Just Slightly Contrarian: This Ain't Literature You're Writing
He was an extremely gifted and articulate communicator, a man of passion who, when he was finished with his speech, left you wishing he wasn’t.
So when I drafted an emergency fundraising letter for his organization, I used his words, his phrases, his syntax, his simplicity, his stories. And the letter turned out, I thought, really, really good. It captured both his personality and the mission of the organization.
Not so, he told me. Not at all. Not even close. In brief, he said, it sucked.
“It just doesn’t sound like me,” was his conclusion.
Tentatively, and stifling a tendency toward belligerence, I suggested, “But those are your exact words, from your speeches, all of which have been quite well received wherever you go.”
“That may well be,” he said, “but you must understand the difference between a letter and a speech. When I write a letter, I call upon my background with the world’s classic literature, and I use eloquent words and phrases. Not this colloquial jargon you’ve presented to me.”
He wasn’t finished.
“My donors are well educated and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the subtleties of our organization. They are far different from the knee-jerk, emotional contributors to most other charities.”
And on and on he lectured. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there, listening with one ear, but also quietly figuring the amount of the traditional kill fee, because I have no intention of going any further with this man. I’ll take what I can get and go on to the next project.
Momentarily, I recalled the days when I was really hungry and would try to help a guy like this understand what successful letter writing really is all about. No more. He can have his eloquent and sophisticated language and go on living in a fairy-tale world where his donors are different. I really don’t care.