The Art of Successful Letter Writing Part 2
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"And shouldst thou ask my judgment of that which hath most profit in the world,
For answer take thou this: The prudent penning of a letter." —Tupper.
IN the previous chapter I laid great stress on the importance of typing the business-winning letter on the right kind of letterhead, and on mailing the right kind of business-winning letter in the right kind of business-winning envelope. I hope the big idea sunk in: Persuasion is a big business-winning factor but Appearance equals it. A letter swings on just such a see-saw—Persuasion at one end and Appearance at the other. The mistake of most writers is to either give Persuasion more than half the plank or Appearance. In either event the game is spoiled.
Consider the printer, my friends—consider him in his rightful relation to you, provided he is a good printer—a factor and a very important factor in getting you the results you crave, and, in dealing with him, say this to yourself over and over again:
"I am not buying press impressions, but I am buying mental impressions."
Now, what else makes a letter "Pull"?
The message of course.
How are you to get that message?
Precisely as the engineer generates power—by concentrating a ton or more of coal under a ton or more of water confined in a boiler to which piston and flywheel and factory are attached.
Turn your mind on your business—that's the fire that makes the steam that turns the wheels that make your business go.
If you look at your business intently enough you will realize perhaps what you have never realized before—that it is a thing managed by you that is giving a service to your fellow men.
As you look and as you ponder, you will begin to aspire to give a better and more perfect service, first because you will realize that your material success hinges on that, and second because you will more or less imperfectly realize that service to the world is the intent of the power that works through you and which men call God.
Some men arrive at true service with their eyes fixed on profit while others arrive at profit with their eyes fixed on service. The "profit" route is the dangerous way. The service route is the safe way. The man who gives the world service is of use to the world, the world will use him, and, in the process he will profit. The man who takes profit from the world may forget service in the white light of the dollars he takes in.
Why this dissertation?
Simply because I want to impress on you the fact that I cannot teach you how to advertise your business unless the business is forcing you to advertise it. If you don't feel that "urge" you are not looking at your business as you should and nothing can make it grow. A successful business is merely the crystallization of a frame of mind.
Turn the fire of your mind on your business and advertising power will generate.
And now, about the structure of that letter; your message literally glows within you and craves for utterance; here's the crucial point; utterance involves technique, and technique the average man lacks.
I once saw a little one act drama; the lover loved as only a lover can—but he couldn't express it; when his sweetheart came his very fervor struck him dumb; he lacked the skill to crystallize the words that would reach the brain of his sweetheart through her ear; then came his sweetheart's friend—a sympathetic young girl with the gift of intuition and expression, who, sensing the situation, translated to her companion in eloquent, glowing words the love the lover felt.
Later came the villains, intent on abduction—here the psychical resigned to the physical; action was called for and the lover, in his element, ex-pressed himself defending his lady-love and her companion against tremendous odds, his good sword finding heart and throat till the attackers lay dead and wounded around him, and he, gasping and fainting from loss of blood, supported at the last by his lady-love madly imploring him to live because she loved him.
And of course he lived.
I often think of that little drama in relation to business—of thousands upon thousands of business men rendering service through action to a limited constituency, powerless to express that service through words to the enormously larger constituency just beyond.
The little business or shop, well kept as to windows and stock, is moving in the comparatively little circle bounded by those people who come to or pass that shop—to the greater world beyond those boundaries the proprietor is dumb.
Letters interpret the business to the larger circle of buyers as the companion interpreted the lover to his mistress, and the man unable to express himself should seek the services of those who can—those who, intuitively, sympathetically and skillfully crystallize the ideals of the business into persuasive selling words, and win the heart of the great buying constituency around.
Business consists of men who are making goods, distributing goods, and selling goods. It is wise to determine in which circle you are and to confine your efforts to the business you are in. My province, for instance, throughout my life has been selling goods by the written word. I never attempt to make them. Thousands I know who make goods attempt to sell them. The result is usually disastrous.
From which we may deduce that it is bad for anyone not possessing the faculty of expression to attempt a business love-tale to the public. Precisely because men attempt it do they damn letters as resultless.
If you do possess that faculty, go to it—cultivate it—it is a precious jewel worth more to you than your shop, stock and good will, because by its light and glow you will be able to reflect into the other man's mind new facades of interest in regard to the commonest things you handle.
Now writers of good letters have, like myself, and with probably better success than myself, attempted to formulate rules of construction by the use of which a letter would "pull."
These rules are excellent in their place and I will certainly give them for the benefit of the readers of this brochure, but at best they are an aid only to good letter writing, just as the carpenter's rule is an aid only to good construction. A poor carpenter could not proceed without a rule, but a good one could; he would probably make a rule. In other words good letter writing is de-pendent in the last analysis on principles, knowledge, experience and imagination.
Those writers who have attempted to formulate rules of letter writing insist for one thing on the importance of a good opening paragraph to gain the requisite ATTENTION. This has its place, and its important place. Speaking personally, however, I may say the spirit beneath the letter is the thing that always attracts me. Perhaps I will be better understood if I say the spirit beneath the letters—or words. The written word is simply the crystallization of some man's thought and we place that mentality in the good, bad or indifferent class by what I may term the look of the letter—though it is something else beside that.
For instance: a letter reaches me in the mail, or I pick up The Saturday Evening Post and glance at an article. In reality my eyes during that brief glance flash a hundred impressions to my brain. I take in the page in a hundred "spots representing words that stud the page—like flashing jewels, dulled glass, or daubs of clay. My brain is instantly caught by the radiance of words or repelled by their lack of it. Great writers intuitively have grasped what is really the gripping power in a letter, article, essay or book. I can do no better than quote to exemplify my argument,
"Words that speak and words that weep."—Cowley. "There are words that cut like steel."—Balzac. "The artillery of words."—Swift.
"Razors to my wounded heart."—Shakespeare. "Words are but pictures of our thought."—Dryden. "Some syllables are swords."—Henry Vaughan.
Do you see what is meant? A letter may be a model of construction; perfect in rule and rote, but it will neither speak, weep, cut nor picture unless, back of it, expressing itself in letters, words and syllables on the page before you, is a mind of originality, power and force.
The first thing talent does in writing is to forget rules and methods and pour out its message in living, burning words from the heart and from the brain.
Yet, as the student must master the technique of the piano, so the man wishing to learn to write must, first at least, lean on the rules of grammar, punctuation, construction—just in proportion to his genius for the work will he finally pass, outstrip and discard those rules and work to the individuality and power within him that takes him unquestionably and unerringly to RESULTS.
Turn your mind on your business—look at it, study it long enough and you will realize that everything on earth has some relation to it and you to it. When the glow comes expression will follow —if you have it. If not, the fire of enthusiasm you feel can be translated sympathetically by men who intuitively feel and can express what you desire to express.
That is the lesson this chapter teaches—the springs of success are within yourself. Begin with that thought. All else will follow. Begin today.