Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to Write a Great Letter

Letter writing is an under-used and under-appreciated art form. So in an effort to help revive a dying art I want to share 6 key elements that make for a great letter.

1. Engage your recipient. You want them to write back. Ask about what is new at their end and share any info that you may have heard about them. For example, "I heard you got a new job. I hope you are fitting in well there. I'd love to hear about the transition." A letter shouldn't just be about sharing your news. You send a letter because you have been thinking about that person; let them know that.

2. Remember an email is not a letter. Turn off the computer, the printer, pack up the typewriter and take out some nice stationery, your favorite pen, sit down at your desk or dining room table and get to it. No one cares about your handwriting; you're not trying to win a penmanship award. The best part of getting a letter in the mail is that its personal, so keep it that way by hand writing it.

3. Check your spelling. You don't need a computer to spell check. You know the words that trip you up a lot so jot 'em down on scrap paper and look them up in a dictionary before you write them down.

4. Be genuine; stay true to your own voice. If you talk in contractions you should write in them too! Don't stress about how it sounds just be clear in what you're saying.

5. Don't get caught up in length; you're not writing a novel. It's okay to write a quick hello in 5 or 6 sentences. If you feel like you have to fill the space then choose a smaller sized stationery.

6. Keep the overall tone upbeat. It's one thing to mention an upcoming surgery or that a family member has had the flu all week. It's quite another to complain about your bad day. If you want to share a series of unfortunate circumstances be sure to present it in a humorous and lighthearted way.

You know, my mom always told me that relationships aren't for free. They require effort and cultivation. You have to groom them and sending a handwritten hello is a great way to do so. Think of someone you haven't heard from in a while and write them a note today. They'll feel good about it and so will you. Overall, remember to have fun with it. Letter writing is not a chore. It's an art form.

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