Sometimes we do something on the spur of the moment and it has unexpected consequences.
I won a prize!
Last week I opened and e-mail and discovered I had won £50 of books.
Included in the e-mail was a list of titles, all Random House publications, from which I could make a selection. I wasn’t too upset that the majority of the books seemed to be about cookery. It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise!
What had I done to deserve this?
I had written a letter to a magazine and my letter had been chosen as the ‘prize letter’ of the week.
Writing letters for publication
Many writers send letters to magazines and they do this for a number of reasons:
- It’s a method of achieving publication.
- It looks good on a CV or in a covering letter.
- You get your name ‘out there’ and this might lead to other things.
- Some magazines actually pay for published letters or anecdotes.
- And others may offer a prize to the writer of the ‘star letter’ of the week or month.
But writing letters to magazines is not something I have actively pursued as a writer. In fact, I hadn’t written this particular letter with publication in mind.
Topics I know all about: Head lice and the guilt of working mothers
Two weeks ago I opened the BMA News Review* and read an anguished opinion piece written by a doctor. She had just discovered nits in the hair of her young children and she did what many busy working-mums do: she blamed herself. Now, nits and head lice are rife in most British primary schools and I knew this wasn’t her fault. Feeling compelled to respond, I wrote a letter – to her – and sent it via e-mail to the BMA News Review to pass on.
They sent me a reply and asked if they could publish the letter and I said ‘yes’. Imagine my surprise when I found out I had won a prize.
And the letter looked good, sitting below a specially commissioned cartoon to illustrate the point I was making.
Even if publication was not my intention, seeing the letter in print was the highlight of my week.
A short letter is easy and quick to write. Right?
My first draft was around 250 words. The final letter is 120 words, including the Dear and Yours at the end.
How long did it take me to write and edit it down to get those 120 words? About an hour and a half.
Yes, writing short letters takes a long time.
“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, 1657.
Translation: “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
[Similar quotes have been attributed to a number of people, including Mark Twain. The sentence above seems to be the earliest proven quotation on the subject. Thank you to The Quote Investigator for doing the research on this one: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/28/shorter-letter/]
*The BMA News Review is circulated with the British Medical Journal (BMJ) to its UK subscribers. The BMJ is, of course, a highly respected medical journal. The News Review is a light-hearted and chatty newsletter.