

Joe Duff.  He still coached baseball, but he and I never crossed paths.  I made the plebe and varsity sailing teams while I was there (1967-1971), but was not the athlete you were.  But those T-tables plebe year were a Godsend!  And for the sailing team, it was for BOTH fall and spring sets.

Joe Bellino.  I loved watching those games.  And Roger Staubach, how lucky you were to be there during his era, too.  Roger came and talked at our pep rally in 1967 before the Army/Navy game.  (He was trying to make it with the Cowboys at that time.)  We won that year and received "carry on" like you did.

Bancroft Hall Mishipman in Whites parading to meal

Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed being on the "plebe detail" second class year.  As luck would have it, the very next summer the Academy decided to put first class in charge of the detail, so I got to do it again!

Bancroft Hall USNA 1960

Pensacola.  Great times!  I certainly wasn't the "ace of the base," but finished high enough (4 of 30 that week) to choose any pipeline I wanted (helos, jets, or props)---and they were all open that week.

Vigilante Clamshell Cockpits opened

My A-7 primary instructor  in T-34's nearly shot me for picking helos, but guys from '68 and '69 were telling us how much fun they were having flying them (while we were still back at the Academy).  Plus, I found that whenever I climbed above 5000 feet, I lost the real sensation of flying.  I also found that to be true as a second class midshipman flying in the back of an F-4 at Oceana (the "Diamondbacks").  In helos I knew I would spend most of my flying career at 500 feet and below.  (In Desert Storm we frequently flew at 10 feet and as fast as that Blackhawk would go!)  I never regretted my decision.

Army helo pilot Hugh Thompson.  What courage!  (I used his example in my first book, Inspiring Leadership: Character and Ethics Matter, now used in the Leadership/Ethics curricula at Villanova and Regent Universities.)

Vietnam Hugh Thomspon forgotten hero

Olongapo!  Amazing place.  If you closed your eyes, you actually thought the Rolling Stones were playing---or any other big name group for that matter.  And those kids diving for pesos!  The helo hangout was the Roofadora Club, as I recall.

CHAPTER 27-Y RA5C landing on aircraft carrier 1965

Our helo squadron aboard the USS Constellation in 1974 made three daily trips ("liberty runs") to Bagio, Manila, and Clark AFB while we were in port at Cubi Point/Subic.  We charged a dollar per person (which went to the rec fund).  Needless to say, we were the most popular squadron on the ship, especially among the Filipino stewards!  LOL.

Cesar Chavez and dogs Huelga and Boycott

And last but certainly far from least, your amazing work as a lawyer for the UFW.  What a legacy for you!  You can be justifiably proud of those years!


Anyway, Dan, thought you should know how much I enjoyed your book.  One of these days we'll have to meet for lunch.

All the best,

Stew Fisher (USNA '71)

book cover all the difference

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Review of Clara Bingham’s WITNESS TO THE REVOLUTION, Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the year America Lost its Mind and Found Its Soul by Daniel C. Lavery for VVAW

Clara Bingham’s WITNESS TO THE REVOLUTION, Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the year America Lost its Mind and Found Its Soul

WITNESS explores how the killing of four Kent State Students, maiming of nine more, by Ohio National Guardsmen, President Nixon’s invading neutral Cambodia, widespread anti-Vietnam protesting, and Seymour Hersh’s explosive reporting on the My Lai Massacre, shattered an enormous number of American’s support for prosecuting the Vietnam War. Clara Bingham’s unique enlightening interviews of 100 activists, vets, and officials, who pushed our country towards what Mario Savio called a revolution against “The Machine” referring to Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.” “There’s a time when the operation of the Machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus-and you’ve got to make it stop!”

  (Kent State Students where 4 were killed and 9 maimed by National Guardsmen bullets)

David Harris, one of many activists explains everything “grew out of the Mississippi taproot …when white college students went south to help voter registration and witnessed the heroism of the black people of Mississippi.” Other interviews included drug use, Woodstock, The Black Panthers, SDS, feminism, and Nixon’s lies stabbed most every thoughtful person’s conscience by the time Daniel Ellsberg published the Pentagon Papers. These policies caused the largest student strike ever with 2.5 million refusing classes and 700 colleges shutdown including Kent State. While an historian might question whether this massive civil disobedience constituted a revolution, this powerful book shows a major shift in thinking occurred when so many resisted the draft. It would have been unthinkable to the serviceman or public in World War II, however, resisting the draft was the favored choice of an enormous number of their children.

  (Weathermen about to smash windows demonstrating their rage at the "Machine")

This disconnect is present today with the Trump supporters living in an alternative universe from that of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. For example everyone in the Madison Police Department near Kent State when they heard of the shootings assumed the students were at fault from statements Spiro Agnew and the Ohio Governor made that vilified the protesters and urged the Guard to deal with them as scum. But the evidence was clear that the Guardsmen had violated their obligations to never fire on peaceful protesters as was common around the United States even if someone threw a rock or shouted obscenities. Allison Krause was killed by a bullet fired 343 feet away and while she took 45 minutes to bleed to death the medics were reserved for the Guardsmen and ignored her! Although no weatherman were present, elsewhere they had developed a strategy that included symbolic destruction of property like a Capitol bathroom with no one present. But it escalated into more serious bombings, hiding on the lam, and violence at demonstrations. Bingham says, “The sixties crested in 1968, with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. King, the Tet Offensive and Nixon’s victory.”

