Daphne Gray-Grant's Rapid Writing
That was the prickly problem facing a friend of mine who is both a professional writer and a volunteer for The Reindeer Barn.
This website collects letters to Santa and then sends out carefully crafted replies. Oh, and absolutely no money changes hands. (If you have a young child, you might want to bookmark this site now for early next December. While it's too late to land replies in time for this Christmas, the link will serve you well for the next one.)
But back to India. My friend spent some time telling me about her conundrum. This consisted of a short but serious list of things she could not do as a letter-writing pseudo Santa Claus.
For example, she could not assume anything about the existence of parents.
She could not know anything about the income levels of the family.
She could not agree to send any particular gift at all.
In short, it sounded a bit like the rules for writing a corporate speech for an annual shareholder meeting: Be vague and imprecise but make people feel as warm and fuzzy as possible.
This particular letter, however, made my friend feel despair. She needed to respond to its details, yet didn't know what to say, and had serious constrants on what she could say. But being optimistic and well-trained, she made a plan and started to write. Here is an excerpt of what came out:
"Dear Ankesh, [I've changed the name for confidentiality reasons],
"You and your big brother, have written to Old Santa early this year! You must be getting very excited about Christmas. Me, too! I love Christmas! So do Mrs. Claus, all the elves, and the reindeer, too
"I'll tell you a secret about Santa's reindeer. Reindeer are used to very cold weather and lots of snow, so they get very excited when their noses warm up enough to smell the perfume of the stars. It's just too cold to smell the stars at the North Pole. So, when we fly over India, the reindeer are all very happy, sniffing away as they pull Santa along in my sleigh full of toys."
Don't you just love the sophisticated line about the perfume of the stars? My friend commented on that phrase, saying she had no idea where it came from. It just poured out of her while she was writing. Later, she added the following proviso: "Oh, by the way, people can't smell the stars, just reindeer. It's part of the magic of Christmas!"
I thought this was a lovely letter -- and a special example of how, even when we feel frustrated and torn by our writing, not to mention distracted by the weight of Christmas, our brains can still save us.
The message is: Write and keep writing and learn the magic you will be capable of in 2013. I hope you, like the reindeer, are able to smell the perfume of the stars. Happy holidays to you all!
(Thanks to Vincent van Gogh for The Starry Night.)
A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8 1⁄2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. It's brief. It's smart. And it's free.