During the last weeks we’ve been building our tribes, looking at our bookshelves, finding out who inspires us.
Who did you discover? What is it about that person’s writing that does it for you?
You know what you need to do next?
You need to write a “charming note.”
The term comes from a book by Carolyn See called Making a Literary Life (Random House, 2007). She advises that every day, five days a week, you write a charming note to someone whose work you appreciate.
She actually writes notes–you know, with stationery and an envelope and a stamp. Awhile back, I personally wanted to reignite the art of letter writing and I began to actually write letters to various and sundry friends. Alas, I didn’t get any back, although a few responded by email.
If you have some nice stationery gathering dust in a desk drawer somewhere, pull it out. Carolyn says in her book not to use anything floral or those notes with the Monet paintings on them, but personally, I think the very fact that you might actually write a note and mail it cancels out the flowers or Monet (although seriously, think about the impression you give by what the note looks like). She suggests getting some of your own stationery with your name professionally printed at the top–like those old-time calling cards. Not a bad idea. Of course you’re writing to them and it’s about them, but it can’t hurt to have your name on your correspondence in a classy way.
You don’t have any stationery, you say? Just some note cards with your last initial on them? That’s okay. Get started.
Seriously, it’s never been easier.
If you want to actually write a physical note to a physical address, you might be able to locate an address online, or at least a publisher’s address. You can always write to the author in “care of” a publishing house.
If you’re just not the “find a stamp” type, write your note by way of the person’s web site. Or find him or her on Facebook and write it there. Or Tweet it if you have to (it’ll have to be really short . . .).
Now, who was the last person who “wowed” you? You need to tell him or her. You need to write a charming note.
Carolyn See suggests this to her students: “Why not divide the note into three paragraphs of three lines each–the first one about their work that you like so much, the second saying who you are and why the work touched you, the third suggesting politely that you’re looking forward to the next thing they’re going to write?” (45).
And don’t be embarrassed. Think about it. How do you feel when someone takes the time to thank you–for anything? Sure, if you write to Stephen King to tell him how On Writing changed your life, you may never hear from him. But write to Alice Hoffman who published a wonderful essay about the “permission to write” titled “Introduction: Storyteller” in the Winter 2011-12 issue of Ploughshares magazine and chances are you might hear back from her. Then check out her novels and children’s books. You might make a new friend, a new person to add to your tribe because she inspired you.
Write to someone who is unknown and just starting out, and imagine how much it will mean to that person!
As citizens of the literary world, we should show our appreciation for others’ work by letting them know, and then letting others know.
Do that by blogging about it and sharing links, by talking about it, by buying the books or subscribing to the journals and . . .
. . . by writing “charming notes.”
If five times a week is daunting, then just do it once a week. Surely at least once a week you read something you like. It doesn’t have to rock your world–maybe it just made you think, or inspired you, or gave you a new idea.
Be willing to cross genres. If you’re a nonfiction writer, read fiction, poetry, flash. Gaze at some photographs in that literary magazine. It’s okay to write the poet and thank him or her for a piece that moved you—even if you didn’t fully understand it. You don’t have to be a scholar, just an appreciative audience.
It doesn’t even have to be “literary.” Perhaps the article by Carrie Neill in the November/December 2012 issue of Poets & Writers (“The Medium Is the Message”) about the future of print publishing helped you understand something that was heretofore mysterious.
And it doesn’t have to be current. Maybe what you read was from the 2005 issue of Ninth Letter that you found at the library or on the table at your doctor’s office (really? Give me the name of that literary doctor!). In any case, who cares how long it’s been? Art is art. Inspiration is inspiration. Write a note.
Be sincere. This isn’t about you. This isn’t about trying to network or “brown-nose.” Remember, we’re all just writers in this together, keeping literature and books and good writing alive.
Say thank you.
Remember what your mom taught you? A little thank you goes a long way.