The Lost Skill Of Civilized Society We Desperately Need To Revive

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The Letter writing basics

I was a frequent letter writer in the ’80s and ’90s. I recently rediscovered the artform as a means of teaching my son how to write thoughtfully. Most rules on writing apply to letter writing, with only a few modifications.

Always write to a specific audience

Direct most letters to a single individual —open letters excepted. It’s always from you, a single human being. Never write as though you were an entity: a company name, department or group.

It’s not about you

Do you have a family, friend or acquaintance that sends you a ten-page narrative of everything they experienced the past year? Be honest. Do you read them? No, I don’t either.

  1. Put your letter away for at least twelve hours. Read it again but pretend that it is addressed to you.

Outline your letter before writing

The power of a letter lies in its thoughtfulness. Create an outline before you write your first draft.

Allow distance between editing

Your completed draft will always look impressive right after you finish. It won’t look as good the next morning. Spending time away from your work allows you to forget it enough so that you can identify the flaws.

Send it when they least expect

Would it surprise you to receive a letter of appreciation after you do a huge favor for someone? Sure, you would appreciate the gesture, but it would not surprise you.

Consider delivery

Yes, you can transfer your work to email and send it out. What about sending it by snail mail? Or how about messengering it over to your recipient. My favorite technique is FedExing it overnight. This technique works well when the recipient expects your letter. A creative delivery method adds in that touch of surprise.

Get your anger out of the way

When Benjamin Franklin was angry, he would unload all his vitriol onto the paper. And then, he would throw it away. He’d start again and if his words were still filled with anger, he’d throw that one away.

The 5 letters you should know how to write

The basic guidelines apply to all five letters you’ll read about next.

The open letter

The letters I posted above were all open letters. They were published to a recipient or recipients on a public platform. Historical figures used them to call out injustice or bring attention to people who lacked the voice and distribution to make their case known.

  • Avoid sanctimonious verbiage
  • Express anger but keep aggression in check

The love letter

Love letters have been relegated to plot devices in historical fiction novels. In the age of sexting, we’ve lost the skill of expressing our love with artful, thoughtful and subtle words.

The letter of appreciation

Do you remember the last thank you note you received? Of course not. Thank you notes are devices we use to fulfill an obligation. Letters of appreciation emanate from heartfelt gratitude.

  1. Why you think it deserves your appreciation.
  2. Give an example of how it benefitted you.
  3. BONUS: Deliver with grace.

The apology

Almost all apologies, written or verbal, contain a fatal flaw. As a recipient or neutral third party, you see the flaw instantly. The apologizer qualifies his apology.

The persuasive letter

Explaining the concepts behind a persuasive letter in a few hundred words won’t be possible, but I’ll provide you with a few key takeaways you can use right away.

Forget logic

Never try to prove your point. Persuasion is 80% emotional and 20% logical. You can’t change someone’s mind. We change our own mind. Your job is to lead your reader to a point where he comes to the conclusion you desire.

Hide your personal opinions

Once you make your opinion known, your reader will see you as a person with an agenda.

You don’t need a hammer

A heavy-handed approach destroys your credibility when you write to a hostile or even neutral audience. Be on the lookout for adjectives and adverbs that unintentionally give away your opinion.

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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