How to write a letter.

Do you remember the letters you used to send at the age of 6? I do, because it was the only time I’ve ever been forced to write anything. Remember? It was always a few days after your birthday, or after Christmas or Easter, when mother dearest plonked you down at the kitchen table with a packet of Basildon Bond and a pen, and said those dread words "Write your thank-you letters". I’m convinced that faced with a blank piece of paper and the pair of bri-nylon socks that Auntie Maud had bought, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray would be hard-pressed to come up with a decent thank-you letter between them. I therefore unconsciously developed the Thank-You Letter Format, which I have used ever since. You may use this if you wish, or show it to others, as long as you don’t attempt to pass it off as a work of your own creativity. I protect my good ideas like a vixen protects her cubs, so use this and I will be viciously hunted by hounds at you.

1.Your address. This should be sort of right indented, and is very useful in using up tons of space on the piece of paper before you even start writing the letter. The key thing here is space. No distant relative in the world would be cruel enough to be upset with a letter of 2 sides of letter-paper (roughly A5, or half this sheet). However, letters which end on the page they begin look like you can’t be bothered writing, and you don’t give a flying arse about the intended reader of the letter and in fact for all you care they could drown themselves in a pool of sick as long as they set up a trust fund to keep buying you presents every year. In fact that is what most children of 6 do think of their aunts/uncles/grandparents/daddy’s "friend" Veronica who stays over at his house a lot & whom mummy doesn’t like/distant male schoolmate of your mum’s who calls you "Champ" or "Princess" (not necessarily depending on gender) & gives you a fiver every 2 years when he remembers who you are. The only reason kids write thank you letters is because their parents are trying to teach them to be polite, and also teach them how to write letters. To be perfectly honest, most grandparents would be perfectly happy with just a muttered "fankyou" over the telephone & a hug when they visit. For full exploitation of the address, it should include the postcode and the date, so it looks like the sort of letter big people write and uses up an extra couple of lines
2. Gaps. Leave a gap between EVERYTHING. A gap between the address and the "Dear…", a gap between that and the start of the letter, a gap between paragraphs. This fluffs out the letter without making it look too fluffed out.
3. Indent your paragraphs to the point where the writing begins level to the last thing you wrote on the "Dear…" line. This looks professional, and uses up tons of space.
4. Begin the first paragraph in the following way, "Thank you for the [fill in present here] you got me for [fill in particular celebration here, be it birthday, Christmas, Bar Mitzfha, Devali, the pagan festival of Beltane, the ritual bloodleting of the M’gunu tribe of northern Peru, whatever]" Never deviate from this opening formula. It is neat, concise, and although looking at it, it seems pathetically lame (you can almost hear your relatives screaming "Oh for fucks sake!! I KNOW what I got you, you little bastard, and I KNOW why you’re writing this letter, but try to show some inventiveness PLEASE!!! I mean, it’s not like we’re going to forget when you sent us stuff, is it? We’re not going to have sent you your present marked ‘Happy Beltane’ and only realise it is in fact the Fendikki day of ritual castration we were sending it for, are we?"), it always works. Immediately follow this with a reason, however lame, why this present will be useful/nice/ whatever. "Useful" is always a good one to have because it makes the relative feel they have a slight hold on what is "Hip" with "The Kids". If the present is money of any description, then you are honour bound to say what you are going to do with it. Always lie. If it is a large amount of money, DON’T say you are going to blow it all on the car/house/Star Wars Action Fleet of your dreams, say you’re going to put it in the bank or otherwise invest it wisely. If it is a medium amount of money, always say you were going to buy books with it, not toys or CDs (actually, I always did buy books with it, but then again that was just me), books look studious, books make a good impression, saying you spent the £15 they sent you on the latest CD by Niggaz With Attitude usually has the effect of stopping them sending money, or indeed a present again. Ever. If it’s a small amount of money (as it often can be), never make a point of it being a piddling pisspoor bit of pocket change. Never say you’re going to buy sweets with it. Saying you’re "Putting it towards" something is always good, as it makes you look like someone who can invest wisely, and also makes their present look like the catalyst towards being able to afford something you’ve always wanted. Again, make sure what you’re putting it towards