Friday, November 25, 2011

How to Write a Great Holiday Letter

After years of trying to write good Christmas letters, I realize that my own letters fall into one of three categories. 

1. Too Much Information
2. Too Much "We're Awesome"
3. Truly Inspirational and Insightful

Too Much Information means I'm telling readers what I ate at every Mexican restaurant on my trip.  Too Much We're Awesome means I use the letter as a catalog of all my children's (and pets') accomplishments.  

I want to inspire and teach, not brag and exhaust. 

Truly Inspirational and Insightful Holiday Letters teach us something.  They inspire us--and even make us laugh--with the insight we've gained this year. When these letters (I'm thinking of some of my favorite over the years) arrive, my husband literally sits down with a cup of coffee to enjoy the humor and insight that he knows the letter will offer.

With this goal in mind, we can eliminate any extraneous information that doesn't offer insight.  With this goal in mind, we can ask ourselves if we've designed a paragraph intended to evoke jealousy or prove our worth.  With this goal in mind, we can purify our motivation to love our reader.

If the sentence doesn't match these goals, chop it out.

As a devotional practice, I use the Holiday Letter task as a way to reflect on my year.  What did I learn?  How did our family change?  What did we overcome?  What wisdom can we offer now? 

These holiday letters inspire.  These holiday letters are worth sending.  And sometimes a great holiday letter will matter more than the cute photo of my children in matching sweaters by the tree. 

You can use the "Flair Checklist" below to help with your writing style.  Enjoy! And here's a link to the Italian Mama's sample Holiday Letter.

(How to Write with Flair:  Strong verbs, cool punctuation marks, varied sentence lengths and openings, some garnish, and appeals to your audience.  Order the book here:

Flair Checklist

1.   Do I use vivid verbs?
2.   Are my verbs in their strongest form (cutting board test)?
3.   Do I juggle some secret ingredients throughout my writing (semicolons, dashes, commas, parentheses, and colons)?
4.   Do I “stir the pot” with varied sentence structures and lengths?
5.   Have I embellished my writing with garnish in some form?
6.   Have I analyzed my audience? Do I know them?
7.   Do I attempt to build rapport with my readers?
8.   Does my diction match my intent and my audience?
9.   Have I shown my audience that I understand them and have listened to them?
10. Would my audience feel cared for by me? Do I put in some love?
11.  Do I appeal to emotion in this writing (pathos)?
12.  Do I seem trustworthy (ethos)?
13.  Do I engage the reader’s reasoning skills (logos)?
14.  Do I make use of good transition sentences?
15.  Have I demonstrated the importance of my topic? Do I tell my readers why this writing matters?
16.  Was I able to form an analogy to advance my point?
17.  Did I enjoy the process of writing this? What can I do differently to celebrate the writing task?
18.  Do I offer a unique contribution to the conversation surrounding my topic?
19.  Do I avoid cliché in my writing?
20.  Is this writing memorable?

What advice would you offer for writing great Holiday Letters? 


Jcluurtsema said...

I have never done a holiday letter but was actually considering doing one this year. You have inspired me!

Live with Flair said...

I'm so glad!  Go for it! 

cbakerpa said...

Thank you for your blogging about holiday letters because it has been something I have been struggling with this year. In past years when my kids were youngsters, it was more of a list of their sports activities, etc. Now they're young adults and their updates aren't mine to share. Thanks for the food for thought!

Roberta Beach said...

I love holiday/Christmas letters. I have not written one for a couple years but pen to paper (keyboard to cursor to monitor) to embellish, expound, extoll and enjoy processing memory, edification, a year of vagaries, and love; most of all, love - this year a new tradition (again). 
Your encouragement (and book!) are truly appreciated :). 

Sonya Hove said...

We haven't done a letter the last couple of years. It's probably time. Can I just pay you to write it for me? 

Italian Mama said...

Be honest.  Your friends and family will sense that something is amiss if you report that your year was filled with unmitigated glee — your new vacation home is all you ever dreamed of, your children are outstanding in all of their endeavors, and the dog took Best in Show at Westminster.  All of these statements may be true, but if they comprise your entire year-in-review, you just haven’t been paying attention.  Share with your readers the good, the bad, and the ugly.  They’ll thank you for it.  Example:  Bowzer took Best in Show at Westminster, but not before he had a rather messy gastrointestinal disturbance backstage.  Much as he likes to perform, he does tend to get a bit of stage fright, which has threatened his championship more than once.
(from "Write a Holiday Newsletter Your Friends Will Love to Read" by Andrea G. Pisani Babich.  Used with permission.)

Live with Flair said...

Oh!  I love it Italian Mama!  Is this published anywhere yet so we can all read it?  This is hilarious!!!!!

the Bakers said...

Heather, I so hope our letter isn't in the "overdone it" category :)  Writing the holiday letter for our family is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  I love to reflect on each child, and think about what makes him/her unique.  I've also been flattered that some have told me it makes them laugh!  As you know, we also include our favorite books over the year, and that has become a treasured archive of their interests at various ages.  Reading holiday letters is also a joy to me--I love to hear about the Dog Show!  Please publish "Italian Mama's: letter.  I sense a masterpiece!  Thanks for your great blog.  Always inspiring.

Italian Mama said...

"Write a Holiday Newsletter ..." continues to search for a home beyond the confines of my flashdrive!