  (Nixon under the influence of alcohol speaking with demonstrators who descended on the Lincoln Memorial in protest against the Vietnam War and Nixon's policies)

Nothing is more chilling nor remarkable than Seymour Hersh’s ferreting out the truth on the My Lai massacre by tracking down eye witnesses to a horrendous war crime. Vietnam Vets like Nick Turse submitted proof of at least 300 similar massacres. Many occurred in “free fire zones” where they killed “anything that moved.” The Village of Ben Suc by Jonathan Schell involved another massacre that made Jane Fonda say, “I was one person before I read it, and another person after I finished…that was the beginning of my outrage.” Hersh visited Calley’s attorney in Salt Lake City who called it a mistake as he was told defending Calley accused of killing 109 “Oriental human beings.” Over a few beers Calley called My Lai a “setup, just a firefight.” Ernie Medina, a Captain, refused to agree with Calley “how I had nothing to do with it!” Barry Romo explained the body count was “close to 500” with American casualties only “One self-inflicted.” Hersh learned of a photographer, Paul Medlo who told him of three pits with “hundreds of people”, and that Calley brutally killed a small child. Medlo admits he and Calley “Shot and shot” at the unarmed people. Medlo, one of “McNamara’s Folly”, who would have never qualified in the past because of tests he could not pass, the next morning had his foot blown off by a mine! He felt God punished him and would punish Calley. His mother said, “I sent them a good boy and they returned him a murderer.” Hersh found photographer Ron Haeberle who saved photos of the massacre reported by Ron Ridenhour who broke the story a year before. His graphic photos have been circulated worldwide.

  (My Lai Massacre where more than 500 unarmed civilians were killed under orders by Lt. William Calley)

At Calley’s court martial he was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor at Fort Leavenworth. The next day Nixon ordered him transferred to house arrest at officer’s barracks pending appeal! His habeas corpus petition was granted by Judge J. Robert Elliot because of pre-trial publicity prejudice, refusal of the House of Representatives to release testimony taken in executive session, and inadequate notice of charges. Bingham’s focus is 1969-70 the “crescendo of the sixties, when years of civil disobedience and mass resistance erupted into anarchic violence.” Government sabotage as well as surveillance, theatrics in courtroom trials, massive police misconduct, and President Nixon’s late-night Lincoln Memorial meeting with protesters under the influence of alcohol when he tried to make them understand he wanted to end the Vietnam War. However, when he created the plumbers his days were numbered and brought his rapid much deserved downfall with Watergate.

  (Jane Fonda and John Kerry speak at an Anti-Vietnam rally for Vietnam Veterans Against War)

BIO: Dan graduated Annapolis, navigated a jet, then a ship to Vietnam. He resigned, joined VVAW, and became a civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW, the ACLU and in private civil rights practice. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his change from a pawn in the military to crusader for justice. (author website)


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Obama’s Train Is Coming

Obama’s Train Is Coming

 (My song for Obama is sung to the tune of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues)

Obama’s Train is Coming

It’s rolling around the bend

I ain’t seen the sunshine

Since I don’t know when

I’ve been stuck with Bush and Cheney

For eight long dark years

Obama’s on his way

To bring us hope instead of fears



When I was just a baby

My Momma told me son

Always be a good boy

Don’t ever play with guns

But I joined the US Navy

They sent me off to Vietnam

My Lai, Kent State, and Nixon

Made me doubt my Uncle Sam


Along came Sarah Palin

And scrappy John McCain

One is old and grumpy

The other has half a brain

Obama offers each of us

A much better plan

Universal health care

For every child, woman, and man


Let’s end Guantanamo

And the war in Iraq

No more torture or rendition

Give us America back

Say good bye to neo-cons

Their time has finally gone

Welcome in some caring people

Who sing a different song


The world’s most thoughtful leaders

From near and very far

Welcome Barack Obama’s

Rapid rising star

He asks for us to live

The best that we can be

He’ll change the USA

From sea to shining sea


Alternative energy and

A more efficient fuel

Higher teacher pay

And energize each school

If you want college education

You can have that too

If you serve our nation

And the red, white and blue


On January 20th

Of the year 2009

Obama’s reign will begin

A glorious new time

Nations around the world

Will respect America again

And children of every race

Will now say yes we can


This is a song I wrote while working on Obama's campaign in Cleveland in 2008. I hoped his speeches on these subjects would become history but the republicans were completely against anything he proposed, called him a Muslim born in Kenya, and prevented his plans to make America better from the beginning. They obstructed almost all his plans. Still he pulled us out of a recession, passed Bank reform and a health plan that covered more than 20 million uninsured persons. I do criticize his failure to close Guantanamo, over-use of inaccurate drones, and failure to take on Wall Street more strenuously for their fraudulent transactions and gambling with taxpayers money. History will reward him with a much more favorable rating than we have heard from the news media and his many misinformed detractors. I thought looking at Obama's history now that Trump is running for president on an entirely different and destructive path would enlighten voters as to how completely unqualified Trump is for the highest office in America and should be roundly defeated!

  Daniel C. Lavery  

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