Subject: Re: your mail
To: [Censored to protect the ignorant]@earthlink.net
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2000 22:46:12 -0500 (EST)
Thanks for your recent email, in which you were apparently sharing your
thoughts on something I once wrote.
I would like to respond to the points you made therein, but to be honest
I'd much rather respond to something that hasn't been knackered by so
many problems vis a vis style and mechanics. I'm not sure that you're
showing off your "A" game with this email.
I, too, was once a young writer just starting to learn the craft, and
so I am pleased to "give a little back," so to speak, and offer
you the benefit of whatever experience I've accumulated over the years.
Please don't be discouraged by the length and quantity of these corrections.
One of the most valuable things you will learn as you begin to commit
yourself to the Writer's Life is that building your craft is an ongoing
and never-ending process.
> Hey Andy, I would like to tell you a few things.
Not a terribly good "grabber," and wordy. How about "Look,
> First of all, get a f...... life.
(1) Censoring an expletive is traditionally done with asterisks, not ellipses.
(2) The desire to censor an expletive within a private email should make
you re-think its use. Either you're saying something you don't actually
mean -- ie, the censoring sends the message that you yourself think you're
stepping over the line -- or you're weakening the impact of its use to
begin with. "Get a fucking _life_" would be much better, not
just for the use of the obscene gerund, but also the emphasis. Otherwise,
if I may be so droll, you leave yourself wide open to witty rejoinders.
You've got the reader's attention for a limited amount of time...so focus,
> Where do you get off talking about Rosie like that??????
Delete superfluous "?"'s. Or alternatively put little hearts
in the dots underneath them; that'll have the same impact as six "?"'s
in a row in terms of making a positive impression via the intelligence
of your comments.
> You, and all those other people out there in this humorless
> world, need to SHUT UP, and live your own damn lives and
> quit bitching about everybody elses. If you don't like
> something, just don't watch it, eat it, or whatever you're
> suppose to do with it.
Errors: (1) you should use em-dashes instead of commas in that first line
("You -- and all those other" etc.); (2) Grammatically, it should
be "damned" and not "damn"; "else's" instead
of "elses"; "supposed" instead of "suppose."
Stylistically, you need to be more determined in this paragraph. The last
sentence sort of trails off, doesn't it, thus creating the impression
of a drunk who forgets what s/he intented to say halfway into actually
The biggest problem with this graph is that here, you should be making
your big punch, but as-is, you're only creating confusion. I've written
nearly a thousand articles and columns over the years, you understand;
at this point I've really no idea as to which one you're referring. Are
you referring to the time I wrote about Rosie's wonderful turn hosting
Regis & Kathie Lee? The time three or four months into her show when
I wrote about certain elements that I found annoying? Or the column I
wrote about a year after that, enthusiastically saying that the show was
past its growing-pains and had turned into a unique and classy part of
daytime? Or the thing I wrote a couple of months ago, reacting to a Roseanne
Barr's appearance on the Greg Kinnear show? Again, focus, focus, _focus_;
you have the reader's attention for a limited amount of time so you need
to make your play quickly and effectively. This one thing is the key to
writing effective letters.
> Good lord, you men these days are making us women look good.
> Men always talk about how women bitch. You men sure do
> your share of it too.
Tactical error: this total digression from your point (as poorly-conceived
and executed as it is) makes you appear as a woman with a severe chip
on your shoulder and thus any impact you might have had up to this point
is completely dissipated. "Oh, it's not about me," the reader
concludes. "It's about issues in her personal life," which I'm
sure was not your original intent in writing. I also am sure that you
didn't intend to imply that women by their nature tend to look _bad_;
if this _is_ your implication, then of course I would take umbrage at
that. Otherwise, you need to re-work this so that your words aren't quite
such a slap-in-the-face to women.
> Rosie seems like a very nice person, a good mother, and
> someone who makes people laugh for at least an hour a day.
> Shut up and get a life.
Again, weak. Remember, you're so angered by something you've read (whatever
it is) that you felt duty-bound to rush right in with a reply. "Rosie
_is_ a very nice person. She's a good mother and she makes people laugh
for at least an hour a day" has more conviction behind it. And it's
merely a matter of personal style, but personally I'd also mention the
millions of dollars she raises on behalf charities that benefit women's
health and children's causes; this is hot stuff and it seems like a shame
not to use it.
In general, for future use: remember the "sandwich" rule of
writing letters, even letters such as this one. (1) Slice of bread, explaining
why you're writing, (2) The "meat," in which you make a cogent
and convincing argument, and finally (3) the top slice of bread, in which
you get off the stage, quickly underscoring the main point and under-theming
your reasons for writing.
Also -- particularly when commenting about Internet material -- you want
to create the impression that you've actually read the material in question.
You create far greater credibility when you (for instance) quote from
the material, or exhibit a familiarity with its contents. Otherwise, the
reader gets the sneaking suspicion that you just heard from a friend-of-a-friend
that this person wrote something nasty about a celebrity and that you
are responding to "what you heard" as opposed to what the person
actually wrote. Again, your credibility is _key_, and nothing destroys
it so effectively as creating the convincing impression that you're presenting
a knee-jerk and ignorant reaction as opposed to a considered reply of
material that you've taken the time to read and digest.
I am forwarding your email, along with these comments, to forty or fifty
friends of mine, who in the past have proven to enjoy reading emails such
as yours. If they offer any additional comments that might prove constructive
in the development of your writing skills, I'll be sure to pass them along
If you'd like to take a second whack at this letter, I'd be pleased to
read and critique it as well. I shall be following your career with considerable
Thanks For Playing -- Andy Ihnatko.