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Practicing Contemplative Journaling (or How to Write Something Truly Thoughtful)

11 Feb

The Art of Contemplative Journaling (or How to Write Something Truly Thoughtful)

Have you ever wanted to sit down to write something? Not as big as a book or a novel, yet not something smaller like a recap of the day’s events. Instead, something that really interests you as you write it?

Then the concept of Contemplative Journaling will interest you. It’s the practice of writing something more than a standard journal entry, but less than a full story. It’s that lovely “in-between” area; something you can accomplish in just an hour or two and that makes for better reading and better writing.

While many ways to journal this way exist, I’m going to take you through just a few of them.

Contemplative Journaling Method #1 | Expand on Your Lists

If you read my recent post about the best formats for blog posts or journal entries, you should be pretty familiar with list-making. Lists are such fantastic little structures: great for itemizing simple things (like a grocery list) and for keeping track of what’s important (goals for 2013).

Take one of the lists you’ve already written and expand upon each item. Let’s say you decide to revisit your List of Goals for 2010 … even though it’s now three years old. Here are a few angles to create a contemplative journal entry from this.

+  Have you achieved those goals? If you have, talk about how you did it. If there are some you have not achieved, write about why not. Maybe it’s just no longer a priority.

+  Why were those your goals then? This is a great way to write about who you were then and who you are now by exploring what was important to you at the time.

+  Is there an item in that list you haven’t accomplished? Maybe it has been a goal for several years now, but you’ve just not been successful with it. Perhaps it’s time to examine why you keep thinking it’s a priority and how you’ll make it a success the next time you add it to a list.

Contemplative Journaling Method #2 | Process an Experience

While you’re reading this, think about something embarrassing that has happened to you in your life. If nothing comes to mind, think about someone who wronged you, or made you upset. Everyone has had at least one embarrassing or upsetting experience. Contemplative Journaling is a great way to process that experience. If you need to work through the experience and let go of something, this is a great exercise.

First, think of the ‘thing’ you need to let go of. Maybe it was a coworker who made a rude comment, or an inappropriate way you behaved. Objectively describe the event as it happened. Do not include ‘feelings’ in this part: no discussing how you felt or how you think they felt. Just actions.

Second, after detailing the event, move on to write about the ‘feeling’ part of the experience. Where did your feelings come into play and what were they?

Third, write the experience from the viewpoint of any other person involved. If it’s the coworker with the inappropriate comment, write the experience from his/her perspective.

(As this can be an intense exercise for some, if you need a quick break to come back to the project with fresh eyes, this is a perfect spot to pause.)

Fourth, read what you wrote and write about why you’ve held on to this. Why does this experience come up in your mind so readily? Why are you carrying it around? Does it relate to something seemingly unrelated in your past? Explore everything that comes up in your mind and write it down.

Fifth, write a statement of release. Literally write a release for the experience. “ I’ve processed this experience and I was holding on to it because of X. I no longer need to carry it with me.”

You can use this technique for all kinds of things: the loss of a pet, losing a contract on a house you’d been trying to buy, spending too much money over the holidays, canceling a night out with friends because you thought you wanted to stay in. If you have an experience that keeps ‘sticking’ then you should examine it.

Contemplative Journaling Method #3 | Be the Version of Yourself You Want to Be

This tends to be a good exercise at the beginning of a new year. It’s helpful in getting your brain to really connect the dots between where you are today and who you want to be tomorrow. Self improvement! But more fun.

Let’s say you go back to work next week after a few days off. Write about your normal workday if you went in as you are now. Below that, write about your workday, but as the person you’d like to be. Maybe you are trying to have more efficient mornings at work so you aren’t scrambling to leave on time. It might look like this:

“I show up for work 10 minutes late on Monday, set my stuff down and go to the break room for coffee. I see a coworker and we talk for about 10 minutes about the past weekend. I go upstairs, turn on my computer. I talk to my cubemate for a few minutes about the weekend. I check my email, and respond to one or two of them. Then I check Facebook. At about 10 a.m. I start my first task. I break to use the restroom. I come back and finish the task and take a lunch. After lunch, I go to my coworker’s desk to talk for a few minutes. When I get back to my desk, I see someone has left a stack of reports I need to scan, copy and file by the end of the day. I sit down to finish the work I should have completed that morning. It’s 3 p.m. and I go for a break to grab a snack. By the time I get back it’s 3:30 p.m. and I still have to copy all those documents and prepare for tomorrow’s meeting. I don’t leave until just before 7 p.m. when I should have been out the door by 5 p.m.”

The rewrite might be:

“I wake up 15 minutes earlier than normal and sit in bed to read a chapter in a book. This prevents me from hitting the snooze button and gives me a bit of ‘me’ time. I make it to work 5 minutes late. I go and grab coffee and briefly talk to a coworker. I go upstairs, turn on my computer, and make a to-do list for the day, except I divide it into Morning and Afternoon tasks. I complete a small, simple task first; then I check my email and respond to a few. I work on my next task, complete it, and grab another coffee and bathroom break. I come back, finish the last task of the morning, and head to lunch. At lunch, I invite a new coworker out with me. This gets me the socialization I think I need during the day. After lunch, I work on my afternoon tasks. I leave on time.”

