As a writer, it’s easy to become distracted, to feel overwhelmed, or to lose sight of what first inspired you to write. Whether it’s demands on our time or pressures we place on ourselves, burnout and block seem to regularly pull at the writer.
Just shy of two years ago I took a job with an international non-profit and one of my main responsibilities was communicating with donors, primarily through thank you notes written on behalf of the president of the organization.
A few months into the job I lamented to a friend that by the time I got home at night I was so drained I couldn’t think clearly enough to get more than a few words down. And there were stretches of weeks in which I was unable to write at all.
I told her I felt like a failure and that I was beginning to wonder if I was wrong all along. I just wasn’t meant to be a writer.
Her response completely changed the way I looked at myself and my writing.
First, she reminded me that I was writing. I was writing every single day. She asked me if I was counting those words to my daily quota, because if I wasn’t, I should be. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was right.
As odd as it sounds, writing thank you notes saved my writing. It can save yours, too.
The main reason for writing a thank you note is to convey gratitude to someone who took a moment of their time to bless you. Whether the blessing comes in the form of a gift or a word of encouragement, that individual went beyond themselves to reach into the life of another.
When we write a thank you note, we are honoring the gift and the giver. Thus came the first takeaway lesson of the Thank you card:
1. A thank you note isn’t about the person who is writing. A thank you note is about the person being written to.
In the early days of my job, all I had were notes in a file about each of the donors and what little I knew about my boss. As time passed, I had the honor of meeting a few donors in person. Some I spoke with on the phone. Others, I received notes from that shared a bit about what was going on in their own lives. In time, I came to see them as active parters in my work.
That knowledge changed my perception completely. I stopped writing thank you notes because it was part of my job and started writing thank you notes because of genuine gratitude. Which taught me the second lesson of the thank you card:
2. In order for a thank you note to have meaning, the thanks must be genuine.
When I started writing the Thank You cards, the notes being sent out were generic and bland. Part of this was because I was still learning my job, about the mission of the organization, and about the woman I was writing the notes for. As I grew in the job, I started looking for specific examples each month that I could use in my notes. Not only did it change the way I wrote, it also changed the way I felt.
Searching out those examples and responding to the personal notes enclosed with the gifts created a sense of true gratitude within me. And that emotion appeared in every card after that. Which brought me to the final lesson of the thank you card:
3. In order to be genuine, the writer must be willing to be vulnerable.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read about vulnerability in writing. On one hand, being open and honest about ourselves (whether it’s writing from the viewpoint of another person or character) is crucial in creating a bond between the writer and the reader. On the other, we must be careful not to focus too much on ourselves or we risk appearing completely self-centered.
When it comes to vulnerability, there’s a careful balance that must be maintained. The thank you note teaches us that balance.
Writing thank you cards has taught me a great deal about writing with my audience in mind. It’s also encouraged me to write personal cards more often. We should never underestimate just how precious a piece of handwritten mail can be to another.
If you’re struggling with creativity or with writing in general, might I suggest buying a roll of stamps and a box of cards? Look for ways to thank the people in your life. Remind them of why they are an important part of your life. Your note might be exactly what they need to hear during a particularly difficult season. It might also be just the thing that’s needed to save your own writing.
I’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts and comments below or join the conversation on my Facebook author page.
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