Tips from a writing professional “Write about what’s going on in your head”
What makes a good letter?
Good letters are like good conversations. Think of your lines like sentences in a conversation. How would your friend react to this sentence? Would they be intrigued and read on? Then you’ve got the right sentence in your letter.
What’s a good way to begin?
Thanking someone for something specific is a nice, appreciative way to start. And at the end, it’s best to include something to keep the conversation going, such as “Perhaps you can come and visit us in the autumn?”
How can you turn birthday greetings into something special?
Perhaps you can tell the birthday boy or girl about an activity you would like to do with them.
How can I make an authentic greeting card to celebrate a birth?
If you have children yourself, you could talk about what it was like when your own children were born, for example. But an offer to babysit will also always be welcome.
How could I congratulate a friend on their professional success?
Have you watched as your friend undertook further qualifications, or had to sit exams, or had to put up with a difficult boss for years on end? Write about how you closely followed their progress, and give them the recognition they deserve.
It’s not easy to describe your own feelings What’s the trick to doing it?
The most important thing is to recall how you reacted when you received the news. What thoughts, emotions and memories did the event trigger for you? That’s the raw material for making authentic, readable letters and cards.
How can you avoid platitudes?
Platitudes are words that come to mind without even thinking, because you’ve already seen them thousands of times. Instead, talk about what’s happened in your life. Talk about how you almost lost your job in restructuring, or about how your daughter is losing her first baby teeth, or how you’ll soon be moving into a new flat. Think of details, anecdotes and stories that you would talk about if you were having a conversation.
That takes time. Why is it worth putting in the effort?
Think about the last real letter that you received. Do you still remember how happy you were when you found the handwritten envelope in your letterbox? Your friend sat down, disregarded what was going on around her and took time out for you. The card in your hands is proof of that. Letters are a gift of someone’s time for you. There is nothing more precious.
Matthias Wiemeyer is the co-owner of Schreibszene, a boutique Swiss writing school, and works as an instructor with many Swiss businesses of all sizes.