It might seem like a mundane thing, but most people really enjoy this. It allows you to look at yourself as you are, and then as you’d like to be. Productivity is a great thing to try first because everyone (generally) could be a bit more productive. Whether it’s at the office, or at home (hello, laundry that never gets put away) there are a ton of scenarios to write about here.

This actually teaches your brain to better recognize those bad habits so you can correct them moving forward.

More advanced prompts for this involve interactions for others: communicating with your spouse, communicating with a child, etc.

Contemplative Journaling is an excellent use of those nice journals, nice pen and your brain. If you want to sit down to really write something then this is the perfect exercise for you.

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

How to Write: With a Fountain Pen

How to Write: To a New Penpal

How to Maintain Your Pen Collection

How to Write: Improving Your Cursive Skills

How to Write: A Letter of Resignation

How to Write: A Letter of Recommendation

How to Write: The Best Formula for a Blog Post People will Actually Read

How to Write: The Best Formula for a Blog Post People will Actually Read

4 Feb

How to Write: The Best Formula for a Blog Post People will Actually Read by Cole Imperi on EuropeanPaper.com/Blog

The average person takes in the equivalent of more than 174 newspapers worth of data each day, and your challenge is getting someone to not only read what you wrote on your blog, but maybe, also, to remember something about it.

Once you understand how much information the average person is bombarded with in a day, you can approach your own blog’s content with wiser eyes.

Do you know what one of the best formats for a blog post is?

A list.

People like lists. They understand them. They’re easy to read and remember.

Why do you think so many lists appear in top-selling magazines? Think about Real Simple for example. The cover generally advertises at least a few articles inside giving you 14 Ways to Clean Your Kitchen, or 48 Ways to Easily De-clutter Your Bedroom, right? The research has already been done on this, so make use of this knowledge and apply it to your blog.

Here’s how:

  1. Write a few words that describe your blog. If you already have a tagline, expand on that. If you haven’t branded yourself quite yet, briefly summarize what you normally blog about. Let’s say you write about your personal life, horses and baking.
  2. Pick one of those subjects and break it out. Take your personal life. What are things you have learned in the last year? What are some mistakes you’ll never make again and why? What have you purchased this year?
  3. Take the items you are most excited about and write the titles. Using the examples in #2 you could have:
    1. “8 Things I learned in 2012”
    2. “4 Mistakes I made as a Young Adult I’ll Never Make Again”
    3. “7 Things I Bought That Made My Life Easier”

Lists are great because once you have the title, they basically write themselves. They are also accessible to more potential readers; you can snag someone with a minuscule amount of time when you present a list. And most of all, lists are easy to share. People would rather share a list of something useful with friends rather than a very long diatribe about the happenings in your life the past week.

Lists help you package a lot of pieces together in a new way, and often, they make blogging more fun, too.

If you happen to be a journaler, packing your entries into list format is not only a good writing exercise—it also helps you gain a new perspective on whatever you may be writing about. Instead of just recording the happenings of last week, what if you called your entry “10 New Things I Discovered Last Week.” Your entry immediately becomes more than just a recall of events, and becomes something richer and deeper. If you are the type that hopes to pass your journals along to your descendants, reading list entries like the example above makes for some interesting reading.

Lists can be so much more than what you need to pick up at the grocery store or things you need to get done this week. Make use of this technique in your blogging (and writing).

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

How to Write: With a Fountain Pen

How to Write: To a New Penpal

How to Maintain Your Pen Collection

How to Write: Improving Your Cursive Skills

How to Write: A Letter of Resignation

How to Write: A Letter of Recommendation

Blogroll: Our Top 6 Most Fabulous & Informative Blog Posts of 2012

5 Jan

How to Write: A Letter of Resignation

  • Resigning from something – whether it’s a job or a volunteer position with a local non-profit – is an occasion that should be given some care and attention. In most cases, your letter of resignation will be kept on file permanently and is something that could potentially resurface in the future. Here are a few essential components to any good resignation letter and a few best practices as well.

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

  • Sympathy Notes really get a lot of scrutiny from the recipient. A  sympathy note is a reminder that the recipient has many people in his or her life to help fill in that empty spot. There are lots of things you can say in a sympathy note, most of which are probably fine. However, there are a few things you should avoid saying in a sympathy note and I’ll tell you why.

How to Write With a Fountain Pen

  • No matter what fountain pen you have; whether it’s a $2 drugstore find or a $1,000 special edition, it’s important to understand what the tool was designed for so you use it properly. It’s also useful to find other people who use fountain pens and ask them for their tips and advice. That said, here are my tips for how to write with fountain pens.

How to Write: Improving Your Cursive Skills

  • Cursive is a word that basically just means the letters are joined. So, whether your cursive is bubbly and wide or teeny and scratchy; as long as those letters are connected, you, my friend, are writing in cursive. Here are my best tips for improving your cursive.

