Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dear Important Person: How To Overcome Your Painful ADD Email Habit

If you do not have ADD or do not love someone, or even know someone really well with ADD, then this may come as a surprise to you: we like to start everything in the middle.  Sometimes I write these posts and turn off the ol' editor button in my brain so that I can just get it out ("it" being whatever blather is bursting out of my fingers to revel in the light of day).  Once "it" is out, I can mess with it, rearrange it, make it pretty. 
"it" before

"it" after
This is how many writers who don't have ADD work, so that's not to say that my method is indicative of a disorder.  But here's my caveat: I start EVERYTHING in the middle.  I hate reading instructions, so I glance over the first part, focus on the middle part, gloss over the end and then get frustrated when the parts that I'm trying to piece together - whether it's an IKEA couch, my old stereo from college, or my daughter's homework directions - don't, well, fit together.  Knowing this about myself, you'd think I'd learn from my mistakes.  Nope.  I don't do that either.  Here's something I do instead: I go back and edit.  For whatever reason, I have to - HAVE TO - fumble through the first time so that I can make it pretty on the second go.  That's just my crazy method.  Stop with your judgey eyes.  It works for me even if it takes twice as long.

Case in point: emails.  Emails to my friends are one thing.  I can start in the middle, at the end, in mid-sentence, write gibberish or all annoying Twitter abbreviations (WTF! OMG!), and my friends both understand me and forgive me.  Right, friends?  But for more formal emails, emails to my kids' teachers or the principal of the school, emails to people I hope to interview for my column, email queries and pitches, I gotta start at the beginning.  That's some hard writing, people.  If you can relate to this problem, here's what you need to do: start in the middle.  Yeah, screw a bunch of grammar lessons and etiquette rules, you've got a backspace button, you own the right to cut and paste.  Use those resources!  I do.  I start those emails at the most frantic part, for instance I might write something like this:

Dear Important Person,

My son/daughter/rat/dog, Charles The Terror/hosta is in dire need of your assistance and it can't wait another minute.  He/she/it just had a complete meltdown/hissy fit/chew-fest/photosynthesis and I don't know how to contain the mess.  I need your help.  I can't go on without your help.  Please, won't you help?

Yours,

Amy

This is a dramatization.  I am normally only 1/8 this crazy.

When I finish vomiting out this blather, I stop and take a swig of coffee, breathe, roll my head around in a relaxing circle, then start again.

Dear Important Person,

How are you today? (See how I made it about them and not me?  This helps people feel respected.)  I hope spring has found you happy and healthy.  (Don't lay it on too too thick.  Do be sincere.)

I am writing to you today (I like to frame any requests I have or concerns with this phrase because it prepares the reader a little.  Now he/she realizes I'm about to ask for something they may or may not want to give.) to ask for your help (Do phrase this so that the important person knows you look to them as an expert!) with my son/daughter/rat/dog, Charles The Terror/hosta.  Since you are an expert with sons/daughters/rats/dogs named Charles The Terror/hostas, I immediately thought you might be of assistance.  (Then explain the problem or why this person could help you.)

Thank you for your consideration.  I appreciate any feedback you are willing to share.  (Don't be afraid to grovel a little.  It's flattering.  Important people eat that sh*t up!)

Yours,
Amy

So, you see you, too, can overcome the ADD email that starts in the middle of a panic attack and cultivate a lovely, rational communication with all manner of important people. 

Let me know how it goes for you.  Send me your before and afters for critique (only if you allow me to repost them, of course).  I'll use pseudonyms for the shy.

12 comments:

  1. Teach me your ways, Yoda. Great post!

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    1. If ever I teach again, I will have to bring the Tim Curry/Jennifer Lawrence mashup.

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  2. When I write-- emails or articles-- I always have to barf them out-- just get the words out. Then I can go tweak and tweak some more. They usually are vomited with some semblance of an order; they're just painfully horrible. Not sure what that makes me. Someone who is into gross metaphors I think.

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    1. When I teach Freshman Comp, I usually use the term "vomit onto the page" so I'm not judging you. That said, I'd never use a poop analogy. Ever.

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  3. This is an old copyeditor's trick too, the starting in the middle. It takes away the context so you can focus on what's important without your conscious brain meddling where it needn't be. Interesting to see it applied from the other point of view; although now I will be suspect of all future Amy emails :).

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    1. Ah, JW, more reasons to hire me ;)
      I am always editing myself. Always.

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  4. thank you miss amy for the lovely lesson.
    i tend to start things at the end and work backward. if i have a stressful letter to write. i usually write it all dirty and full of swears. this cheers me immensely. i then change fix (from the bottom up) so i can appear rational and sane. if it's someone i'm nervous about writing i always ask for penis size - sometimes with diagrams of choose the one that best describes you.
    thank you for the informative but also enjoyable post. xx

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    1. Dear Bev,
      Please share your diagrams of penises so that I may include in my next email to the mayor.
      Sincerely yours,
      Amy

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  5. good heavens, it's like I just looked in the mirror when I read your post. (And I"m not just talking about your "it before" picture, though the gaping maw is pretty spot on.) Having only yesterday taken a good half and hour to write what was essentially a two sentence email to An Important Person, I sit cross-legged and eager to learn from your editing tricks. Thanks for the help!

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    1. Dear Liza,
      (I think I will begin answering all of my comments as if I were Abigail Van Buren. You may want to commence leaving comments with a snappy pseudonym.)
      I sense some sarcasm here, yet I still am willing to teach you my ways.
      Best to you and yours,
      Amy

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  6. Dear Amy,( in keeping with the VanBuren format)

    I do all those things. DO I HAVE ADD?

    PS I wouldnt be surprised if I did.

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    1. Who knows, Zoe. It sounds like my methods are more common than I originally thought (according to my other comments). And all this time I worried that I sounded like a lunatic!

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Comments for me? Thanks a bunch!