Horrid Family Photos as Fantastic Holiday Newsletters and Cards
Many of the above photos may have been taken as serious album keepsakes, sure, but we’re going to use them as thematic inspiration for creating a hilarious holiday newsletter. Whether your newsletter will be more photo or textual intensive, the photos you do choose are essential to creating the mood and reception of your holiday expression. As you view the above photos, notice how they create a sense of fun and cheer, even the “serious family photos.” Consider giving your holiday newsletter photos some of the same playfulness. Your family and friends will thank you for it and will eagerly anticipate next year’s holiday newsletter as well!
Why Brevity is Essential to Good Writing, Newsletters Included!
Brevity has always been an essential technique in excellent writing from novels to short short fiction to workplace communications to family communications. Why? As much as we enjoy the painstakingly, self-edited, long wordsmithing in our own works, others do not. Newsletters are not novels or memoirs or any other form that goes through a troupe of editors, vetting and revision. Keep the newsletter very, very short. In revising the newsletter, the writer must consider function, audience and narrative flow, and the primary focus in these considerations is surgical word choice. Brevity.
Preparing Your Holiday Newsletter for Brevity
1. One 8 1/2 x 11 page. No more. That is it. If your first draft of the holiday newsletter goes beyond the front of a single page, you have written too much, too winded and too boring. One page. You might be thinking right now, “But, Rae, I really have some interesting things to share about the kids, the cats and my new job.” I get it. I really do, but no one wants to read a short memoir of your life unless you are Joan Didion and have vetted your work through objective, editorial crafts and techniques. We can never be the best editors of our own work. We simply aren’t objective enough to do it. Keep it short. Super short.
2. Instead of writing full paragraphs, consider using a “photoessay” form, where the photos take precedence over text. Give them short, fun captions for each photo. If you are planning to write a one page textually intensive newsletter, consider asking your core family members to help. Have each one write his or her own paragraph, no more than three sentences each. Really. Three sentences.
3. Instead of including ALL the details in the card or newsletter, offer a family site link, FB page or Tumblr page in the newsletter/card, where you’ve collected family photos and posts. It is a good idea to create a single page for your family and then ask members to share and upload images, videos and posts that are “family appropriate,” rather than offering separate links for each family member, unless you are certain the separate links are suitable for your family newsletter and in the tone that you, as a family, prefer. The more links, the more work you will need to do in making sure all the content is what you want in your holiday newsletter/card. A good suggestion is to choose a social networking site that your children use most, that way, you’ll have an easier time of getting them to share photos and posts and cutting down on your editorial work.
4. Include photos with extended family and friends. Ask your kids to choose one “friends” photo so that you can include your kids’ friends in the holiday newsletter, too. Your kids will really appreciate the inclusion and it will let family and friends enjoy the extended camaraderie. This will turn your “family brag card” into an extended and inclusive family and friends party card. Of course, you cannot include everyone, but close family and friends will enjoy knowing that you consider them close family and friends.
5. Remember, packaging is everything. Visual images should have as much presence in the newsletter/card as the text. If you are sending a digital newsletter/card, then you can add hyperlinks to each photo, as well as selected text, so that receivers can quickly access more information if they desire (BUT do not ever expect them to do this. The worst and most awkward habit newsletter writers make is asking if family and friends have read their newsletter. Wait for others to bring this up; otherwise, you risk an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation for both you and the receiver.)
6. Try to consider yourself an editor of an anthology, rather than the single newsletter writer. By including your core family members as “contributors,” your family will be more excited about your year in review, the newsletter distribution and more. There is no better way to bring your core family together at holiday time than to show how much you care about their accomplishments, celebrations, friends and activities within the year.
