Tutorial 41: to write a better letter, go fly a kite

How far do you live from a small hill with an open field on the top and wind that swirls up from below?

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 19, 2019

It can’t be that far.

When was the last time you packed a picnic hamper and took your child, grandchild, or ‘designated other’ and spent a few peaceful hours on that hilltop?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then perhaps that’s why your letters have been growing stale during the past year.

Creative people desperately need some carefully cultivated downtime. Too often people with a valued skill believe that the way to get better is to practise even harder. They become so goal oriented that they lose their way.

As you know, writing a letter is both a creative pursuit and an administrative obligation. And in all such endeavours in life there is a basic truth you can’t outrun:

Do something long enough or often enough and you can get really bad at it.

So, following several days of intense preoccupation with procrastination, you finally pull out that file and, after a dozen false starts, write a letter you thoroughly hate. You go to the bathroom, come back, edit the thing and quickly send it to the printer.

My friend, you must realise some scientific facts: there is a point of diminishing returns built right into the electrochemistry of your brain. Carefully controlled tests have shown that if you concentrate on a subject really, really hard and then fail to give yourself at least six full hours off without doing it again, you actually degrade your learning scores, not improve them.

All your life you’ve been told that practice makes perfect. No one ever told you that ‘taking time out is good’. And yet, in a balanced perspective, that’s precisely what happens.

You will be more successful at writing letters if you learn and practise a trick of professional writers – a cooling off period at specific intervals in the creative process.

Interval one

After you have collected the background material, avoid the temptation of quickly sitting down and writing a letter. Give yourself those six hours. Let your brain process the information quietly in the background.

Interval two

After you have written the letter, set it aside for six hours. Never, never, never edit it immediately. That’s one reason why amateurs write copy that contains repetitious words and phrases and lacks focus.

Most of the time when you come back after interval two, you’ll chop out your opening paragraphs and move directly to that moment of inspiration when you put something on paper really worth reading. Know what I mean?

But wait! There is…

Interval 3

Just when the mailing is ready to go to the printer, it’s been proofed, everything is in place – let it sit the required six hours and, then, risk incurring the anger of everyone in your office. If you don’t feel really, really good about every part of the package, then make a change. Hey, you’re the boss, remember? So make that final change. Don’t be intimidated by those helpers rushing it to the press. Of course, don’t hang on to it too long. That’s just another form of procrastination. Finally, you have to let it go. It becomes history.

And you are satisfied with yourself because you’ve managed to organise your administrative/executive/political schedule to accommodate a creative pursuit. And you feel a little smug because you realise that good management techniques in the long run can offset the lack of creative genius.

So, back to that kite ... somewhere in your immediate vicinity is a shop that has a kite with your name on it. Go buy it. It may be a single line or dual line or a quad line, airfoil, or delta, or diamond, or box kite.

But when you see it, you’ll know that it’s just the kite for you, and you’ll hear the wind beckoning you from the hilltop.

And if flying kites is not your thing? Well, you get the point. Do whatever you have to do. Your organisation has a dependency on the money your letter is going to raise. So go fly a kite. It will help you raise more money. 

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance to these tutorials here.

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