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Using tragedy to inspire writing

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

This week has been one of worry for me. I live in Rochester, Minnesota and since January, I have been following a bear named Lily and her cub, Hope via Facebook and the web. Hope and Lily live in Ely, Minnesota. This week, 4 month old Hope and her mother were separated when Lily went off exploring while Hope was sleeping. It is not known at the time I am writing this, if Hope has been found or is even alive.

However, as I monitor the situation via the web, I have never seen so many people try to pull together for something as common as a small, black bear cub. People are so inspired by this tragic turn of events, that they have written several beautiful poems and said many prayers on behalf to Lily and Hope.

Why does tragedy inspire us to write? Is it because writing is a stress relieving activity? Is it because we can use writing to vent all those feelings that we may not be able to express in another way?

As I worried about Hope, I began to work on a story line that I have been toying with lately. I was also waiting for my car to get out of the shop and worried about the cost of repairs for it, so I sat down and wrote for 90 minutes. I was in the lobby of the shop, waiting for the mechanic to finish fixing my car and for ninety minutes I was in the world of my characters. All the worry and stress I had been feeling seemed to fade away as I wrote. When I finally finished and decided to walk to nearest store about a quarter mile away, I felt so much better.

Any time I have had to deal with stress or personal tragedy, writing has been an outlet for me. When I was fifteen, I had my first experience with death. We watched my grandfather succumb to liver disease. I was so saddened by this traumatic event that I would often turn to writing to help me cope. When he finally died in August of 1999, I used writing as a coping mechanism. If I could just pour out all the hurt and sadness into a piece of paper, I knew I would feel better, eventually.

When my uncle’s health took a downward turn in March, I was heartsick. I am very close to my uncle and regard him as more like an older brother. I live 10 hours from my family and could not get home when he was at his worse. To help myself deal with the pain of not being there when he needed family at his side, I wrote a beautiful poem for him. He was so touched by it, that he cried when he read it. I had put 26 years of feelings into that poem.

Writing can be a positive way to deal with all the negative that seeps into our day to day lives. It is a way to clear your mind and rebuild your thought process.

I am not saying that writing only when you’re stress or sad is the way to go. I am saying that using negative feelings constructively can be beneficial in writing. Use those pent up feelings to make your characters come alive and see where that takes you!

Writing Thank You Cards — Made Easy!

Monday, May 17th, 2010

With the summer approaching, many people will be writing thank you cards for graduations, weddings, and other special events.  While many consider writing thank-yous antiquated and out of date, I find that it’s a valuable tool for building relationships.

It’s amazing…writing something as short as a thank you card seems to take more time than writing a novel…and it doesn’t need to.

I follow a deceptively simple format when creating a thank you card. It may look a bit like a mad-lib, but it is surprisingly flexible and can be customized or changed in case you’re concerned your recipients will be, ahem, comparing notes.

Dear _________,

I was glad to see you at ___________. It was so good to see all of you–I especially liked it when _____________ did __________.

Thanks also for your gift–I expect to use the _________ for __________. This will _________.

I hope this finds you well, and that I see you again soon!



I often receive compliments on how well-written my thank-you cards are written.  The reason my approach works is that I recognize the giver as a person, not merely someone who gave me a gift.  And again, it’s deceptively easy to do–and you can do it too!

Notice how the thank-you starts with an appeal to the person.  This also shows that you value the giver more than the gift, since you mention it right away.  In my opinion, the giver is more important than the gift–friendship is the greatest gift I could ever receive.

Mentioning a certain event that occurred during the party/celebration will help you to show the giver even more that you appreciate them.  In general, people understand that it’s hard to visit with everyone at the party, though you usually do have time to talk briefly with everyone.  Showing them that you remember they were present helps them feel valued.

Since general templates are easy to find, here’s a few examples for different events.  Watch for some of the subtle customizations that help personalize the message for each situation.


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell,

I was glad to see you at my graduation party. It was so good to see both of you–I especially liked it when you described the way your cat escaped and jumped into the cake at your son Jack’s party last year.  I laughed…until I saw my own cat sneaking out of my room not five minutes later.  I was quick to shoo her back into my room!

Thanks also for your gift–I expect to use the money towards my college expenses. This will make it much easier for me to survive my first year of college.

I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon!


Suzy Collegebound


Dear Tom, Lisa, and Johnny,

I was glad you were able to share Tim and my wedding day. It was so good to see all of you–I especially liked it when Johnny and Sally were dancing with Tim and I at our first dance.  They looked so cute!  Luckily, the photographer caught several photos of this special moment, so I’ll be sending a copy your way soon!

Thanks also for your gift–I expect to use the toaster for breakfast every morning. We’ll be thinking of you every time we use it.

I hope this finds you well, and that I see you again soon.  I’ll give you a call so we can continue catching up!


Tim and Sue Newlywed

And a special event:

Dear Frank,

I was glad I was able to attend your recent presentation on “How to give a good presentation”.  I especially liked your insight that “Bullet-points are the death of any presentation”!  Now if I could only convince my manager…

Thanks also for choosing my name out of the hat at the end of your presentation. Your book, “Present Well or DIE!” will serve me well as I try to improve my presentation skills.

I hope this finds you well, and that I’m able to attend another one of your sessions soon!


John deAudience

Though all three of these thank-you messages follow the same format, each one appears much different–that’s the power of personalization!  Adapting the template helps you to write thank-yous quickly, without sacrificing the personal side of being grateful.  Being grateful is important, but saying “Thank you” should not need to take a lot of time.

In the spirit of gratitude: thanks for reading.  I hope to hear from you again soon!

If you need help writing an effective thank-you, please feel free to submit a request at our editing service.  One of our editors will gladly help you write thank-yous that sparkle!

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