Monday, December 10, 2007

Tis the Season . . .

For diddies and newsletters! My mailbox is full with offerings of good cheer and tidings of joy, plus our RWA holiday party is Thursday, so I'm beginning to feel the season a little. Our chapter tradition of writing little poem/story/limerick/etc diddies to accompany white elephant gifts is always fun. Many families have similar traditions, and of course, many send out the annual newsletter. Tis the season for little bursts of writing for our most demanding audience--family and friends!

As we engage in these purely social acts of writing, how can what we've learned as romance writers help us? Should we try to elevate our writing beyond the bare minimum we need to slap that sucker in the mail? Of course we should! To ignore the challenge is to succumb to mediocrity--and that has lasting effects on the rest of our lives. Plus, just because they love us anyway, why subject your family and friends to another boring newsletter?

I now read these newsletters through the eyes of a writer and teacher. Misspellings jump out at me, as do run-on sentences, and misplaced modifers, but the real problem here is a lack of direction. The narrative is missing from most holiday writing.

What narrative you ask? You just have to report the family news. All you need to do is assemble, inflate, and invent and let these puffs of fluff land on the page as they will. To the contrary my friend! You won't need to resort to truth-stretching to hold the reader's interest if you follow some of the basics of good story telling:

Have a direction and a goal. Do you want to be funny? Touching? Sentimental? Pick the tone for your holiday communication and stick to it. What form will best accomplish your goal? A poem? A story? What type of story or poem? A silly format? What plays to your strengths? If you can't write rhyming poems to save your life, and hate even trying, don't feel obligated to attempt it.

Last year, I had a blast with my holiday letter and ditty because I played to my strength of narrative and dialogue. I challenged myself to use correct form, and to have a cohesive story that framed the necessary information. Think outside the box.

Who is the hero of your letter? Don't say all of us. So what if you have eight people to write about? There is still a hero of your story--you just have to find him/her and use them to frame your communication. "This year Grandma turned 75. We were so happy to have her with us to celebrate . . . " Keep returning to this person and use him/her as a touchstone for your communication.

Limit the backstory and information dumps. We all know that action keeps our WIPs moving, and the same is true for holiday writing. Keep things moving, and keep them clean. Don't overburden your holiday writing with flowery prose. It may be a season of reverence, but that's no reason to resort to Old English without good reason.

What writing do you have this season? Do you do a newsletter? Scrapbook? Other family traditions? Do you find your fiction writing influencing the social writing you do? Does your family expect more of you as you get more success with your writing? Do you feel obligated to show off your skills?

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To-Do Tuesday: Once the season is past, it's time to move onto the season of New Year's resolutions. Let one of yours be to register for the amazing Shirley Jump's online seminar with the Kiss of Death Mystery and Suspense RWA chapter. Click here for more information.

7 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Hey Wavy!

In year's past I've sent Christmas letters written by the dog, rhyming, in a cadence like the poem a "Night Before Christmas" and the relatives always say they enjoy receiving the letters. Now, with a busier schedule and more writing, I just make sure I have good word usage and don't give every little detail of our family's life the past year. I've learned to hit the high points and move on.

Alice Sharpe said...

I am not a newsletter writer. My favorite newsletter was one written by Erma Bombeck, the late humorist and all around great gal. She read hers on Johnny Carson, I believe, way back when. It was the first time I'd heard anyone do something like that -- now it will seem mundane as we all kind of play around with it. But she talked about how Uncle Henry was getting out of jail in time for Xmas, how their son was finishing up his drug rehab (three time's a charm!) etc.... It was so funny.

I get a couple every year and of those, my favorite is one that must take my friend six months to do. She uses photographs scattered all around the page and uses a color printer so it's cool looking and chooses pictures that hi-light children, trips, special events, etc... Very few words. Lots of color and it's interesting.

I do like Paty's idea of using the dog and wish I'd thought of that. And your suggestions, Wavy, are all good and might well transform boring into enjoyable. Maybe.

Fun, and timely, blog!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I'm glad to hear Alice say she's not a newsletter writer because I was starting to think there was something wrong with me.

I am not a newsletter writer either. Actually, I'm not a fan of newsletters in general - though I did like that Erma Bombeck one, Alice, when I first heard it years ago and thought it was a hoot. This is not a reflection of newsletters in general but of my mother who thought they were tacky and instilled her opinion in me. (Some things you just can't get away from no matter how hard you try.) Like Alice, I have a dear friend who puts pictures throughout the year all around her newsletter. I look at it and think, "Wow, that's so cool." Then I can't help think, "It must have taken forever." Too much work for me. I'm also way too critical of newsletters and edit each one I read (like said friend's, which was great, except for the fact she used exclamations after every sentence! Except when talking about her hubby's job! Which was the only sentence that didn't have an exclamantion mark and made my husband laugh out loud! See!!!!! I'm horrible!)

