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home : features : featurestory February 5, 2016

Love them or hate them ...

Whether written in verse format and singable to your favorite holiday jingle or written from your family cat's perspective, creativity and exaggeration can make your missive a standout.

"Oh, how we love our __________ (fill in the blank: choose one: incredible, sweet, adorable) ____________ (choose one: daughter, niece, son, grandchild), _________ (name goes here). She/He just returned from Africa where she/he singlehandedly dug a well for an entire village, using tools devised from rubble and the goodies in her/his gym bag. She/He was honored as the worldwide humanitarian of the year by the United Nations. Now home, she/he will finish her/his doctorate in cancer research, run the Boston Marathon and attend the Academy Awards for recognition of her/his lifetime achievements.

These annual masterpieces can also be a genuine way for distant family and friends to reconnect over stories. Here are a few tips for writing yours:

• Start out on a positive note. Keep things upbeat and light. Use humor. Keep it fun.

• Keep it short. Focus.Cut out meaningless drivel. You don't need to share every detail about your ingrown toenail. What were the best, funniest or most important things that happened in the past year?

• Be yourself. Use your own voice. Write as if you're speaking to a friend. Write from the heart.

• Remember your audience. Are you sending this to family and close friends? Casual acquaintances? Business colleagues? Consider writing different versions if not appropriate for all.

• Don't brag. Resist the urge to exaggerate or embellish even though Susie's lost tooth was exceptional. Include: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, moves, everyone wants to know about kids, plus interests, hobbies, travel. Don't include: aches and pains, gossip.

• Make it readable. Use 10- or 12-point type, just one font, and use bold or italics sparingly for emphasis.

• Make it visually interesting. Add photos or clip art. Be selective about photos. Use a paper that photos will print clearly on.

• Test it. Read your letter out loud to yourself. If you don't find it interesting, neither will your readers. (Rewrite.)

• Make it personal. When you are doing that test read, does it sound like it came from you or could it have come from anyone? Let your own personality shine through!


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