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

  • Friendship and Appreciation notes are a special kind of personal correspondence and are always treasured by the recipient. They can be a challenge to write because they require the expression of honest, heartfelt emotion and sentiment when we, at least Americans, don’t normally do that. Start to change that with this post!

How to Write: Thank You Notes

  • Thank you notes do not serve the purpose of simply naming (and sometimes also describing) a gift someone sent you. This post in the How To Write series is meant to help you write thank you notes well. And we begin by understanding one subtle difference: a thank you note is different from just a thank you. They are not one and the same.
Click the image below for even more How to Write blog posts in the series, and enjoy!
Read more of our How to Write blog post series

How to Write: Letter of Recommendation

12 Nov

How to Write: Letter of Resignation by Cole Imperi on EuropeanPaper.com/Blog The most important thing to keep in mind when writing a letter of recommendation is that you are writing to present new information; not to confirm information that is already available. Let’s go through some scenarios:

Recommendation Letters for Students

Many graduate-level education programs don’t highly consider recommendation letters that simply confirm information available in a student’s transcript. This means information like grades and test scores.

If your student has an A in your class, it’s best not to write something like:

“Student is very conscientious, arrives to class on time, has never missed a lesson and is 3 out of 67 students academically. He would be an excellent addition to your program.”

The above example is simply confirming what’s in the student’s transcript. One can easily tell this student is really good at being a student. But is that all they can do? Are they able to be anything else? The emphasis should be on their ability to apply their knowledge in the real world, and it should reference their enthusiasm and interest in whatever their course of study is.

Recommendation Letters for Employees & Interns

Your first step is to ask what the letter is for. Is this for another internship? If so, where? Or is this for admission into some sort of educational program? Your letter of recommendation will be more valuable if you are able to write it with an understanding of what its purpose is for.

Your letter should be concise and thorough. It’s actually OK to mention a weakness as long as you are emphasizing the positive. When mentioning a weakness like “She/he doesn’t always know when to ask for help,” be sure to end with a positive solution like “She/he doesn’t always know when to ask for help, but after we paired her/him with a senior-level manager to mentor them, we saw immense development of skills and ability. Their leadership skills grew as a result and their contribution to the team multiplied tenfold.”

A letter of recommendation for an employee is not a request to state that the employee showed up on time or did their job. It’s a request to understand more about the character and ability of the person. They want to know if this person is likely to persevere through difficulty, or give up. If they’re able to adjust to changes and adapt to new situations. If they can work with a wide range of personality types and still keep projects moving forward. They don’t want to hear that they took no sick days in 2012. They want to hear that the applicant is not only capable of working independently, but also able to ask if they’re unsure of something.

Recommendation Letters for Volunteers

A volunteer is special. They are giving up their most precious resource—time—to your cause or organization. Keeping that volunteer volunteering is vastly important. If they’re ready to move on from your organization, it’s your job to make sure they continue giving their time somewhere else. Volunteers are precious resources!

Writing letters of recommendation for volunteers should involve two things: statements about the volunteer’s character and information about your organization. Each organization or group that utilizes volunteer time is built differently. How your group is structured may not align with how another’s is. It’s important for the person reading the letters of recommendation to not only get a feel for the volunteer’s character, but also to understand the inner workings of your organization.

Recommendation Letters Are Not About You

It’s generally useful to provide a paragraph’s worth of information about yourself. How you know the person you are recommending and a little about how you interacted/worked with them. But that’s it. No need to get into specifics. The letter is about them, not about you.

How to Structure a Letter of Recommendation

Be formally concise. Your first paragraph is the statement of recommendation. Your second paragraph covers who you are and how you worked with the person being recommended. The next 1-3 paragraphs should each detail a specific example (all positive) of situations or events that clearly demonstrate certain aspects of the character of the person being recommended. Your final paragraph should serve to summarize: restate your strong recommendation on the basis of the person’s demonstrated strong character and positive attitude.

When NOT to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Simply, don’t write a recommendation letter for someone if you don’t mean it. You will waste their time and yours. If you need a way to decline writing a letter of recommendation, you can simply say that you do not have enough time to write an adequate letter.

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

How to Write: With a Fountain Pen

How to Write: To a New Penpal

How to Maintain Your Pen Collection

How to Write: Improving Your Cursive Skills

How to Write: A Letter of Resignation

How to Write: A Letter of Resignation

10 Sep

How to Write: Letter of Resignation by Cole Imperi on EuropeanPaper.com/BlogResigning from something – whether it’s a job or a volunteer position with a local non-profit – is an occasion that should be given some care and attention. In most cases, your letter of resignation will be kept on file permanently and is something that could potentially resurface in the future. Here are a few essential components to any good resignation letter and a few best practices as well.

1. Formatting

Format the resignation letter formally. If you use a word processor like Microsoft Word, you can use one of the pre-installed templates. There are several that will work; one in particular is called ‘Formal Letter.’ Use a heavier, decent paper when you print it off as well to add a more professional look.

