I get a lot of requests for help with letter-writing, and whilst I try to oblige where I can, I'd also like to try and support people to feel more confident in writing their own. So, I thought I'd put together a little guide (Miri's Massive Missives Manufacturer's Memo) that might be able to offer a few pointers...
1. First and most essential tip - read more! (And watch less.) The best way of becoming a more confident and fluent writer is to read. Read anything and everything, as often as you can, and always try to go for the book over the film, the article over the video, the transcript over the podcast. The written word is a very different creature to the spoken one, and to become a confident and capable writer, doing a lot of reading is key (a habit many of us drop after school, and especially now, when everything's gone visual).
You don't have to read anything complicated or supposedly "intellectual". I personally have never really got into "the classics". My favourite authors growing up were Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and Sue Townshend (I loved Adrian Mole and empathised with him greatly; I just couldn't understand why all these absurd adults thought his profound diarising was supposed to be funny!). Just the act of reading - whatever you read - inevitably and always develops and strengthens the parts of your mind that enable you to write.
You will know you're reading enough when you start mispronouncing words in conversation. That's because you learned them by reading
2. Read back what you write out loud. Good writing 'flows' as easily as conversation does, and to get a sense of where your writing might need improvement, read it aloud and see if it sounds as natural as speech. One thing this is really helpful for is letting you know where to put commas. Wherever you would naturally pause in speech (<--- like here), put in a comma. Proper grammar is really important to the overall structure, flow, and ultimate impact of whatever it is you're writing. Try to avoid overly-long sentences or paragraphs, and give the reader a chance to 'take a breath', as it were.
3. In terms of writing strongly worded letters, learn how to take an authoritative - but not overtly aggressive - tone. Don't let yourself feel in the least intimidated if the people you're writing to have multiple letters after their name or some supposedly socially revered position. It doesn't matter. It doesn't make them better than you or deserving of any kind of apologetic or deferential tone. Know your rights and your value, and make it clear you do in your letter. People who've ascended the greasy pole to high professional status, such as doctors and headteachers, are all terrified of losing face and getting sued, so a politely assertive letter letting them know this is a risk will put them firmly in their place.
Calm, measured, and perhaps slightly icy politeness can be a really effective instrument, and far more impactful in really alarming someone, than more directly 'going in for the kill', e.g. you'll get someone more nervous with "it would trouble me greatly to think the school might be in breach of the law and therefore putting itself at risk of punitive legal action", rather than "if you b*stards put one foot out of line, I'll see you in court!"
4. This may be rather stating the obvious, but practice writing. Write emails to friends, Facebook posts, start a journal, etc. - writing's like anything: the more you do it, the better you'll get. But make an effort to do it well. Many people think, "well, this is just an email to a mate / a Facebook rant / etc., I don't have to put the same effort and thought into it as I would for a job application or formal letter" - but if you do put that same level of effort in, it will dramatically improve your writing across the board.I put just the same amount of thought and effort into my Facebook posts, as I do letters to MPs or newspapers. There's no reason not to, because doing so helps me to keep refining and improving. if u eva see me start to rite like dis bcos its "only FB", know that I have been kidnapped and am signalling for help.
5. Don't be afraid to borrow from other writers. You can copy and paste anything from my letters' archive in creating your own (http://miriaf.co.uk/category/letters/), and if someone else has used a phrase or paragraph you think reads particularly well, use it! All writers have developed their particular styles based on other writers; it's not plagiarising or "cheating" to borrow from someone else, particularly whilst you are in the process of finding your own voice - on the contrary, it's essential!
6. Be aware of the fact that good writing is becoming an increasingly uncommon ability, and therefore, increasingly valuable. As the jobs' bloodbath continues unabated, developing new and not-so-common skills will give you a real professional advantage in the future employment market, including setting up as self-employed.
7. It's no secret many writers enjoy a little tipple or three, but as the old saying goes, "write drunk, edit sober". There's nothing wrong with having a drink whilst writing if you enjoy it, as for some it can help unlock the creative flow. But never, ever send anything of importance if it's been composed whilst drinking. Always wait until the next morning and re-read it whilst sober.
8. A similar precaution may be taken with anger. Don't send anything to anyone when you're really angry. It will be the most eloquent rant you'll ever regret... Anger can be a great catalyst for creativity, but it needs to be properly contained, so again, press the pause button and re-read after you've calmed down.
That's all I can think of for now - hope this is of some use. I think I myself manage to adhere to at least half of them...