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Larry Ciptak

My writing career began in 1982 at age 20 after reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Within a month I was hitchhiking from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh on my first cross-country wayfaring trip, documenting my adventures. Riding the freights with the hobos, staying at missions, camping out in the woods–I was hooked. The following summer I hitchhiked from Pittsburgh to Alaska and back, keeping journals of my travels across Canada, up the Pacific Northwest, to Alaska and back again. It was during this period that I realized the power of the written word.

I was a sociology major at the time and though I loved studying culture and social psychology, I saw little application of the subject matter in real life–until I started writing about various topics. My personal experiences put in a sociological context made for interesting fodder. I changed majors and went to school for journalism and communications at Point Park College.

In the late 80s I began freelance writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Though only a junior, I dropped out of school to take a position as staff writer at the Butler Eagle. I had the police beat, covered municipal meetings, a school strike and wrote numerous feature articles. Working for a daily paper taught me the ins-and-outs of print publication. In those days we used typewriters and word processors–Windows 2.0 wasn’t even around yet.

Then I met a guy who owned a fishing boat in Seward, Alaska.  Within a few months I was a deckhand on the FV Patriarch, being banged around by the Gulf of Alaska, longlining for halibut and ling cod. It wasn’t The Deadliest Catch (crab fishing) but also wasn’t far from it. I felt incredibly alive. Everything is Alaska comes in epic proportions. I was eventually left broke on Kodiak Island after we lost all of our new gear, but didn’t care. I returned to Alaska the following year and was en route to Alaska via the Inside Passage when we got word of an oil spill in Prince William Sound. That was 1989, the year of the Exxon disaster. We spent a lot of time sitting around doing nothing while the politicians fought, people lined up to scheme their way into Exxon’s pocket and the whole fishing industry came to a standstill.

Returning to Pittsburgh I realized that while commercial fishing was a rewarding experience, it wasn’t my calling. I returned to writing with vigor and churned out numerous pieces for the Post-Gazette and other publications. I meandered back to school and completed my degree and kept writing.

While a student I was introduced to a man with a small advertising agency and began an internship with him. He taught me about top-down marketing–set measurable objectives first, then build a strategic plan to achieve those objectives. I also bought my first computer at age 29 and began learning graphic arts and desktop design. In time I had my own client base, creating menus, brochures, newsletters, advertisements and the like. I learned how to work the publicity machine by creating well-written news releases and developing relationships with editors. My writing gravitated away from journalism and toward business-to-business and copy writing.

I spent the winter of 1989 in the Caribbean as a field writer for a sunken treasure expedition called Explorations International out of Switzerland, documenting our adventures to keep the shareholders happy as they lived our experience vicariously from their armchairs. We spent a couple months at sea and three weeks on the Island of Haiti looking for buried treasure. We found some bronze cannons and coins but nothing substantive. But the intense Haiti experience left me with the knowledge that I could never consider myself poor again.

Every once in a while I’d take a full-time job in another field, while continuing to write on the side. I worked in the psychiatric field for five years as therapeutic support for autistic and behaviorally-challenged kids. I then worked intensively with the mentally ill homeless population for Western Psych. What a trip. Those positions gave me new insights into myself and life in general and helped me become a more well-rounded writer. And how to deal with difficult people and complex situations in business.

Then along came the internet. I was there for the first wave of the rush to the web and created and marketed dozens of web sites, handling all the content, graphics and marketing. That work kept me very busy for years and I moved further away from my journalistic roots. Every so often I’d have a book concept and write a few chapters, but never finished any of the pieces. It was all about the web at the time.

In 2002 I founded Big Dog Warehouse, Inc., a locker and shelving web distributorship. My partner and I started from scratch without seed money. Through a few years of pure sweat equity, we gradually built up Big Dog to be an industry powerhouse and a $3.5m company. Eventually we caught the attention of one of our manufacturers who saw the benefit of having an in-house web marketing arm, and in 2008 we sold our shares. All the employees went to work in the new operation while I took a position as marketing director for another local locker company.

In the meantime I started another company, Amish Lockers, LLC, providing custom-made wood lockers crafted by the old-order Amish of New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. This business is truly a labor of love. While I was building up Amish Lockers the recession hit and as schools were our main market, they quit buying product and eventually my position was phased out. Since then I’ve been running Amish Lockers, getting back into some web design and strategic marketing consulting for clients.

I like content management, writing marketing-friendly content for websites. Give them a unified and strategic “voice.” And to work collaboratively with a design individual or team. The same applies to graphic arts and desktop design. I like the client contact, collecting information, coming up with sound marketing copy and working with the artists through completion. Basic stuff I can do. When you need real graphic arts, use a real graphic artist. I know such individuals and firms.

I keep my technological skills honed enough to remain marketable and surround myself with capable and talented creative types to collaborate on projects together. From brochures, annual reports, white papers, web sites, web sites with shopping carts, I’m positioned to offer superior product at a fraction of what a large agency would charge.

Take a look around this site and you’ll get a flavor of my writing style. I can write in whatever voice is necessary for a project. I’ve worked on projects that took an hour and others that took years.

Bring on the writing projects.

Larry Ciptak