With the holiday season behind us, the surplus of unique sentiments got us thinking of what makes a good card so good. (We’re talking about the ones we wrote for our own special someones, although we’d be happy to write greeting cards for clients too).
Who doesn’t love watching the subtle curve of a smile form on their reader’s face, slowly revealing more teeth and adding to their wrinkle count? Knowing that your words did that is a special kind of feeling, one that’s known to render the gift itself irrelevant.
So how do you do that with your greeting card?
Choose a blank card.
As successful as Hallmark and the like are, your message will never be unique because the knowledge that thousands of the same cards are circulating can take that unique feeling away. At least it does for us. Any shmuck can walk in a store, draw one of the hundreds of pretty cards from the shelf and slap a name on it. Would you be proud to give that to someone special?
So instead of feeding off the generic “warm wishes” message, create your own from scratch that will speak directly to your reader. Your words, as generic as they may be, are still yours. And that in itself means something.
Write the way you talk.
Although this is our philosophy for absolutely everything (because it makes for the most effective communication), we’re emphasizing the you. Don’t try to get all fancy and wordy if that’s not true to your personality. That’ll make it as inauthentic as a Hallmark card.
If you’re really animated and loud, go crazy with the ALL CAPS and exclamation marks. Dot your I’s with hearts. If you’re sarcastic, make your card sarcastic. If you’re serious, make your words follow suit.
Use words that are prevalent in your everyday vernacular. When you can tell exactly who wrote something just by reading it, you know this is done properly.
You could use a pre-written message in a greeting card to your advantage and edit/add to it to make it unique or funny. Add a <soon to be> into “To my wife” instead of using “To my fiancée.” Witty comments throughout the message can act like notes in the margins of a book, adding your own stamp to it.
Or you could use a card for a different occasion to celebrate the given one. Instead of a “Happy Birthday” card, get a “Thank You” card that thanks them for existing. On Christmas, you can give a birthday card and address it to Jesus. Or give a Halloween card on Mother’s Day telling her she always dresses the part. There are lots of ways to get creative with this one. No doubt your reader will appreciate it.
Don’t forget that you’re not limited to words. If you’re more of an artist, draw it for them. Explain it in a chart if you have to. For Thanksgiving, you could draw them a pumpkin pie graph that divides up sections of them that you’re thankful for in their appropriate percentages. What matters is that the sentiment gets communicated.
Know your audience.
Another obvious philosophy to all writing: write what will excite your reader. If they like to laugh (and you know how to be funny), make it funny. If they’re soft and gushy, include a package of tissues with the card. Reminisce about a past moment the two of you shared. The more obscure, the better. That way you reinforce that it’s a message between just you and them. It’s the reaction you’re after, so do what you gotta do to get it out of them.
Where to begin with this one? With the domination of the Internet, social media, dating apps, online dating sites, along with the dynamic of today’s nosey/exhibitionist culture, it’s hard to determine what works best. The lines of appropriateness, timing and etiquette have all blurred into one giant, messy, confusing grey area of interaction. It’s beautiful under certain lighting.
One constant though is that a first date is about communication. And your words, among things like body language, facial expression and style of dress, are at the forefront of that communication.
Whether it’s the first line of your dating profile, the first text you send after getting that much-anticipated phone number or the first thing to leave your mouth when you see that person at the farmer’s market, they all start with words.
So be sure to pick the right ones.
This is your chance to set the tone for the rest of the relationship. Think of your first date like a job interview, only less rigid and professional (hopefully). You’re both putting on your best face. So complement that with the best words. They make a bigger impact than you’d think.
Here are a few things to keep in mind. And if you fail miserably, at least you’ll have some funny material for your next first date.
Use interesting terminology.
If it’s natural to the flow of conversation and the tone you set, add some colour to your lingo. Nothing stands out like atypical words. Peculiar idiosyncrasies work their poignant jiggery in words not found every day. Now, don’t put them all in the same sentence like that last one. That was done to save time and space. But keep this in mind when you want to be remembered by your date.
Don’t err on the side of caution.
You may have expected the opposite of this advice. No! This is the time when you have nothing to lose. Push your limits. Test the waters. Take the joke a little too far. As we said, the first date sets the tone for the rest of your time together. Being cautious equals being boring. You’d be just like every other player in the game. It’s easy to dial it back if their reaction isn’t positive. Go for it!\
Think outside the box.
