Sunday, June 3, 2007

Writing Letters

I recently found an old newspaper cut-out. It was a letter to an editor that I had written in high school. I was ecstatic when it was published, and my teachers were proud of me. I was supporting the local bus drivers after a parent complained that they did nothing to keep the kids on the bus in order. I, at the tender age of 17, told parents all across our community that it was the parents' job to teach their children to behave. It was the bus driver's job to drive the bus. I was so proud of that letter. The bus drivers loved me.

Over the years, I've gone on to write more letters. Some I sent, some I didn't. Some I shouldn't have sent, and some I didn't send but should have. After lots of practice, I am a decent letter writer.

I recently wrote a letter that I sent. It was a letter that I regretted sending, not because it did any harm or hurt any feelings, but I stepped in where I probably shouldn't have. It probably won't have the effect that I was intending, not because it wasn't an effective letter but because the recipient just didn't care.

I recently didn't send a letter that I wrote that I know could effect a lot of people... I think it would be received in a mostly positive way, but a few people I know would feel worse because of it, even if it isn't directed at them. I can't send that letter.

Tonight I wrote a letter to accompany an application for a conference. (It's an 'invitation only' conference that I really, really, really want to go to.) It was similar to a query letter that a writer sends to an editor, trying to entice them to read a manuscript. I spent some time selling myself, and in the end, I felt like Shrek's donkey saying, "Pick me! Pick me!" As much as I think my letter accomplished what I needed it to, I still wonder how it's going to be received.

Not knowing who is going to be reading a letter makes it harder to write a good letter. Should that matter? Probably not, but it does. Trying to figure out what appeals to an unknown recipient is like trying to decide what flavor ice cream will be the most popular in your kid's second grade class. You just don't know. Could be vanilla, but it could also be mint chocolate chip cappuccino swirl! Some kids love mint chocolate chip cappuccino swirl, while others won't get past vanilla. Maybe they'll move on to vanilla bean or French vanilla, but it's vanilla all the same. If you even put one chocolate chip in it, you've moved way beyond the vanilla into the vast array of chocolates and boom! That's it, you're through. They hate it.

It's hard to 'sell yourself' with vanilla. Personally I love vanilla--my secret ingredient for everything I bake--but it isn't my favorite ice cream flavor. I prefer a little caramel. Ok, a lot of caramel, some fudge, and maybe a few crunchies too. I don't know if someone could convince me of anything with plain vanilla. So how much should I add, and what, to make this letter a winner?

I realized there was one thing, one flavor, that I could add to make this letter a winner. I felt so cheesy putting it in there at first, because it felt very gimmicky. "Look at me, I'm a scholarship winner!" But the more I mixed it in, the better this letter tasted. It's because I was honored with this scholarship - the Marion Dane Bauer Scholarship. My work was chosen for this award. It is truly an honor. And that made this letter a heck of a lot better than plain old vanilla.

Who knows if I'll get invited to this conference. I have two months to wait to find out. In the meantime, maybe I'll write some more letters.


PS There should be no surprise at the appearance of ice cream in my blog. It should be a surprise that it took me this long to talk about ice cream. It is the best invention ever.


PPS. I celebrated winning my scholarship with my classmates at Ben&Jerry's in Montpelier. Turtle Soup in a waffle cone... better than champagne!

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