Do you dread writing notes to say "Thank you," "I'm sorry," or "Congratulations"?
When's the last time you sent a handwritten letter to a faraway friend, just to catch up?
What should you write to a grieving friend or colleague? How do you let friends know you're getting a divorce?
As our lives get busier and faster-paced, the old-fashioned art of personal correspondence is becoming sadly lost. In this upbeat, wise, and witty guide, journalist and lifestyle expert Sandra Lamb offers a wealth of advice, inspiration, and examples for anyone who wants to add flair, voice, and plain old fun to their letters and notesas well as anyone who wants to know the etiquette of when and what to write. Using colorful examples and practical advice, the book covers thank yous, congratulations, engagements and weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, births and adoptions, appreciation, love notes, illness and accidents, divorce, condolence, regrets, apologies, and forgiveness.
This delightful, indispensable guide helps us rediscover the joy of connecting with others through the simple act of putting pen to paper.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Sandra E. Lamb is the award-winning author of How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You'll Ever Write. A former columnist for The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News, she has written relationship/psychology articles for national women's magazines such as Family Circle and Woman's Day. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
The Power to Connect
We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance.
We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.
We should write, above all, because we are writers, whether we call our-selves that or not.
— Julia Cameron, The Right to Write
WHAT'S SO OFTEN MISSING from our lives today is the richness of shared humanity, those moments when we feel really connected to other human beings. The act of writing personal notes not only feeds our own soul, but also lets us share ourselves with others — offering hope, affirming life, connecting.
But let's clarify. Although we have the great advantage of advanced technologies and electronic gadgets that keeps us instantly and constantly in touch, we often feel a deep void that can only be filled when we take a moment to reflect, experience, and reach out to another. Ironically, this can come from something as old-fashioned and simple as writing a personal note.
You may argue that we no longer have any need to handwrite personal notes since we can pick up the telephone, zip off a message by fax, or even more quickly, with a few strokes on the keyboard, zap it to someone by e-mail. But these great modes of communication don't in fact, replace our need for the handwritten personal note. Rather, they underscore the value and function of writing notes by hand.
Instant communications allow us to function too close to the surface, writing on the run from only that top, thin layer of our thoughts; responding without going deeper, opening our inner well, or drawing out that flow of spirit and words that will really connect us to another.
Yes, it's possible to just skim the surface in writing our personal communications, and there certainly is a time and place for that. We don't need to put a lot of heart into an RSVP for every office party, for example.
But to make a real and personal connection with another, to share a bit of your humanity, you will want to get in touch with your inner, deeper self. Amazingly, something wonderful will happen. You will nurture your own soul, in addition to touching that of another.
Time and Place
THERE ARE TWO KEYS to any kind of writing: time and place. Often they are inseparable. The right time for writing is when you are closest to your emotional response. In the case of a gift received, that's usually after you've opened it and are basking in the initial delight. If you're not delighted, the right time may be after you've reflected on it for a while. (Reflecting, in any case, is always good.)
Place can be physical and emotional. It may be an inner "click" that signals that you've tuned into your heart, your writing place. A physical place where you love to write is also very helpful. Many creative and very productive writers attest that it's crucial to set the stage by returning to a familiar writing place, with the tools of their trade at the ready. Use both.
A Matter of Focus
TO GET THE FLOW of words started, focus on the person to whom you're writing. Who is she? What do you know about her? What are a few of her favorite things? What is your relationship to her? How does she relate to the subject you're writing about (a kind deed she did, a close relative she has lost, or a party she hosted)?
Now, put yourself and your desire to connect with her into the picture, but keep your thoughts on her and her point of view. Today I went to a neighborhood bookstore for a book signing. Celia, the owner of the little store, had worked extremely hard to make a celebration, a party, for authors. In sitting down to write her a note of thanks, my thoughts ran immediately to how I'd nearly been late because I'd been given erroneous directions by a friend who was also going to the signing. And, of course, I wanted to tell her that I enjoyed the event. Then I stopped, and did what I'm advising here. I began to picture her face as she talked to me during the signing. I asked myself these questions: Who is she?
What is her relationship to the book signing?
How does she feel about it?
Something began to move in my heart. I remembered how she'd explained the difficulties she'd had putting the event together, how much work she'd done to get it publicized, and how, if this event didn't generate substantial sales, she'd have to close her store. This book-signing party was her last chance to keep her dream alive.
Entering the Circle of Light
AFTER YOU'VE FOCUSED YOUR THOUGHTS on the recipient, think about the thing itself — the event, gift, gesture, piece of news — you are writing about.
Finally, put yourself and how you feel about your message into what I call a circle of light. Once you have these elements illuminated in your heart, mind, and spirit, you have only to connect the dots, or encircle them — a process that often happens naturally in the outflowing of your expression.