2. Keep it Simple

There is no need to detail any specifics in a resignation letter. You might want to describe a situation or take time to write something a bit lengthier – don’t. Save that for your exit interview if you wish. If there is no exit interview, perhaps offering up those additional details would be better delivered in person verbally or through a thoughtful email. Ask yourself if anything more really needs to be said.

3. Include Basic Information

Make sure your full first and last name, current mailing address, date, the name of the company or organization you are resigning from, their address and your signature (in ink) are all listed in the letter.

4. List Your Resignation Date

It’s very important that you list the date your resignation will be effective. Whether you already told your employer in person is no matter, you need to have it in writing. If your employer has requirements for giving notice (the standard is two weeks), this letter will serve as proof that you gave enough notice.

5. Be Positive

Even if you are leaving on bad terms, it’s important to not be negative in your resignation letter. Imagine if a future employer saw this letter. Would they be left with a bad taste? If you are finding it hard to be positive, at the very least thank the company or the organization for the opportunity and leave it at that.

6. Offer to Help

Offer to assist in finding a replacement or to train your replacement. It’s important to show that you are a team player and are trying to avoid leaving the company in a lurch.

7. Clarify Final Duties

It is good practice to not only list your date of resignation, but to note that you need clarification on your final duties and any other final matters before you go. This helps the company or organization know that they need to figure out what is left as well. If you’ve already discussed your final duties and responsibilities, it would be appropriate to list those out in writing in your resignation letter.

Here’s the thing about resignation letters. You never know when – or how – you’ll cross paths with your former boss or coworkers in the future. The fact is, you may never, but the world is a very small place sometimes. If you leave anything in writing, make sure it’s positive and professional.

Below is a basic example of a resignation letter (click to enlarge). What experiences (positive or negative) have you had with resignation letters?

How to Write a Resignation Letter via EuropeanPaper.com/Blog

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

How to Write: With a Fountain Pen

How to Write: To a New Penpal

How to Maintain Your Pen Collection

How to Write: Improving Your Cursive Skills

How to Write: Improving Your Cursive Skills

7 Sep

How to Write: Improving Your Cursive Skills on EuropeanPaper.com/Blog

Cursive is a word that basically just means the letters are joined. So, whether your cursive is bubbly and wide or teeny and scratchy; as long as those letters are connected, you, my friend, are writing in cursive.

Having a solid cursive writing style at your fingertips is useful. Cursive is nice to bring out for special occasions, like birthday cards and letters, and once you really get it down, it can become a beautiful style of day-to-day writing.

What tends to be most frustrating about this style of writing is that things can look a bit uneven. If you look at your own natural cursive and you aren’t happy with something, can it be attributed to uneveness? In my experience as a long-time letter writer, penmanship and calligraphy instructor, and type designer, this is exactly the case. Here are my best tips for improving your cursive.

 Slow Down

Whether you are printing or writing in cursive, this tip will always ring true. Take something you’ve written in cursive and set it down next to you. On another sheet of paper, write the same exact thing but slow down when writing it. Compare the two. Is there a difference? When we slow down to write, it gives our hands time to create smoother strokes and more consistent connections. Get used to writing slower and you’ll soon be able to speed up without losing any quality in your penmanship.

 Same Angle, Same Position

When you are writing in cursive, take note of the angle of the pen and the angle of your hand. Whatever angle you start with—keep it throughout the entire piece of writing. You see, when we change the angle of writing mid-stream that’s when we have problems.

 Be Cognizant of Connections

Cursive is all about connections. If you have uneven connection points, those can be fixed by either slowing down or keeping a consistent angle. If you find yourself having to draw longer connections sometimes, you probably have changed your angle. If you find yourself with short and rough connection points, you need to slow down. These connection strokes in cursive are what make cursive cursive. They are what make this style of penmanship beautiful. They make it this way because they provide rhythm and repetition. Do you know what happens in a song where the drummer can’t keep a consistent beat? It doesn’t sound right. Same with cursive, keep that consistent stroke and connection going on.

 It Takes A Little Time

Slowing down at first will give you some ‘breathing room’ in properly developing your style of cursive. If you don’t slow down at first, it’s like building the walls of the house before the foundation. Slowing down does not mean you are not a good writer or you are not capable of writing faster, it just means you are taking time to really master something well so that in the future, when you do speed up, you’ll be prepared and will be producing something that is the same quality as what you produced at a slower speed.

Your Cursive Will Be Different Than My Cursive

If you’re like me, you were taught cursive in second grade. We all were taught based on the same model and were graded on how close we were to that model. Don’t approach your penmanship the same way.

How I write cursive will not be how you write cursive. It can be helpful to look at other writing samples for ideas or as ways to diagnose connection problems (i.e. how others connect an ‘r’ to an ‘s’), but you should really work on developing your cursive independently. Go into it with the mindset that you are honing your own cursive; not that you are honing someone else’s cursive.