7. Plan a family dinner late November or December and make something yummy. At each place setting, lay a pen or pencil and something on which to write. Make it holiday themed to put your family in the mood. Then during dinner, ask your family to write three sentences that sum up their year. Encourage humor. You could ask each family member to write three sentences about each individual family member. This can quickly become laugh out loud fun, perhaps even a little embarrassing, especially when the kids get involved. 🙂 If you have resistant kids, letting them write about each other will usually get their competitive spirits into the exercise and then you can help them revise so to be more thorough, nicer, etc. As you do this, try to remember some of the funniest moments in the year. Do you have a picture or video of that moment? Do you have more than one? Did dad or mom fall in the snow? Did you capture on your smartphone your son or daughter singing a funny song when they didn’t think anyone was listening? Newsletters should be as much about the less perfect, fun moments as they are about sharing family accolades. Let your family and friends see you in “real life.” No one likes to read a braggart letter so don’t limit the holiday newsletter to all the accomplishments. At the same time, holiday newsletters aren’t necessarily the place to list all the ailments, either, unless there is something pervasive and family and friends will want to know. In this case, write what you feel comfortable writing in a way that is honest but also in a way you would want to read if a beloved family member or friend were writing about their illness. Most of all, be human. Be a little vulnerable. Just make sure all family members are okay with sharing fun, personal and/or slightly embarrassing moments.
Editing Your Holiday Newsletter for Brevity, Humor and Eye-Catching Photos
When looking at photographs in a museum exhibit, do you notice how they not only capture a moment, they communicate an ongoing narrative, time, place, subjects. Rarely, will you see a “staged” photograph, but rather, a slice in time. If the photograph has been staged, it is done so with intense form and structure. Consider this standard of narrative in your photoessay newsletter.
1. Instead of choosing that professional, holiday sweaters family photo (unless you can pull off a humorous one), why not choose a family selfie with funny faces? A small collection of travel moments? Give your photos narrative, landscape, time and place. If you do have a professionally done family photo, why not using a photo editing software program, such as Photoshop, to add funny titles to each family member or bubble captions that express humorous inward thoughts. Use the photo to create humor and individual personality for each family member.
2. Cut your one page newsletter draft down to a half page or less and fill the “blank canvas” with photos and captions. Really, the more visual your newsletter is, the more family will enjoy it. In cutting word count, see if you can get those three sentence paragraphs per family member down to two sentences or one sentence with a link to more information on the family site.
Writing Guidelines and Process for When You Have a Stretch of Time
First Draft: As you write the first draft, let your creativity go where it needs to go. First drafts are meant to be messy and creatively uninhibited. After writing the first draft, lay it to the side for at least a day before looking at it again. Many writers prefer to give it a few weeks or even a month. In the meantime, start working on another narrative or set of notes.
Second Draft: You aren’t under any quick turnaround deadlines, so take your time with this draft. Don’t worry yet about the line edits and so on. This is an exploration draft. Consider what in the narrative stands out. How well do you know your narrator, protagonist and antagonist? Spend more time with your characters and really focus on them. Where do you lose interest? What is incomplete and what can be more surgically detailed? Consider, during this revision, how the two characters interact and what that might mean in a sociopolitical and/or human relationship way. How do they foil each other? Flesh out any sections that might further reflect this sociopolitical undercurrent of the work but be careful not to make this undercurrent too obvious. Let the reader have room to work this out for him or herself. Remember, we don’t answer questions for our readers, we simply prompt our readers to ask good questions. Giving our readers room to make meaning for themselves within our narratives is a sign of artistic and literary excellence. This is also an excellent time to explore more than one PoV. (See the next lesson for a great PoV exercise.)
Third Draft: Read through again, and revise for language and lyricism. Now, lay the work aside for at least a day, few weeks, months, before your next step. In the meantime, start another narrative or set of notes.
Fourth Draft: Now read your most recent revision aloud as you record yourself. Upon listening to your recording, consider any language issues in your revision. You might also ask a trusted reader to read the manuscript aloud to you as you sit with your own copy and make revisions. Read it aloud to your baby, again and again. Imagine how fun it will be to tell your son or daughter, when they are older, that they were your first audience for the short story you had published. Hearing our language aloud is one of the quickest and surest ways to improve pacing, tone, and cadence.
It is always a good idea to give yourself time and space to begin this process of revision again, starting with the first draft suggestions. Anytime you rewrite any significant portion of a narrative, it will affect the rest of the narrative flow and so it is wise to begin the revision process again. Remember, revision is always a marathon, never a sprint.