In the case of the bookstore, I put myself back in that moment.
When I switched my internal focus from myself to Celia, I immediately stopped thinking about thanking her for hosting the signing or how many books I'd sold. Instead, I began thinking about how she'd confided her experience of putting the event together, and I had access to the connecting flow of words of thanks and encouragement. I also had a couple of ideas to share with her about future events the store might host.
I just finished a thank-you note for a personal gift of a lovely red sweater. Focusing first on the giver, then the gift, and then on how I feel about it, I put my response in order:
You are a marvel at gift-giving. You never, in ten years, have hit one false note. Exactly how do you do it? The red sweater is the perfect size and wonderful with my ski jacket. I wore it to rave reviews on Saturday. Of course you knew it would be great. And its the perfect answer to what to wear after skiing. I will wear it — I love it — for many enjoyable seasons to come. Nell, thank you, thank you, thank you.
The balancing of these ingredients will change, of course, depending upon the kind of note you are writing. Your heart will tell you. A recent sympathy note I sent to a friend who lost his wife to cancer, for example, made little mention of myself, except to say,
... I will always cherish having known Beth, and will continue to return for inspiration, again and again, to the wonderful written body of work she left here for us.
A Practical Act
LOTS OF "ROUTINE" PERSONAL NOTES can be easily "dashed off" in a few minutes while surrounded by all sorts of external chaos. But there are other notes, especially to your very near and dear, that are served up best after several tries.
I'll often jot down a word or two to get started. Then I'll throw in a few phrases. Usually I'll cross out something I've thought better of, and then try another phrase or two. I usually have a few arrows of reordering and some subpoints, if it is of any length.
It often saves me time, and lets me get to my best and true expression, to use a spiral "personal notes book." If I were really organized — as you may be — I'd keep a spiral notebook exclusively for each category of notes, then next year as Mother's Day approached, I could pull out that notebook and see what I have written to my mother in the past.
So, take your pen and paper, and get ready to create a real human connection.
Points of Etiquette (and Netiquette)
There is always a best way of doing everything, if it be to boil an egg. Manners are the happy ways of doing things.
— The Conduct of Life (1860)
USING THE OLD RULES OF ETIQUETTE, I'm sure you'll find, adds value to any event or occasion, or to any social act. Who doesn't like to receive a special, personal, and hand-addressed invitation through the mail, rather than an e-mail or telephone call?
Responding in kind to an invitation or an act of kindness or courtesy is a good general rule; but a better one is making sure your response promotes gentility and civility. While it may be great fun to have an upcoming engagement party listed on a web site, for example, with preparty chatter and anticipation building over several weeks before the event through exchanged e-mails, it's still very nice to maintain the old grace and formality of mailing invitations and responding in the traditional ("snail mail") form.
By the same token, if you receive an invitation to an association luncheon by email, it is certainly proper netiquette to "RSVP" in kind. (Répondez s'il vous plaît is French for "please let us know if you are coming.") In fact, e-mail may be the preferred form of response and a courtesy to the sender. Use good manners online, as well as good manners off.
Everything in Its Proper Time
BESIDES RESPONDING IN KIND, remember to respond in time. After all, it's a conversation. Just as it's rude not to respond when spoken to, it's rude not to respond when you've received an act of kindness or a gift. Or an invitation. I recently sent out 350 engraved invitations to a semiformal banquet with a request to RSVP. Both an e-mail address and a telephone number were listed. There were sixty acceptances and twelve "regrets." The majority of those invited either did not understand or simply didn't bother to respond.
Sometimes responding in time means waiting. That is often true when your message is high in emotional content. You should allow your note to season before sending. Give it a little time after writing, reread it, and be sure your message reflects your more objective feelings. The time element may be just an hour or two, or it may be a day or two. In the event of a negative or angry response, be sure your pique has passed.
Here are a few time guidelines:
OCCASION OR EVENT TIMING
Wedding Send a "Save-the-Date" announcement for those traveling a long distance, or if the wedding is at an especially busy time, four months in advance of the day.
Formal Party Send a formal invitation at least three weeks before the event.
Informal Party A note helps build anticipation (though invitations may even be made with a telephone call). Something casual and festive in keeping with the spirit of the get-
Birthday Tailor the invitations to fit the event, and send them out two to four weeks in advance.
Dinner Try to issue invitations at least three weeks in advance, especially if the date is during a busy time.
RSVPs Always respond, as soon as possible,
Wedding Shower Gift Friends and family have joined in the celebration to help make this a very special event. Send your note within a week.
Baby Shower Gift How wonderful to have those who care about your new family. Send your note within a week.
Wedding Gift Send these as soon as you can manage,
Birth and Adoption Gift This is a wonderful opportunity to give some special heartfelt news about your new family, and how the gift will be used. You might even include a picture.