is worthy. Books, clothes and cycling accessories are worthy. A kilogram bag of Reese’s Pieces, or a night down your local are not. If the present is not money, then always think up a reason, however spurious, for this being the present of your dreams. Even if it’s a tea towel with pictures of endangered birds on it, say something positive, "I’ve always been a keen lover of nature, and your present will act as a constant reminder of how fragile the world we live in is, and encourage me to act with care and respect", or something like that is always a good start. NOTE: Humour is a 2 edged sword in matters like these. If writing to "hip" relatives, use as much humour as you want, as long as it is inoffensive, and does not make use of satire at any point. However, there are certain relatives who would not know a sense of humour if it leapt onto their lap, sat on their face, did a gyrating striptease to the tune of "Sex Machine" and dragged them onto the bed yelling "Take me now, you steam driven powerfuck". Incidentally, profanity is RIGHT out. Relatives with no sense of humour can be offended or confused by jokes, so leave them out in this situation.
5. After the opening paragraph (remembering to leave a gap before the next one), do one or two paragraphs about what you have been up to lately or will be doing in the future. These don’t have to be very long, seven or eight lines at the outside, and remember that lately is a very subjective term, it can mean anything from what you did this morning to what you did 5 months ago, depending on how often you see this particular relative. Make sure this is a suitable titbit of information. Your Geography group visit to the nearby countryside for a graphic demonstration of how Oxbow lakes (whatever the hell they are) form - good. Your rugby club visit to a strip club where you drank so much you threw up down your jersey -not good. Anything which makes you seem productive, happy and a Better Human Being is an option at this point. If all else fails, make it up. IMPORTANT NOTE, if the relative has seen you, spoken to you or sent you anything, anything at all through the post, in the last 2 months, speak of it at this point as being the greatest moment of your life. A relative always wants to feel like they are the centre of your existence.
6. What you will be doing in the future, whether this is a trip to the dentists, a visit to the library, a family holiday to Cleethorps or a cervical smear test (by the way don’t use this one), make it sound as if you’re going to enjoy it. the key phrase here is ‘looking forward to’. The use of the future paragraph is two-fold, firstly it gives the relative the feeling that they are up to speed with your life, and makes them feel important, as if they are your major confidante, secondly, it gives you something to top with the ecstatic amount you are looking forward to their/your next visit. If no such visit is arranged in the near future, use the phrase "I hope to see you soon" as if you pray every night for God to let it be tomorrow that you see Gran/Grandpa/mad Uncle Tony/Cousin Hamish who got put inside after the trouble with the old ladies/etc.
7. Always, always, always end in the proper way. If it is immediate extended family (grandparents, aunts, godparents), then "lots of love", if it is a cousin of roughly the same age as you then NEVER EVER use the "l" word, if you’re a boy then it seems girly, if you’re a girl then it seems too cutesy, and anyway you hate the little bitch because last time she was here she tore your Pony Stable Barbie’s jodhpurs and they cost 4 pounds and anyway you got them for Christmas and you hate her you hate her you hate her and it’s not FAIR!!! Or something like that. Extended extended family and the ‘uncles’ or ‘aunties’ that seem to stay over a lot at mummy or daddy’s should be given a "Yours sincerely" to show them how well your Proper Letter Writing Skills have developed.
8. try to end midway down a page, too far down and it looks like you finished because you were coming to the end of the page, to near the top and it looks like you were just trying to bulk up the number of sheets you had written. Always write on both sides of the paper unless printing (more on that later), and remember that the more cutesy and angelic your writing looks, the less likely it is that you’ll be made to do it again. I have handwriting like a column of soldier ants with the runs. It sometimes took me 5 attempts to get an acceptable 3 side letter.

The rules for computer thank you writing are different still, although in a lot of ways the introduction of computers (especially with cut & paste functions) has been the letter writer’s godsend. Here’s what you do
1. write one perfectly good, bog standard thank-you letter on the computer using the techniques outlined above. Save it. Print it.
2. Save it under a different name, change the name at the top, the present reference and any reference to seeing the person in question. Save it again, print it again.
3. repeat until all relatives, and indeed your parents, think you are a genius.

Neat, isn’t it?