Dont press send The new rules for good writing in the 21st century
Entertain, dont be concerned about a bit of crud, but be cautious with your XXXs the essential leader to going your theme across while avoiding the perils of communication
Letters of complaint
The person who gets your letter will seldom be the person who is wronged you. At least to start with, they have no bark in video games and may even be sympathetic. That melts when you start slinging around offends. It reaches you feel good to bluster and fury: but it’s how the recipient of the symbol feels that will material. As ever, go to where your public is.
Picture how your letter will go over when Dave in Customer Relations speaks it out to Jane at the next table. Dave almost certainly doesn’t establish a monkey’s. The more blood-curdling the note, the more likely they’ll have a good giggle and start reviewing up ways to acquire you angrier. Start from the assumption that you are amusement; and then work to countermand that. Ideally, Dave reads your letter to Jane and she goes:” You have to admit that person has a point …”
Make irresistibly plain how you’ve been inconvenienced, then propose what’ll seem to your correspondent a reasonable and proportionate redress- and one within their capability to realise. So be forensically clear: what are you complaints about, and what do you want to happen? When you’re proposing redress,” I require” is- funnily- a lot easier to ignore than, for example,” It seems reasonable to expect …” Remember Hotspur and Glendower in Henry IV, Part One ?” I can call forces from the vasty deep ,” Glendower brags.” Why, so can I, or so can any subject ,” titters Hotspur.” But will they come when you do call for them ?”
Take your match gently but firmly by the elbow, rather than bashing managers. Formerly exchange experiences get oppositional or abusive, it will stay that road. I’ve been let off parking tickets by writing politely and apologetically to the council to explain the circumstances. I’ve never got anywhere by announcing someone a jobsworth.
Letters to friends
One of the saddest acts for me as a literary correspondent is the realisation that the Collected Letters, as a genre of published volume, is almost certainly dying out. But if you read the great epistolary relationships- Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, say, or Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin – you will see what we have lost. In our letters we are doing what Hazlitt announced ” writing to the moment “: the quick of life is in them, and all its absurdity.
That sense of a lifelong communication comes poignantly through in the last word from Larkin to Amis. Dictating from his deathbed, Larkin aimed his last-place letter to his friend:” You will excuse the is a lack of the usual valediction, Yours ever, Philip .” Every letter that he’d mailed Amis for decades had ended in the word “bum”. But out of consideration for the sensibilities of the woman who’d be transcribing his tape, Larkin skipped it. Eleven days later he was dead.
Always be kept in mind that your work, writing to a acquaintance, is to entertain. That can necessitate revelling in the strange pratfall. In London Fields , Martin Amis offered best available postcard-writing advice I’ve ever read:” The note with the foreign postmark that tells of good condition, charming menu and cozy adaptation ,” he counselled,” isn’t almost as much enjoyable to predict, or to write, as the word that tells of decomposing chalets, dysentery and sprinkle. Who else but Tolstoy has built joy genuinely swing on the page ?”