Birthday Gifts Send a thank you within two or three days of receiving the gift.
Christmas, Hanukkah, and Other Gift- Send your note within two or three days Giving Holidays of receiving the gift.
Formal Party Hostess Gift Whether you were given flowers, wine, or something else thoughtful, send a personal note right away, within two or three days.
Dinner Party Being a guest is a very special privilege. Send a thank you right away,
Hospitality Don't just telephone. Write a thoughtful, sincere note of special thanks, and do it within a couple of days.
Gifts and Acts of Letting those who've shown kindness Kindness During Illness during your illness know how much you appreciate their caring is vital. Do it as soon as you're up to it.
Condolences For every card, note, bouquet, or act of kindness given after a death, be sure to send a personal note. It's important to acknowledge what the sender said about the deceased in your note. This is a time for remembering and honoring the life of the deceased. Send your notes within six weeks, or as soon as you can.
Referral, Reference, or Recommendation Send a special and personal note within a day or two. Follow up with another note if, for example, you get the job for which someone recommended you. And determine to do something very nice for the person in return.
Business Gifts, Acts of Kindness, or a Job Distinguish yourself as a colleague or Well Done business associate with civility and heart, keeping your note consistent with your relationship to the person. Express your appreciation within twenty-four hours.
A Gift Delivered by Mail Pick up the telephone and let the sender know the item arrived safely. Say a verbal thanks, then within a day, send a handwritten thank you.
WRITING WITH PASSION CAN be the key that releases a comforting flow to an anguished and grieving parent, like all those thousands of personal notes and letters sent to the families of slain Columbine teens. Such notes of shared emotion can even create a place where two souls meet, commune, and find solace. It is vital at such times of difficulty and grief, however, to keep the focus on the recipient, and to make her support and succor your goal.
Anger is very difficult to handle effectively on the page. While you may very well need to vent your negative emotions, you may find that after you've written them down on paper, you'd best read them aloud (to yourself only), then tear the paper into fine confetti. It's important to temper your response (no pun intended) with fact and objectivity. Don't shoot off a note demanding an apology, for example, before you've given it some shelf time and have given yourself the opportunity to become separated from the heat of your initial emotions. Reread your note after an hour, a few hours, or even twenty-four. You may then think and feel quite differently about the situation and elect to write something very different. If you're still uncertain, read it to an objective friend or a professional who will keep it confidential.
Netiquette: Niceness On Line
E-MAIL DOESN'T SUBSTITUTE for a handwritten note, but it holds some wonderful possibilities. There are many times when an e-mail serves just the right purpose — for example, those quick questions you need an answer to in no particular time frame. It's great for check-ins with friends, colleagues, and associates, and it saves time when something needs to be conveyed immediately.
But it's important to remember, first of all, the personality characteristics e-mail messages may lack. The combined immediacy, intimacy, and anonymity of the Internet can cause you to fracture a relationship in a nanosecond. Always use the best of e-manners to avoid being labeled one who flames others. Try to give every message lots of leeway in the offense department. And remember, the little emoticons, like smiley faces, winks, and little shocked expressions, don't effectively put a happy face on an insult.
If your message requires a human moment, that is, if it is high in either emotional or personal content, e-mail is not the proper vehicle. If it requires dialogue or negotiation, or if the content is of a personnel, confidential, or financial nature, don't use e-mail. Use a face-to-face exchange when these elements are present.
Pick up the telephone when you need an immediate answer from someone with whom you don't share instant e-mail messaging. Leave a voice message if the person you want to communicate with prefers voice contact, or if your message will benefit from the nuance of voice inflection. (E-mails aren't for everyone. Often the age of your recipient will give you a clue about receptivity. Ask if in doubt.) Sending an e-message festooned with those emoticons won't change your recipient's mind about an angry or critical message. Use emoticons only if you know her well, and know she enjoys them. Many people view them as cryptic, silly, or insultingly simplistic.
Always send a handwritten message when you want to offer a personal word of praise, comfort, or support, because writing it down adds the weight of care, contemplation, and a permanent record.
Excerpted from "Personal Notes"
Copyright © 2003 Sandra E. Lamb.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: Before You Write,
1 The Power to Connect,
2 Points of Etiquette (and Netiquette),
3 Tools of the Trade,
Part Two: Notes of Thanks, Hope, And Joy,
4 Thank Yous,
11 Births and Adoptions,
12 Life Achievements,
13 Rites of Passage and Life Events,
15 Happy Holidays,
17 Just Because You're You Notes,
18 Love Notes,
Part Three: Notes of Sorrow And Sympathy,
19 Illness and Accidents,
Part Four: Notes of Refusal, Apology, and Forgiveness,