My final 10 top tips — or is it 12? — for writing letters to your kids.
8. Tell A Story. You know what I’m talking about. Your toddler is venturing his first steps. Right away we wonder what will happen next. Your toddler wobbles, keels over and cries. Will he get up? The suspense is killing us. We’re rooting for the kid now. We’re sure he’s going to prevail through this setback. In doing my journals, I looked for memories that offered an issue, a conflict, a turning point, a decision. Michael kept getting ear infections, for example. Caroline worried about Michael going out late at night. I looked, too, for signs of growth, of a change in character, of a coming to terms. Then I might – might, mind you – interpret the events just described and to translate it all into some kind of insight. Might try to characterize it somehow, bringing a fragment to fruition. As in: “Only then did I realize . . . ” I’ve always put stock in the idea that it’s less a matter of what you know than what you make of what you know. Disclaimer: You could get all experimental and surreal about it, without even getting your creative license renewed first. That’s cool. We’re all artists at heart, man.
9. Make Every Word Count. See # 7 (Briefer Is Better). I’m such a stickler about this philosophy I’m putting it here twice. Ever sentence should advance the overall cause. Nobody expects you to capture every single detail – only the right details, the ones absolutely essential. Nail those details.
10. Remember: Anyone Can Write. I know it sounds like lip service, so let me clarify here. Everyone has stories to tell. That’s the truth. You’ve probably told plenty of stories yourself, perhaps even told those stories well. Every life has its drama. And nobody knows your story better than you. Writing is different from talking, of course. You have to get your story on the page. That means parking yourself in a chair. It takes a little more time and a lot more patience. Do you have to be a writer? No. You can do it anyway. You might even do it better, less self-consciously, free of pretense. It comes down to harnessing a certain power we all have within us. But you’ll find the motivation. After all, you’re doing it for your kids.
Now, for some bonus tips:
. Give Yourself A Hand. I wrote the journals by hand. The handwritten comes across as far more personal than anything typed – more organic, more authentic. The written word has a primal quality that harks back to the stories told on cave walls.
12. Keep Secrets. I kept the journals a secret from my kids. I wanted to spring the gifts as a surprise at Christmas. Keeping a lid on the news made the project so much more fun for me. I went at my handiwork with a sense of anticipation bordering on the giddy.
P.S. – So what do you think? Any advice I left out? Ready to take action?
P.S.S. – Just a reminder here: I invite all of you to contribute a guest blog, “Why I Took The Pledge” – a short essay about what you plan to tell your kids in 2011, along with your bio and a family photo. To volunteer, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S.S.S – Our regularly scheduled programming resumes tomorrow.