[Wayback Repost] Letters of introduction
February 8, 2016 in Journal
It is tricky to write to a new person for the first time. Once, you would have a letter of introduction from a mutual friend to accompany yours. It is rare when you have that opportunity now. Many of you have found new people to write to through the forums and now must write that first letter. The temptation is to start off with a short biography.
Allow me to counsel you to avoid that. Why? Because letters are a form of written conversation. You do not approach someone new at a party and recite your curriculum vitae. It is stiff and formal. Instead, you start with an observation about the place you are in, or some other bit of small talk about something you have in common. In person that might be, “can you believe the weather we’re having?” In a letter it might be, “I’ve been buying ridiculous quantities of stationery…”
I sometimes start by simply describing where I am at that moment. “I’m sitting at my desk in our dining room. My cat Harriet is curled up on the radiator next to me and is snoring. I adore a cat who snores…” You see how simply trying to capture that moment in time begins to tell my new correspondent something about me. I have a cat named Harriet.
Another idea, suggested by participant Fiona Webster is to free associate. Look at their bio on the webpage and start writing about whatever comes to mind from a quick glance.
And ask questions. If their bio mentions that they are married, ask how they met their spouse. Or if it mentions that they collect typewriters, ask what their most recent acquisition is. Treat it like a conversation.
And remember, when you first meet something, there’s nothing wrong with a little small talk while you get to know each other.
What tricks do you use when starting?