Attending a private college afforded me the opportunity to avoid most of the subjects I did not like, such as English. I had already had enough English classes to last me a lifetime, as far as I was concerned.

That changed when I entered my first advanced class in my chosen field of concentration: Neuroscience. I was fascinated with the human mind and all it’s intricacies of wonder and awe. Little did I know my academic pursuit would require me to write papers. Good papers if I wanted to do well. You see, only half of my grade was due to content, where I excelled. The other half of my grade came from something I never heard of called “writing style.” Most likely I had heard of it in high school, but conveniently zoned out when the lesson was taught.

It seemed every time I turned in a paper my research and content was graded high – 98% was normal. But when it came to my writing style, I could only get 10-20%, and I was lucky to receive that high of a score. My grade was barely passing in a subject I loved. My professor wasn’t much help explaining to me what he meant by writing style, and why I sucked at it. I just knew after talking to him that we were not connecting. My desire was there. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to excel in his class. One day, I went to him, practically in tears and professed, “Dr. Gross (not his real name), I just don’t understand what you want from me.” As professors go, Dr. Gross was pretty smug and condescending to me, and not much help at all. He finally said, “Why don’t you go speak to Dr. Steiner (not his real name, either) in the English Department? I’m sure he will tutor you.” This added to my growing frustration because I was paying my way through college. I simply didn’t have the money to take on a tutor because I was barely making it as it was. In my desperation, I called Dr. Steiner anyway. He was warm, receptive, and encouraged me to bring him some of my papers. We would “go over them together.” Finally, a breakthrough, I hoped.

Dr. Steiner and I met on a cold Tuesday evening. Within minutes he took a red pen and circled subject matter, pointing to the circled content while asking me who or what I was referring to. To me, it seemed easy to pinpoint the answer to his question. Not to the casual reader, though. I was writing the same way I would speak to another person if I were telling a story. In storytelling, you have voice inflection which makes it easier for the listener to follow along. Not so in writing. What he taught me made sense. Very quickly my writing style improved dramatically. I was getting an ‘A’ on every paper from that point on. In all honesty, I am not certain Dr. Gross was as pleased as I hoped he would be. He was an unhappy character all around, and probably belonged in a research lab away from people.

My writing style has benefitted me for decades. I carefully construct everything from my blog posts ( to articles I contribute here on Thrive Global, even emails. Having a well-honed writing style really helped when, in 2018, I published my first book, “Killing My Father Then Finding Him.” Writing is important, no matter what your vocation is. People notice. I am grateful I found Dr. Steiner. His patience and teaching made an impact on me, one that has stayed with me all my life.


  • John Harrell

    Life is to be lived, not merely existed through.

    John Harrell manages a successful business, writes a daily inspirational blog, and regularly engages in public speaking. His audiences include corporations, trade associations, college students and incarcerated children - truly a “captive” audience. In 2018, Harrell published his first book, “Killing My Father Then Finding Him” which became a number-one bestseller the first day of publication on Amazon.   John is a fortunate survivor of childhood physical and emotional abuse. Because of his upbringing, Harrell is able to connect with struggling children, offering hope to kids in sometimes hopeless situations. Our futures are not limited by our circumstances. Everyone has the power to break the generational malady of abuse, and live a meaningful and full life.   Harrell serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Rachel’s Challenge, the largest program in the world which focuses on kindness and compassion. Named for Rachel Joy Scott, the first child killed at Columbine High School, Rachel’s Challenge transforms the lives of almost 2 million people per year in across the globe. John lives in Austin, Texas, and is the proud father of two sons.