Find a Rhythm

One thing that may help you improve your cursive quickly is to find a rhythm in the way you write. Have you ever sat down to write and you noticed that words you were writing were flowing onto the page with ease? Did you notice that your hand might have fallen into a ‘rhythm’ of upstrokes and downstrokes? If you can write in a way where your upstrokes and downstrokes take the same amount of time, your writing will reflect this style. Because this tip is a bit abstract, I’m going to explain a simple exercise so that you can actually ‘hear’ your cursive. All you need is a felt tipped pen of some kind (or any pen that will give some squeak or scratch), any kind of paper and some quiet. Write in your natural cursive and ‘listen’ to your letters. Listen for your upstrokes and your downstrokes as you write. Does it sound smooth and consistent? Try writing in a way so that you ‘hear’ a rhythm in the way you write.

I’ve included an image of the ‘traditional’ model of cursive for you to take a look at. Chances are, you naturally do not write your capital Z like shown. That’s OK. Write how you write.

Traditional-Cursive-Image - How to Improve Your Cursive on EuropeanPaper.com/Blog

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

How to Write: With a Fountain Pen

How to Write: To a New Penpal

How to Maintain Your Pen Collection

How to Write a Letter to a New Penpal

16 Jul

I remember my first pen pal, her name was Christele and she was a French student in a small school outside of Paris.  We were paired up by our respective schools to write to each other – for us to improve our French and for them to improve their English.  It has been over 20 years.  Not only are we still friends, we still write each other letters.  We have never spoken on the phone, seen each other in person or written an email to each other.  Our friendship is purely handwritten.

See all Stationery on EuropeanPaper.com

I can remember my trepidation writing my first letter to her.  What paper should I use, what color ink, what would I say?! The thoughts overwhelmed me.  In the end, I decided on my favorite purple letter sheet with a matching envelope and my favorite fountain pen with dark eggplant ink.

Writing to someone you have never met is daunting.  What do you say?  How do you start and end the letter, and what do you ask?

First you must decide on the tone.  To this day, I tend to write like I speak, so my tone is fairly informal.  It works for me, so I stick with that.  I write like I am in a personal conversation; I ask questions and then answer them myself.  Nothing too personal, but just enough to get to know who I am.

Always start with an introduction – your name, where you’re from, and a little bit about yourself.  It is the jumping off point, a place where you can start building your friendship.  Then go into sharing with your new friend a few of your hobbies. For example, if you like reading, what are your favorite books and what are you currently reading? What kind of music or movies do you enjoy?  Remember to ask questions, too. Even though this is a letter, you are expecting a response – ask your new penpal what their hobbies are, what life is like in their town/city/country.

Consider also including a photo of yourself (if not in the first letter, then the second).  It is good to be able to put a face to a name!  As my friendship grew with Christele, we exchanged photos of us growing up, so I have a visual record of our friendship!  She even sent me a picture of her with her entire extended family!  I have sent her pictures of me on my most important days of my life.

My first letter to Christele led to hundreds of letters back and forth.  We talked about school, then university, then life as a young adult; we wrote through boyfriends and jobs, moves, hopes and dreams.  Now we talk about our children, our careers, our futures.  On my fridge I have a picture of her with her beautiful family, because through our letters, through that first written word, we became friends.  And it is a friendship that has crossed decades, language and an ocean.

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Meet the Writer: Akhila Jagdish is a writer and editor in the process of starting her own editorial services company, The Crafted Word. She loves making lists, collecting journals, reading, drinking wine and cooking. 

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How to Write With a Fountain Pen

12 Jul

How to Write with a Fountain Pen by Cole Imperi for EuropeanPaper.comIf you are looking for something new this school season (whether you are in school or not!) then you may want to look at a fountain pen. Fountain pens come in all kinds of makes and models, colors and styles and each produces a different ‘look.’

No matter what fountain pen you have; whether it’s a $2 drugstore find or a $1,000 special edition, it’s important to understand what the tool was designed for so you use it properly. It’s also useful to find other people who use fountain pens and ask them for their tips and advice. That said, here are my tips for how to write with fountain pens (and I’ve been writing with them since I was in grade school … and my collection of them is overflowing):

A Fountain Pen is Not a Ballpoint Pen

Image courtesy of Cole ImperiBallpoint pens require pressure in order for them to work. Pressing down and sliding the tip of the pen across the page produces an line of ink. It’s the pressure that turns the ‘ball’ that allows the ink to adhere to the paper. That said, a fountain pen does not work the same way. Now, that’s not to say you can’t hold and use a fountain pen the same way you do a ballpoint, but recognize they work in totally different ways. You can literally just rest a fountain pen on paper and glide it very gently across the page and you’ll get ink flow.

Relax Your Grip

Most of us grip our pens pretty tightly. When you use a fountain pen, don’t grip as hard as you normally would. Try writing with the pen mostly ‘resting’ in your hand. Allow the nib to slide across the page. There really is no need to press down and drag the nib to release ink (unless you are going for that effect or are using something like a flexible nibbed pen).

Just Getting Started? Write Smart.

