Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When "Flow" Turns to "Overflow"

I was writing a letter yesterday to O, a newspaper reporter whom I befriended when I worked in public relations, when I had an uncomfortable realization--sometimes I just overdo it.

D'oh! as Homer Simpson would say. Overdo'h!

This letterwriting experience, of course, has been filled with wonderful revelations and lessons. But this one? Ouch.

What I was really trying to say to O was that I was glad we got to know each other, having overcome the natural skepticism that media can sometimes have for PR types (and vice versa). I was also trying to thank him for some good, meaningful conversation that went beyond the weather and whatever story I was trying to pitch him (or information he was trying to get from me).

I wandered off into the weeds, though, and found myself becoming too verbose. (Therein lies a hazard of writing longhand--my "verbociousness" kicked in on the second page, and who wants to start over at that point? Besides, there seems to be something disingenuous about discarding and starting over a handwritten letter--isn't the purpose of such an exercise to just let the words flow, longwinded and disjointed as they may be?)

Maybe I was sincerely trying to get my point across, but if I'm being honest with myself, I suspect what I was really trying to do was "puff up the pen"--make my message worthy of paper, achieve some mystical letterwriting standard, make it a reader to remember.

Oh forgive me William of Ockham, oh ye of Ockham's razor. In letters as in life, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

I've written 96 letters and I'm proud to say this is really the first time I've caught myself "pen puffing." And I hasten to add that after realizing what I was doing, I did step back, take a breath and just let the words flow. In the end, O might raise an eyebrow when he reaches the middle of that second page, but by the last page hopefully he'll no longer be wondering what exactly I was on when I wrote him.

It's not always easy to let the words flow--particularly when my son is crawling circles around me on the livingroom floor as I try to write--but, fortunately, it does seem easy to notice when words are "overflowing."

WHEN NORA EPHRON IS YOUR PEN PAL: Thanks Letters & Journals magazine for tweeting this wonderful Wall Street Journal blog post on the PencilPALS program. Teaching youth the value of handwritten letters? Fantastic!

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