Have you ever found yourself sitting in the car outside a venue in an adequate outfit with a greeting card propped awkwardly on your knee, trying to conjure some meaningful words?
Despite my best intentions, I used to find myself in that situation time after time. With every new event and milestone I would plan to purchase a nice card early and provide myself with a calm space in which to come up with some nice words. But each time I found myself in the same position: stepping hurriedly into stationery aisles in my uncomfortable heels and doing my best not smudge in the car.
And each time the words fell flat.
Are you feeling this?
The sentiments and emotions that we attempt to capture in black and white (or coloured gel pens) don’t usually need to be put into written form. They usually come across in our interactions and the subtext of everyday conversations. Often, we can’t find them when we go to write a card because we haven’t practiced (haven’t needed to practice) developing them into words.
So for years I procrastinated card writing until the very urgency stripped away any clarity I might have had to write a pithy, meaningful message.
I turned these acute feelings of regret and inadequacy into five clear steps for thinking through each card. This has given me the headspace (and a method) to get clear about what’s on my heart and how it might be said when it counts. And this practice has transformed card writing from a last-minute obligation into a treasured part of friendship.
Nowadays, instead of the agonising lead-up to finally snapping open my best pen and triple-thinking every word and phrase, I am able to quietly sit down and develop a meaningful message which sits well with my heart in under fifteen minutes.
Do you want to be able to do this too?
This blog post goes deep into my five steps for writing effective greeting cards which connect. The five prompts may seem simple, even obvious, but the thoughts behind them run deep.
The Draft a Little Real Planner which comes with all Wildergeese cards grab your free printable copy here.
Step 1 - Identify who the card is for
The first section of the Planner states ‘this card is for’.
This box is not for plonking down a name and moving on. Nossir. This is no kindergarten guide to card writing. This space is designed for lingering, for spending a few moments pondering the person who will receive the message.
Who are they?
And who are they to you?
You’re not writing this card in a vacuum. You are writing this card to someone with a unique personality, with whom you have a very specific history, in a singular moment in time.
Individuals, relationships, are multifaceted and ever-changing.
These days I write to my grandma very differently to when I was a child. I used to write to her as a child and a granddaughter. Now, with the friendship of adulthood, we relate as women with husbands whom we love and support, as gardeners (one experienced and one aspiring) and bakers who share love with their communities with the same recipes.
Relationships don't just change in the big seasons, but year-to-year as we travel with each other through life's fluctuations.
If you can identify, specifically, the aspect of the person to whom you are writing to in this moment in time, whether it's a birthday, a wedding, or 'just because', you’ll find that it influences your message, your tone, and helps you connect heart-to-heart.
Unsure how to go about this? Do these three things:
- Pause for a moment and think about the person, what they are like and what they've been up to or dealing with lately.
Jot down two or three 'labels' for these activities / modes of being and try to make them specific. For instance:
~ uni student who's nearly graduating and bookdragon*
~ new teacher and newlywed and new-home-owner of an untidy home
~ wife and carer - very tired, very faithful, a tea-drinker and experienced gardener
~ soccer nerd, cyclist in recovery and youth group leader
- Consider these labels and circle the one that resonates the most today. This is the person you're writing to.
By looking at this person fresh and identifying the deeper picture of who the card is for, you will get clear on how to connect with them in a meaningful way within the greeting card.
And more broadly, you'll be poised for developing the habit of 'seeing' the personalities, experiences and feelings of your community consistently and consciously.
And there is nothing quite as powerful as being seen.
Step 2 - Define why you're writing
The second section of the planner is titled 'I am writing because'.
There is an increasingly small percentage of us who wouldn't dream approaching an event without being armed with a stuffed envelope. But for the rest of us, common couresty of a birthday missive or thank you card simply is neither common nor socially expected courtesy. So it feels lame to write the expected. Identifying an internal or an external 'why' for writing the card will help you frame a message that you're not afraid to drop into the gift card box.
Part A - Try identifying the external 'why'
So, let's start with the external - the 'label'. Is this a birthday card or a wedding card? A get well card or a retirement card?
There is a scene in The Big Bang Theory where a young scientist is sharing a workplace bungle with her friends:
“There's this lady in our office who's retiring, and they were passing around one of those big cards for us to sign, but no one told me she was in a horrible car accident over the weekend, and what I was signing was not a retirement card, but was actually a get well card….”
It's not usually quite as drastic as this. What is important is identifying what this event means to someone. I know people who are embarrassed by their birthdays and people who love them. A wedding card to a remarrying widow would not be the same to that of a twenty-year-old bride. A graduation for one young person may be fraught with either regret and difficulty or by sheer celebration.
This is not just a cookie-cutter moment. You know this person. You know something of who they are and what they've been through.
So, cast your mind back to your chosen 'label' at Step 1. What does this moment mean to them? What does this moment mean for them?
Drawing a blank card on this one? That's ok... perhaps this moment isn't particularly profound or exciting for the other person. Perhaps there is no 'external why'.
