[Wayback Repost] Letters of introduction

This post was originally published on February 5, 2013. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

introductionIt 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?

18 thoughts on “[Wayback Repost] Letters of introduction”

  1. Ahh, such good points! Wish I had read this yesterday when I wrote my first “first” letter in almost a year! I got nervous and dedicated each paragraph to a section of my life 😉 Ah well, better tips for today!

  2. Very good points! I’m sure your letter was still a very interesting one Michelle. I too am always guilty of ‘writing a CV’ yet never even realised it until Mary mentioned it above. I shall be aware of it in future letters and will just relax and ‘let it flow’ as I write.

  3. Just a simple introduction will do whether someone is writing to you first or not. I had said something else over at Facebook that relates to this. I will say this right here as well. By the end of this evening I have written a total of 13 letters so far in February 2013! I will be past the halfway mark of the magic number of 23! Good luck to us all and keep having fun!

  4. Very good post, like! I often try to start off by describing the place I’m in, which will probably be at home, at work or at a coffee shop. In the two latter, it’s usually pretty easy to look around and describe a situation, that way the person I’m writing too (hopefully) feels like a part of a conversation and a wee bit “closer” in a way.
    But writing first letters is always terrifying even though I’ve done quite a few by now. In some ways it’s a bit like a job interview, because your new pen pal doesn’t have anything to judge you from but your letter, so of course you want to make a good impression 🙂

  5. Glad for this post! @Anny, you are absolutely right and that’s what makes it so frightening.

    I have a tendency to start writing basics about my life and think it must be so boring. I participated in a recent letter swap titled “Rambling Letter.” The whole purpose behind it was to write about whatever was on your mind, but no formal introductions. Very helpful and much more enjoyable!

    @Sara Rose and @Anny – great suggestions!

  6. @Cassie, woah I’d love a Rambling letter swap, although I suspect most of my letters are quite..rambly 😉 But that’s a great way to practice the skill of not being so formal in letters!

  7. I Send an “ID PenPal” Card in My Intro Letters as a Tuck-In— http://www.cruzcreate.com/ink/penpal-deja-vu
    Yes, I realize that if you’re sending a cold-call letter out of the gate, not knowing if there will be any interest, one shy’s away from dispensing huge amount of effort and time. I get it. But on the other hand, “My favorite color is…”— I just find that a little elementary to give an adult.

    TIP: I like to start with conversation straight away. I want to be engaging from the beginning. Not on purpose, or just to be so, but because I really have something I want to say to someone I don’t know. I realize this can be off-putting to some recipients, so I’ve created a really fun looking “ID card” as a Tuck-in to my intro letters. It gives all the intro information without me having to rewrite it each time. So they know straight away that others get the same info, but it’s so creative that I don’t think they mind (I don’t have an appreciation for intro letters from a PC where your name has been substituted at the top, printed and sent), AND they have an actual conversational letter just for them as well. =)

    Here is a sneak-peek at my Card: http://www.cruzcreate.com/ink/penpal-deja-vu

  8. I use my hand….traced and cut out. Sometimes on collage paper I’ve created, sort of handshake through the mail. That is what we do in person…shake hands as an introduction. Through the years EVERYONE who has sent me their extended hand in friendship ( along with paw-prints, bird/poultry feathers, foot-print) have been posted on my blog handinfriendship.com. Any element that humanizes a letter, makes the recipient more comfortable is a benefit:)

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