How to Write a Great Holiday Letter


After years of trying to write good Christmas letters, I realize that my own letters fall into one of three categories.

1. Too Much Information
2. Too Much “We’re Awesome”
3. Truly Inspirational and Insightful

Too Much Information means I’m telling readers what I ate at every Mexican restaurant on my trip.  Too Much We’re Awesome means I use the letter as a catalog of all my children’s (and pets’) accomplishments.

I want to inspire and teach, not brag and exhaust.

Truly Inspirational and Insightful Holiday Letters teach us something.  They inspire us–and even make us laugh–with the insight we’ve gained this year. When these letters (I’m thinking of some of my favorite over the years) arrive, my husband literally sits down with a cup of coffee to enjoy the humor and insight that he knows the letter will offer.

With this goal in mind, we can eliminate any extraneous information that doesn’t offer insight.  With this goal in mind, we can ask ourselves if we’ve designed a paragraph intended to evoke jealousy or prove our worth.  With this goal in mind, we can purify our motivation to love our reader.

If the sentence doesn’t match these goals, chop it out.

As a devotional practice, I use the Holiday Letter task as a way to reflect on my year.  What did I learn?  How did our family change?  What did we overcome?  What wisdom can we offer now?

These holiday letters inspire.  These holiday letters are worth sending.  And sometimes a great holiday letter will matter more than the cute photo of my children in matching sweaters by the tree.

You can use the “Flair Checklist” below to help with your writing style.  Enjoy!

Flair Checklist

1.   Do I use vivid verbs?
2.   Are my verbs in their strongest form (cutting board test)?
3.   Do I juggle some secret ingredients throughout my writing (semicolons, dashes, commas, parentheses, and colons)?
4.   Do I “stir the pot” with varied sentence structures and lengths?
5.   Have I embellished my writing with garnish in some form?
6.   Have I analyzed my audience? Do I know them?
7.   Do I attempt to build rapport with my readers?
8.   Does my diction match my intent and my audience?
9.   Have I shown my audience that I understand them and have listened to them?
10. Would my audience feel cared for by me? Do I put in some love?
11.  Do I appeal to emotion in this writing (pathos)?
12.  Do I seem trustworthy (ethos)?
13.  Do I engage the reader’s reasoning skills (logos)?
14.  Do I make use of good transition sentences?
15.  Have I demonstrated the importance of my topic? Do I tell my readers why this writing matters?
16.  Was I able to form an analogy to advance my point?
17.  Did I enjoy the process of writing this? What can I do differently to celebrate the writing task?
18.  Do I offer a unique contribution to the conversation surrounding my topic?
19.  Do I avoid cliché in my writing?
20.  Is this writing memorable?
___________________________

What advice would you offer for writing great Holiday Letters?

NOTES:

  • If you missed Heather’s popular post, How to Write with Flair, take a minute and be inspired to write better.
  • We recommend Heather’s book, How to Write with Flair: Strong verbs, cool punctuation marks, varied sentence lengths and openings, some garnish, and appeals to your audience. (Order the book.)
  • The original post is on Heather’s popular blog, Live with Flair, and is used with permission.
  • Heather and her husband, Ashley, are Faculty Commons staff at Penn State.  Read what God is doing after last month’s scandal and learn how you might be praying for staff, faculty, students, and others impacted by these events.

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