But there will be 'why' in your heart.
Part B - Try identifying the internal 'why'
There is a reason you want to write this card. Try identifying the intenal 'why':
Because far fewer of us write cards out social obligation now, we usually have a motivation beyond the event (the external). We write because of some internal motivation, either a negative one (perhaps fear of being seen to have omitted a social nicety) or a positive one (such as appreciation for the person).
Take a breath. Think inward about what you're feeling and thinking. Is there something unsaid that you want to take this opportunity to communicate? Are you trying to build a foundation for a closer relationship? Perhaps you are reinforcing one that is already deep. Or maybe you specifically want to write something that can be stored and looked back on in years to come.
So, why did you pick up this card? What do you feel or think about this person, this moment, that is motivating you to share with them?
This second step, the WHY you are writing (whether it starts within them or within you) will help you understand what you want to say and how you want to say it. It is this clarity which will help you learn to write meaningful messages for the moments that matter - and write them effortlessly.
Step 3 - Finding the message
The third section of the planner states 'I want them to know'.
This is the scary part. This is where we become vulnerable. Because when we communicate something we want the other person to know or to see, we are exposed to their judgement about what we chose to say.
So often the fear of whether the message will be right, be acceptable, mires me before I even have a chance to fully understand what I want to say. I have drafted many, many cards and letters in this uncertain frame of mind which I have sealed and stamped but never sent. The worry about how the message might be received had clouded my mind so much that I couldn't unwind what I wanted to say from what I thought I should say.
Is this you too?
For now, put all the self-editing aside. Don't think about whether you should or shouldn't say something, what words would be best to choose, how the person may feel reading this card.
Instead, think about the person (Step 1) and the moment and motivations you're writing in (Step 2).
If you could be entirely open without consequences, awkwardness, just heart to heart, what would you want them to know? 'I'll never stop loving you' - 'I wish we could hang out more' - 'I'm sorry I don't get your jokes' - 'I've been praying about this moment for so long'? Perhaps there's a memory with them which you'd like to share which relates to your 'why'... or an anecdote or learning from your own life which they might find encouraging.
This section, this moment, is for unfiltered honesty. This space is the place to understand what the core of what you want to communicate. You can edit later. In order to write effectively and clearly in a meaningful way, we first need to understand what's really on our hearts to say.
After that we can decide whether we're gonig to say it, and how.
Full disclosure: It took me a while to learn how to write this section. I had lost the art of presence and reflection and it's still developing back inside me. So don't be discouraged if this one takes a little practice to come easy.
Step 4 - Decide on tone
The fourth section of the planner states 'I want them to feel'.
Most greeting cards start with the fuzzy-wuzzy. They focus on building a certain set of feelings. I started Wildergeese because all the greeting card aisles I stood in felt shallow and sparkly - none connected with what I knew of life. We've placed feelings fourth on the Planner for a reason.
In our difficult world with increasing rates of anxiety and depression, feelings often exist separately from what is true and what is helpful. Focussing on feelings can lead to us obscuring the truth or saying only parts of what should be said - or things that shouldn't be said at all.
However, feelings (both the surface feelings and those of the soul) are a real part of who we are and must, must be considered for an effective message. We can't control the state in which our words are recieved or the emotions they invoke, but understanding the way we hope to affect the reader will help us use the right tone and say neither too much or too little.
Think back to the person and the moment, then think about the unfiltered message you've put down. Given the place that this person is in at the moment, how would this person be served best? Do you want the person to feel comforted? Loved? Do you want to bring a spark of joy? Perhaps the best thing this card can do is speak to something deeper, to challenge and uplift the heart with hope... strengthen resolve for the next step, the next day.
By identifying the overall goal of the card after you've spent time thinking about the person, where they're at, and your own heart for them, you'll find crafting a message which connects comes much, much easier.
Step 5 - Particular inclusions
The fifth section of this card says 'include this quote/memory/thought'.
Perhaps, as you've walked through this process, a quote or verse has come to mind - perhaps a song lyric you've shared in the past is relevant to what you're hoping to communicate. Or perhaps a phrase of your own has come to mind - or a really specific story that simply must be included.
If so, jot it down here.
There you have it!
You've just stepped through five simple steps gathering a set of specific, genuine motivations and ideas for how to fill this card.
If you flip over the Planner to drafting section and holding those five things in your mind, take a breath and just start.
Remember, this doesn't have to be a perfect draft. This place is for the mistakes, testing the things that you want to say and how to say them before you sit down with that crisp greeting card and your favourite pen.
Drafting against these five steps may feel a bit stiff at first. It's like doing anything with a new technique after years of performing in one particular way. There are habits to unwind and new ones to develop.
But with a little practice you'll feel clearer.
With time, you'll be able to use these five practical steps to write meaningful greeting cards which really connect in fifteen minutes or less.
So, what are you waiting for?! Go write that card 🖋️💗
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*A bookdragon, unlike the bookworm, hoards books as opposed to consuming them.