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  • Writer's pictureEllen Gardner

Beckon with a good lead

It may be the last thing you write or the first, but there is no way to minimize the importance of your first sentence. Nothing kills interest in a note with an opening like, “I’m writing to tell you…” or “This note is to ask you…” Sure, it’s conventional and direct but it’s also mundane and predictable. Every story and every note has to have a beginning – why not break out of the ‘I’m writing to tell you’ rut.

I have an expression from Michelangelo over my desk and in a funny way it’s become the motto of my life – “Always vary what you do, as it is better to make a mistake than to repeat yourself.” Whenever I catch myself using the same phrase or word twice in a piece, I know I have to work harder to find something different. English is amazing that way because there is always another word.

It’s the same with your lead or opening sentence. In a recent business communications class, I asked the students to write a note to their boss requesting a permanent work from home arrangement. Except for one enterprising student, they all jumped in with the predictable, ‘I’m writing to ask…’. This student wrote, “My goal in writing to you this morning is to discuss how working from home during COVID has changed my life.”

With three active children underfoot, I don’t think she spent hours composing that lead, but she was speaking from the heart and had a dire need to get her boss’s attention. She found a way to beckon and entice the reader. Of course, I had to read on.

When you find that hook, something different, quirky and interesting, it doesn’t just get their attention. It establishes your voice. It’s a promise to the reader that their time with you will be well-spent.

Have a great day!

~ Ellen

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