Adding to Your Story-Letter

by Craig Thompson on March 27, 2017

Ahhh, newsletters. (And by “Ahhh,” I’m guessing you know what I mean.)

Living outside your passport country means finding ways to keep people updated about what’s going on with you. Some of those people need to hear about what’s happening and some of them simply want to. The newsletter can take care of both, which is a good thing. But sometimes it can feel like one more burden, especially when there’s not much interesting or exciting (or not much of anything at all) to report. What if your day-to-day goings on don’t feel newsworthy?

How about thinking of your newsletter as a way to tell your story in serial form? A story-letter, if you will. I’m not suggesting that your collected writings would need to be novel-esque. It’s a problem when we think that what we write isn’t enough: not inspiring enough, not impacting enough, not poignant enough, not powerful enough. It doesn’t have to be any of those things. Your story is your story. It is what it is. And we need more “what it is.”

But my main point here isn’t telling you how to write—many of you are already great story tellers. I’m just wanting to help you fill in the gaps when you hit a dry spell. With that in mind, imagine your newsletters bound together, like chapters in a book. What kind of cover would that book have? What kind of illustrations? And what would you add to make your memoir more memorable? Why not add those things now?

So, when you’re sitting in front of your computer screen and you feel stuck, give these a try:

A Subtitle:
Your newsletter already has a title (which you chose from hours of research and consulting with focus groups, right?). But what about a subtitle, that explanation that comes after the colon? And by that, I’m thinking about a short mission statement. Maybe it’s the one for your team or for the work you’re doing. Maybe it’s your personal mission statement. Whichever it is, from time to time, you can remind your readers about it and reflect on how you’re on track . . . or how you plan to correct your course. Maybe you’ll even need to rewrite your subtitle. This is a work in progress.

A Prologue:
Probably most of the people reading your newsletter know your basic history. But when an anniversary rolls around, it can be a good time to recount how you got where you are, showing how God has brought you from “there” to “here.” Writing it down might help you better see the distance between the two.

A Map:
You know how fantasy writers create new worlds with hard-to-pronounce place names? To orient readers, they often supply a map showing the villages and shires where the story will unfold. Some of you can show where in the world you are and label the countries next door. Some of you can’t. But most will be able to draw a word picture of the neighborhood you live in, giving your readers a feel for your corner of the globe. Just take a quick walk outside your front door and write down what you see.

Epigraphs:
These are the meaningful quotations that precede each chapter of a book. What is something inspiring that you’ve heard or read lately?

Asides:
Whenever I read about a place or time with which I’m unfamiliar, I enjoy reading the asides, those times when the author digs deeper into some aspect of that place or period. What an opportunity you have to educate your readers on the customs, histories, politics, and traditions of the people around you.

Blurbs:
This is where well-known authors and experts claim on a book’s back cover that it’s “Amazing!”—”The best thing since sliced bread!” If you’ve got similar endorsements, by all means print them, but most will need to rely on more run-of-the-mill reviews. No problem. When people come to visit, ask them to write about their experiences, then publish a few of their responses. It’s good for others, and for you, to see your surroundings and your work through new eyes.

A Bibliography:
Where do your ideas come from? What about your strategies and plans? Tell your readers about the books, conferences, and classes that have given you new insights and have helped shape your direction. And while you’re at it, you might need to include a running glossary, explaining the jargon that we so often take for granted.

Acknowledgements:
There are always people to thank. Who are you grateful for? Who has helped your story along its way? How have you been blessed by the people you’re serving?

Epilogues:
Remember that meeting you organized where 50 people showed up, fueling your hopes and dreams? That was news!—and you wrote about. But don’t forget to report later that the attendance dropped down to one. Epilogues aren’t only updates; they’re times for reflection, as well, looking back on what may have seemed at the time as a finished chapter. Sometimes there are surprise victories, sometimes lessons learned. Follow-ups that tell about the one step (or two steps or three steps) back after the two steps forward aren’t easy to write. (I certainly have a hard time with them.) But disappointments don’t mean you’ve failed. They simply mean that you’re doing cross-cultural work, with its ups and downs.

Of course, the final epilogue to your story remains to be written, and it’s not a cliché to say that God only knows what it will contain. It hasn’t been put on paper yet, because it hasn’t happened yet. And until that time comes, here’s to living out your story . . . and writing about it, page by page.


[photo: “Large Coptic Bound Journal Covered in Handmade Paper,” by Krispy and Dennis, used under a Creative Commons license]

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About Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.
  • Elizabeth Trotter

    I think this image is important here — we are telling a story in serial form. I think a lot of us probably don’t do the follow up we need to do from newsletter to newsletter. It could stem from disappointment or just sheer forgetfulness. Thank you for reminding us that we need to do this hard work of following up on stories, no matter what their outcome.

    • Craig Thompson

      Definitely something I’m not so good at myself. Maybe we’re waiting for the 49 people to show up again before we talk about their absence. And in the meantime, we’ve moved on to a different “chapter.” Thanks, Elizabeth.

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