If you are just getting used to a fountain pen, it’s best to start writing things when you have a little time. Scrawling out a shopping list on the dashboard of your car in front of the grocery store that’s about to close is not a very good time to start using a fountain pen. When you are just getting the feel for it, make sure you have some time on your hands—or at least enough time to write a little slower.

It’s also important to spend some of that initial time just holding the pen in different ways as you write. You will probably have a preference for how to hold it but only after you play around a little to find it!

Write Often

Now, I know I just said above that you should take time to write, but I mean especially at first. Once you get the feel for it—the feel of it in your hand and how to hold it—by all means open the floodgates! The more you write, the better you’ll get. You may even begin to notice changes in the appearance of your handwriting (for the better!).

Try Lots of Pens

One day, you may find yourself with a fountain pen collection. This is normal and happens to anyone that finds they enjoy the ‘experience’ of a fountain pen. The reason people who like fountain pens generally have at least two or three at a minimum is because each pen has its own personality. You’ll find that you prefer certain pens in certain seasons of the year, or for certain activities. Right now, I use my white LAMY Safari for general daily notes and list making. I use my vintage Prosperity Pens 14kt nibbed flex pen for letter writing and I keep a Kaweco Sport in my purse. In a month or two, I’ll bring out my Pilot Cavalier and my Sheaffer Agio (I love these pens in autumn and winter!). A fountain pen enhances the actual act of writing, and the more you write the more you’ll notice certain pens are ‘better’ at the time than others. Fountain pens are an expression of the mood you’re in.

Take Care of Your Pens

As you use fountain pens more and more, you’ll pick up your own habits. However, I’m going to say this and I may upset some true diehard fountain pen aficionados, but if the only thing you ever do is flush your pens regularly with water and let them thoroughly dry, you are set. I essentially treat my antique pens the same way I treat my new pens and I’ve never had a problem.

Do Your Homework

Whether you are buying a cheaper fountain pen or an expensive one, make sure you do your homework. Read about the pen, the company that makes it, and customer reviews. Search blogs for reviews on the pens you are interested in. A few minutes of research is time well-spent on a writing instrument you’ll treasure and use forever.

Do you have a fountain pen tip to share? If so, please add them in the comments!

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Meet the WriterCole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

How to Write: Thank You Notes

17 May

Thank you notes do not serve the purpose of simply naming (and sometimes also describing) a gift someone sent you. More often than not though, that is exactly what we send out, if we manage to send anything at all:

“Dear Friend, thank you so much for the beautiful red silk scarf. I love it.”

Not so great, right?

This post in the How To Write series is meant to help you write thank you notes well. And we begin by understanding one subtle difference: a thank you note is different from just a thank you. They are not one and the same.

Four Tips for a Proper Thank You Note

First, one should always acknowledge the specific item you received. The reason this is important is because it shows you paid attention to the specific gift the giver chose for you. This is especially important in group giving situations; like a party where someone receives a significant number of gifts. You want to thank each person for the specific gift they gave you and show that you paid attention to who gave what.

Second, it is very good practice to mention why you love the gift, or why the gift was meaningful to you. If you received a beautiful red silk scarf and you appreciate its quality, mention that aspect of it. If you received something like a gift card, something appropriate and apt to say is that you are so glad the giver gave you that option.

Third, anytime you can make the note about the giver, you should. Even in just a small way. For example, if your incredibly artistic friend whom you admire so much gave you a gift, you could write something like, “Thank you so much for the beautiful red silk scarf. I have always admired your eye for beauty and your ability to create it, too. This scarf will serve as a great reminder to me of your talent I so admire and our friendship.”

Sometimes, we receive gifts from people we aren’t exactly fond of. Sometimes, people give gifts not by choice, but by obligation. Hopefully, those instances are rare for you, but how do you thank someone who gave you a gift you don’t like? And you know they don’t like you? The answer is simple: you do the same way as above.

However, that brings me to my fourth tip: tell the truth. If you love the gift, you want to express that sentiment. If you didn’t like the gift, don’t hype it up, just say thank you in a short and sweet note. Don’t include any untruths in your note.

An example of a Thank You Note in an office setting.

Appropriate Timing

When do you send thank you notes? Anytime someone gives you a gift valued at about $5 or more is a good practice. If someone gives you something, no matter how small, and includes a tag or card, then 100% of the time should you send a written thank you note.

If you are ill and people stop by, leaving you things to make you feel better or perform some other act of care and concern, you should write a thank you note. If someone close to you passes away, you should write a note to anyone who came to the funeral or visitation, left flowers or made a donation. But as with all notes, send a thank you note anytime you intuitively feel you should or anytime you just want to.

Thank you notes are a simple and elegant thing. They serve as powerful acknowledgement of our appreciation and respect, and they allow us to take time to really, truly offer thanks to someone else.

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

 

How to Write: Friendship / Appreciation Notes

3 May

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and the mail arrives. A few bills, some junk mail and … oh, what’s this? A small handwritten note. You open the envelope and read what’s inside:

To my friend,

Today, I was reminded in conversation with a colleague at work about our friendship. This colleague was sharing some difficult news related to recent events in her life and said she had found she had no ‘true’ friends.