Wavy, I applaud you for putting your time and energy into writing a spiffy newsletter. The one you put on your blog last year around this time was fabulous. I can't wait to read what you come up with this year (hint, hint, don't forget to send me one). And I promise not to edit it when I read it (or point out your punctuation). ;)

Oh, and to answer your questions...

What writing do you have this season?
My book.

Do you do a newsletter?
No

Scrapbook?
Not anymore (poor third child has one page done in his baby book)

Other family traditions?
Wine, wine, and more wine. (Gotta have something to get me through those family gatherings.)

Do you find your fiction writing influencing the social writing you do?
What social writing?

Does your family expect more of you as you get more success with your writing?
ROFLMAO. No.

Do you feel obligated to show off your skills?
LOLOLOL. Ah, no. Most days I'd rather not discuss said skills.

Paty Jager said...

OH sure- leave it to Eli to make the rest of us look bad! All those questions buzzed right by my head.

What writing do you have this season?
My book, a proposal for a contemp book deal and a western series and two workshops.

Do you do a newsletter?
Yes

Scrapbook?
Never have

Other family traditions?
not really

Do you find your fiction writing influencing the social writing you do?
Do you mean like letters? LOL I haven't written a full-fledged fold it up, tuck it in an envelope and stamp it letter other than the Christmas card/letter in years.

Does your family expect more of you as you get more success with your writing?
Haven't a clue

Do you feel obligated to show off your skills?
According to most- that would be my love scenes and I don't think my great aunt could take that in a Christmas letter! ROFL

Karen Duvall said...

I've done holiday newsletters in the past, but they're usually guilt letters I use as a cop out for being really, really bad at keeping in touch with friends and family.

I did one the first year we moved to Oregon, partly because there was lots to tell (we'd moved!), and partly because I had lots of spare time on my hands to write such a thing (no job yet). Not all news is especially happy, and some news could be resented by family members to whom the news applies. For me, it's a can of worms better left unopen. Hey, I've got a blog. Ain't that enough? Heh!

I designed my own holiday card last year, email only. I'll probably do it again in addition to the ones I mail (I mailed nothing last year). I bought these adorable cards at Costco, the 3D kind with glued on bells and fabric and buttons and stuff. I open the box and look at the envelope for one, and it says "May require additional postage." WTF? It would have been nice if that vital piece of info was outside the box where unsuspecting buyers could see it. Sheesh.

Okay, on to Wavy's questions:

What writing do you have this season?
The book that wants to be done.

Do you do a newsletter?
Eh, I might do a blog. Or an email newsletter. I don't know.

Scrapbook?
Don't make me laugh.

Other family traditions?
I'm with Eli on the wine thing. We don't really have any traditions, though. Things change every year, family members move away, etc.

Do you find your fiction writing influencing the social writing you do?
Actually, it's the other way around. The more emails and comments and such that I write, my voice has become more conversational in my fiction writing than it used to be.

Does your family expect more of you as you get more success with your writing?
Success? Uh, no.

Do you feel obligated to show off your skills?
In a newsletter? Not really.

Danita Cahill said...

Timely bog, Wavy. Just this morning I was staring at the unopened boxes of Christmas cards and thinking, "I gotta get on that."

Not sure what I'll strive for this year. Maybe like Paty, just get it down and get it done.

Don't mean to sound bah-humbug...

Barbara said...

Jim and I write a Christmas newsletter every year and send it in place of a card by mail or email to everyone whose address we know. We print it on holiday letterhead and tuck it in matching envelopes. Jim assembles a collage of photos from the past year and sends a page of those to close family members (color ink is expensive). We keep a copy of each year's letter in our photo albums to divide it by years and fill in some details.

I'm afraid it's not a literary production--just hitting the highlights of our family history. We start it by looking at the past year's calendar and making a list of everything we've done and clump the highlights by person--Jim, our son Luc, and myself. Either Jim or I will write the first draft, then give it to the other for additions, subtractions, improvements, etc. We try to keep it down to one side of one sheet.

If I have your email address, you'll get to see a copy of this year's letter 'though it sounds like some of you will probably delete it unread and the rest of you will critique it. ROFL

We do it to record our family history, keep in touch with family and friends, keep up with address changes, and review and learn from our own experiences. We are always saddened when we receive a pretty card with nothing in it but a signature--all that tells us is that this family member or friend can still sign their name. We long to know how they are doing just as we want to know how the book we are reading will turn out.

Still, I can't fault those of you who are doing so much writing each day for not wanting to pound the keys still more hours to greet family and friends--perhaps they hear more from you by phone or in frequent visits. We're looking forward to visiting with you this Thursday at the party--I've got my diddy done!