Go beyond the typical themes. What do you do for fun? Where did you go to school? Yawn. Ask them whether they believe in souls, how they think it’s been determined that no two snowflakes are alike or how long it takes to perfect the best kiss ever. That last part could be a segue into more than just great words, wink, wink.
Don’t talk just to fill space.
As much as we tend to dread silences, they don’t have to be uncomfortable. Don’t feel the need to add words to every moment. That could just make things more awkward. Take a moment. Sip your drink. Catch your breath. Let their last statement sink in while looking into their eyes. Think of it as the equivalent of flipping the page in a book. It won’t hurt you. If anything, it’ll add to the cadence of the conversation.
With all the bad and (closely second) mediocre writing out there, seeing real quality is refreshing for any level of word nerd out there. Assuming all the words are correctly arranged and grammatically sound, there’s lots more to consider when deciding how well-written it is.
Well-executed prose, a good story, a nicely balanced cadence of short and long words and sentences, along with a compelling flow of events, all contribute to upping writing’s value. When all of these components are on point, you can make an instruction manual worthy of a Pulitzer.
On top of the careful crafting that these elements embody, there are a few more things that make writing outstanding. Let’s demonstrate when writing becomes exceptional with a few example snippets from some of the best writers to ever put pen to paper.
When it’s so brilliantly succinct:
“For sale: baby shoes, never used.” – Ernest Hemingway
Damn. Known famously as Hemingway’s shortest piece of literature, this tells a full story in six words. Six. Words. As you can see here, brevity sits atop its highest and shiniest pedestal. After reading a sentence like that, all you can do is gasp and relish in the genius as you re-read it multiple times to confirm the greatness. Yup, still there.
When it paints the perfect picture:
“She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’” – P.G. Wodehouse
Well played, Wodehouse. Well played. Such colourful analogies are like a dose of adrenaline to an entire body of writing. Carefully timed zingers like this one inject the kind of life into prose that puts it in re-readable territory. It’d be worthwhile to make a permanent mental note of this baby.
When the message is timeless:
“In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.” – Oscar Wilde
You would think this was written recently with its accuracy and relevance. Except it was written over 120 years ago. Back then it was just as true. What does that tell us? People will always be people. When writing taps into the human condition without using references that would date it to a specific period, it gains strength in timelessness. Mentioning names that are currently popular or trending gives your writing’s relevance an expiration date. And the way things are moving, that kind of shelf life is getting shorter and shorter.
Next time you read a body of text, pay closer attention to what’s actually being said. More than likely, you’ll notice some terms and expressions that are used in ways that don’t quite fit when you really think about it. A lot of these are so common that we overlook their absurdity as our eyeballs skim over them and our brains don’t decide to register them fully.
Agree or disagree as you wish. But the following examples are infuriatingly misused. Turn on that light bulb and think about it before writing it down. Especially before publishing it.
This term appears in all sorts of promos or sales letters. Free money? As opposed to money you pay for? Here’s some money for your money. Yes, investments work on the principle of spending money on something that eventually grows in value (or doesn’t) and thus gives you more money. So that logic kind of makes sense. At least as far as getting money without investing it. Right? Still, there are much better ways of stating that without sounding so idiotic.
“The miracle of life”
Let’s look at the definition of “miracle,” shall we?
Miracle: (noun) an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers.
Last we checked, humans breed more humans. It happens every day. Millions of miracles per day kind of diminish the “miracle” quality, don’t they? It’s such a common expression engrained in our everyday vernacular that we don’t think to actually think about it. In most cases, 1 + 1 = 2. Let’s save the supernatural term for when a real need arises.
This term is thrown around far too loosely. Unless the meal you just ate at that new restaurant contained something you were deathly allergic to causing a near-death experience, it was hardly life-altering. Exceptional, maybe. Exquisite, perhaps. But not life-altering. Using that expression out of context just makes you sound dramatic and over-excited. Tone it down.
Company ABC is the leading XYZ provider in its industry. Are ya, now? We’ve heard that far too many times for any one of them to be true. Unless all the competitors are holding hands and moving in a Red Rover motion of lateral industry leading. Doubtful.
On what grounds do you lead your industry? More than likely, you’re just trying to sound more important than you really are. Claims like that are easy to get away with because they aren’t specific enough to be verifiable. Perhaps metrics such as market prevalence or popularity to the point where your brand name is synonymous with actions (i.e., Googling something vs. looking it up) can merit the “leading” status so many claim. Otherwise, start finding new adjectives. Or focus your energy on actually becoming a leader as opposed to trying to sound like one.