I count you among my blessings. You and I have been friends since we were in our teens and while we may not talk every day or see each other all that often, I am so grateful for our friendship. I know I can call you or reach out whenever I need to and you’ll always be there.

Thanks for being a part of my life,

In friendship,

Your Friend

Wow! Imagine getting something like that in the mail. What would that mean to you, to hear from a friend out of the blue. Especially when there was no real ‘reason’ for it; no gift had been given, no favor had been done.

A Personal Challenge

Friendship and Appreciation notes are a special kind of personal correspondence and are always treasured by the recipient. They can be a challenge to write because they require the expression of honest, heartfelt emotion and sentiment when we, at least Americans, don’t normally do that.

Culturally, Americans express honest emotion in times of grief: “I am so sorry for your loss. It made me cry when I heard the news. I love you so much and I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

And in times of happiness: “Congratulations on the job! I knew you’d get a position like this–you totally deserve it. I’m so happy for you! I’m so excited for you!”

But what about just in regular times; in day-to-day life? We don’t really do that kind of thing. Herein lays the reason why Friendship/Appreciation Notes are not so common.

Get Started:

  1. Think of a friend. Whoever comes to mind first is probably a great candidate. Or, think of someone that has been on your mind lately for whatever reason, even if you haven’t spoken to them recently.
  2. Answer the questions, “Why do I appreciate them?” and “What made me think of them specifically?”
  3. Draft your note on notebook or copy paper first. A basic written formula is:
    1. Greeting
    2. Why you are writing
    3. What you want to say
    4. Closing, positive statement
    5. Sign off
  4. Once it looks how you’d like it, slowly write the final words onto a nice card or stationery.
  5. Seal and send off.

Here’s a sample you could write to someone who has been a lifelong friend.

Break It Down:

Greeting:

Dear Name

Why You Are Writing:

You and I have been friends for about 20 years. I remember when we met and how quickly we became close! In these past 20 years, you’ve seen me get married, get fired from a job, find a new job, have a child, buy a house, move out-of-state, and a whole lot in between. You have truly been a constant in my life; in fact, we’ve been friends for more than ½ the time I’ve been alive.

What You Want To Say:

I just wanted to write to thank you for your friendship and for sticking by me the whole time. You are someone I not only enjoy spending time with, but someone I greatly admire.

Closing, Positive Statement

See you at the annual Turkey Bowl Game this Thanksgiving

Sign Off

Your Name

Friendship/Appreciation notes can be hard to write because we’re not used to thanking people for being your friend. In reality, what you’re doing is acknowledging the friendship and thereby, acknowledging the friend. Acknowledgement like this is a powerful thing. Write a note to a friend this week. They will cherish it, and feel happy knowing they have a friend like you that would take the time to write them.

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This is the third article in the How to Write series. Read the others here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

 

How to Write: Ideal Business Correspondence Notes

19 Apr

Writing thank you notes and get well soon cards are easy compared to ‘professional’ correspondence (also known as business correspondence). At least, most people would tell you this. Writing a quick thank you note to grandma is way less complex than writing to thank an interviewer for their time in interviewing you for a job you still hope to get.

Professional correspondence is different from personal correspondence in that personal correspondence refers to writing between family or friends while professional correspondence refers to writing between people who interact professionally (at least primarily). Imagine you have a colleague that works for a competitor. You both know each other and get along great and have met at a few lunch events. If you put that person on a ‘friend’ or ‘colleague’ scale, what side would weigh heavier? That is how you know where to write from; a personal zone or a professional zone.

However, written correspondence in a professional setting can be tricky. Here’s why:

  1. You may not know the person that well. For example, you don’t know if they would appreciate a more casual tone or a more formal tone.
  2. The occasion that is motivating you to write may not be a familiar one. Many of us sit through only a handful of job interviews a few times in life. Raises and promotions are also less common. What do you say in unfamiliar waters?
  3. You are writing because you know you should … and you don’t know what to say. You know you need to thank your boss for letting you leave two hours early every Friday, but what do you say beyond ‘thank you for letting me leave two hours early every Friday”?
  4. There’s pressure. You want everything to be perfect, but if you write something and it is taken the wrong way, or you spell something wrong, it’s hard not to let it gnaw at you afterward.

In professional cases, more often than not, you’ll find you need to write whether you’re looking for a job, have employment, or own a business. This means you should write after an interview; a promotion or raise; you find some potential new business and want to turn it into actual business; a client or colleague does something for you; or you gain a client or customer.

These are all examples of positive correspondence situations. Negative correspondence is another beast entirely and there are different guidelines there. An example of negative professional correspondence would be a letter of complaint.

