Newsletters and the People Who Read Them

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of readers. . . .

Now that we’ve reached the end of 2019, it’s time to work on that end-of-the-year newsletter. Or maybe you’re still working on your November newsletter, or your October newsletter, or even a bi-annual summary—since you missed getting out your 2018 installment. (It happens.)

It’s not easy juggling all the demands of cross-cultural work, including the doing and the living and the reporting of it all in meaningful ways to a diverse audience. When you sit down in front of your blank template, whose faces do you see looking back at you? Who reads your newsletters, emails, prayer updates, and blog posts? How do you manage all their sometimes competing expectations?

How many of the following might see what you write?

your friends who adore you and have your photo on their fridge
your teammates
coworkers from other agencies
Mom and Dad
supporters weighing their budgets for next year
the nationals you serve
those in your host country who are glad you’re doing what you’re doing
those in your host country who wish you’d stop doing what you’re doing
your college professors
people who like pictures
people who like numbers
people who like stories
your field supervisor
the head of your agency
your high-school English teacher
a children’s Sunday School class
an uncle who said you wouldn’t last
an aunt who prays for you every day
people who read only a couple issues a year
people who read every word, and between the lines
a member-care worker who tells you to look after yourself better
a board member calculating your ROI
the person whose face you see only after hitting “send”

Did I forget anybody?

It’s enough to give you writer’s block. Is that where you’re at now?

If so, here are seven fail-safe steps to get you on track:

#1. To paraphrase a paraphrase of Voltaire: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the honest.”

Chances are, what you’ll write won’t be exactly what everyone is expecting or needing. Not every newsletter is for every potential reader. That’s a kind of perfection that’s impossible to achieve. And what you write won’t be perfect either. The life you’re living and the work you’re doing isn’t perfect, so trying to portray it as such wouldn’t be honest and true.

Not all truths belong in a newsletter, but there needs to be a place for all truths. We all need at least one person to share the hardest details with.

Not all truths belong in a newsletter, but a newsletter should contain only the truth. Perfection? Not so much.

Michael Frizell is no Voltaire, but as an author and educator, he has experience writing and teaching writing. In a recent issue of The Learning Assistance Review, which he edits, he shares about a graduate student who told him that she’d hit a wall while composing her thesis. He passed on to her some advice he’d received years before when he was working on a thesis as a student himself. A professor had told him:

Get a piece of poster board and write, in big letters, “I’m not writing the great American novel!” and hang it above your desk. That way, whenever you sigh and throw your head back, you’ll be reminded to just get it written.

“Of course I’m not writing the great American novel,” you might be saying. “I’m not from America!” Maybe your poster should say, “I’m not writing the great Korean novel” or “I’m not writing a New Testament epistle” or “I’m not writing an Oscar-worthy movie script.” Or how about “It’s not like I’m even writing a graduate thesis”?

So now on to the rest of my list of seven.

#2 . . . Actually, I don’t have any more steps, fail-safe or otherwise. Seven is such a cool, complete, perfect number, but I’m going to fall well short of that. I could try to squeeze out a couple more, but I need to get this post published before the year’s up, and I’m running out of time.

I’m not writing the great American novel, after all. So much for cool, complete, and perfect.

And that’s the honest truth.

(Michael Frizell, “Letter from the Editor,” The Learning Assistance Review, National College Learning Center Association, Fall 2019)
[photo: “Erasmus’ hands,” by Jim Forest, used under a Creative Commons license]

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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

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