February is but a day away. Here are some tips on the art of introductions via letter and rekindling dorment exchanges from the founder of the Month of Letters, Mary Robinette Kowal. The content is primarily from 2013, LetterMo’s second year, and reposted in 2016. But good suggestions are good, no matter how much time has passed.
Letters of Introduction
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.
Reacquainting After a Long Silence
I was thinking … that one of the wonderful things that a letter will allow you to do is to reconnect with someone from your past. Perhaps this is a teacher that influenced you, or maybe a friend that you’ve just fallen out of touch with.
Why not take a moment to get back in touch?
Does that feel awkward? Perhaps. So allow me to offer some suggestions.
Don’t feel like you have to open with an apology for the long silence. Everyone knows that life happens. Start out, instead, by letting them know that you were thinking about them. Be specific. “I’m having a cup of coffee and remember how we used to hang out at our favorite coffee spot” or “It’s snowing outside right now. Remember how we used to have snow ball fights?”
Tell them a little of what’s been happening in your life, but don’t feel like you need to cover everything. There will be time for that later. Pick one or two highlights that you wished you’d had the opportunity to share at the time. “I finished editing the UK edition of Shades of Milk and Honey this week” or “I went to Grandma’s 108th birthday party, which was such fun.”
And then– this is important — ask them questions. “I’ve been wondering about you since your move. How do you like Seattle?” or “You used to give the best book recommendations. Read anything good lately?” or “How’s your mom?”
Finally, don’t be disappointed if they don’t write a letter back. In fact, include alternate contact information to make it easy for them to get back in touch with you. A letter is a wonderful thing, but it can be intimidating too. You remember that, don’t you? The purpose of your letter is to reestablish contact, so do your best to make it easy for them.