My guidelines for positive professional correspondence:

  1. Use nice paper. No notebook paper here. You always want to make a good first impression right out of the envelope.
  2. Write as close to the ‘event’ as possible. For example, if you have a job interview in the morning on a Wednesday, your thank you note should be in the mail Thursday.
  3. Be your professional self. If you are very laid back, very relaxed, very casual and funny person, there’s no need to ‘hide’ any of that behind formal language. Be exactly who you are, but through a professional lens. For example, a colleague of mine is a complete class clown. He’s very adept at what he does for a living, too. His stationery of choice? Each beautifully engraved note card tells a classic joke. It’s his way of being himself, but professionally.
  4. It’s generally better to err on the side of more formal than casual. Imagine that you are the note’s recipient. How would you react?
  5. Better to write a little less than too much. When you write to someone you may not know very well, less is often more. Plus, the more you write, the more chance there is something can be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Finally, how does one write what needs to be written? Your best bet is to write a few drafts on notebook paper first (save your good paper for when you know exactly what you’ll be writing). And as for what to write, the simplest formula is to start by stating why you are writing, explain what that means to you, and end on a positive, upbeat note. Once you get the words right, write them out neatly and slowly on your professional stationery.

Here’s an example of a note written to thank someone for an interview, but they don’t yet have the job:

I hope this How-To was helpful. Professional correspondence might be a new area for you or an old friend; either way, please leave your own advice and any questions in the comments!

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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Editor’s Note: This is the second article in the How to Write series. Read the other here:

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

 

How to Write: Sympathy Notes

5 Apr

Sympathy Notes really get a lot of scrutiny from the recipient. The words inside a sympathy note carry a lot of weight; it’s like they are magnified. These notes are sent when someone we know and care about has experienced pain. The pain of loss. Whether that is the loss of a parent, a pet or otherwise, loss is still loss. It is feeling empty when before you were whole.

What words are ever appropriate at a time like that, right? I don’t know about you, but every time I sit down to write one of these notes, I always think that there are really no words that exist that will actually bring comfort.

And then I remember, that statement is true. A sympathy note is not actually intended to make the situation better because it really can’t make the situation better. Instead, a sympathy note is a way to say ‘Hi, I’m here, and I’m thinking of you.’ It’s a reminder that the recipient has many people in his or her life to help fill in that empty spot.

There are lots of things you can say in a sympathy note, most of which are probably fine. However, there are a few things you should avoid saying in a sympathy note and I’ll tell you why.

Just Call

“If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” or “If there’s anything I can do, just call.”

Those are both very nice sentiments and anyone who says them means well. However, what you are really saying is: “I’ll help, but you have to call me first.” When someone is grieving, the last thing they need is another ball in their court, so to speak. And honestly, they’re not going to call. It’s better to say something like “I’m going to call you next week to check on you” or “I’m going to email you next week to check in with you, in case you need anything.”

When I discovered this tip, I was a little shocked. I said this all the time to people. I’d even post it on Facebook. And I was not the only one. Someone might post that they were sick, and there’d be eight Facebook comments of people saying “If you need something, just call!” It’s just another way of not really saying anything at all.

A Better Place

“They’re better off now,” or “They’re happy now,” or even “They’re in a better place.”

Even if the person you are writing to has said one of the above statements to you, it’s still best not to say it yourself. Honestly, maybe they’re not better off. Perhaps things happened you’re not aware of. The issue with this statement is that it’s not really a comfort to the person that was left behind. The person who died is still dead. They’re still dead whether they’re better off or not. And, the person receiving your sympathy note is probably not better off, definitely not happy now, and likely not in a better place. How can a dead person be better off than the living person you are writing to?

“I Understand”

Be careful when you say you understand or you know how the person feels (particularly when you’ve never been through the same situation). Let me give you an example. When a friend loses a parent, I will usually include a statement like this:

“While I can’t understand what it’s like to lose a parent, I can understand what it’s like to be loved by a parent. I know how much your father loved you. I remember in high school how he’d pick us up after track practice and he’d always kiss you on your cheek, give you a hug, and ask you how your day was when we’d get in the car. I vividly remember how much love your Dad had for you.”

Everything I said was completely and totally true. I didn’t say I knew or I understood when I really don’t know and I really don’t understand. Plus, I was positive. I wasn’t talking about death, I was talking about life.  Be considerate of this when you sit down to write a sympathy note.

Take the Time

Most anything written in a sympathy note has good intentions behind it. However, if you are going to take the time to write one, really pay attention to what you are saying versus what you are meaning. They can be different. If you want to actually do something for the bereaved, say what it is and commit to it. Don’t put anything back on the bereaved. Don’t comment on where the deceased has gone or how the deceased may be doing. Focus on the person you are writing to, the person who is still alive and dealing with the aftermath.

Death is a funny thing. It happens to all of us, and will happen to everyone we know. Yet, many of us struggle with how to act or what to say when it happens. If you stay positive and commit to doing something for the bereaved you’ll stand a better chance of sending a note that is meaningful, memorable and a true comfort.

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Meet the Writer: Cole Imperi is a business owner and a proponent of the handwritten word. When not at Doth Brands, a Branding & Identity firm catering to the health, wellness & deathcare professions where Cole works as Owner and Creative Director, you might find her on her yoga mat teaching yoga or behind a laptop writing for Simplicity Embellished, a letter-writing and lifestyle blog.

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