Lessons on how to stir the pot with a pen | AspenTimes.com

Lessons on how to stir the pot with a pen

Roger Marolt

I don’t know how to say this without sounding cruel, so I’ll just say it: Recently your letters to the editor have been pathetic. I don’t know if you have other things on your mind or if you haven’t been paying attention, but the recent editorial correspondence has been nothing if not dull and uninspired. There was a time when the Letters sections of the local papers were the only parts people read. Citizens and visitors alike looked forward each day to those few minutes when they could immerse themselves in the misery, frustrations, ranting, and misadventures of local writers thoughtful enough to publish their feelings believing that we cared. Freddie Fisher won a Colorado Press Association award for one of his written transgressions. Pete Luhn probably should have. KNCB Moore still might. But overall, the tradition of great letters is fading faster than the cheap ink of the Daily News. So, having more than a little practical experience myself, I will now re-educate you on the lost art of editorial letter writing. Here goes:First of all, don’t be so reserved. Here’s a little secret: If you write a letter to the editor, everyone who reads it will think you are crazy. The reason for this is that you are crazy. Don’t get self-absorbed and believe that this is symptomatic of a personality flaw. It’s a means of liberation! If everyone assumes that you’re nuts, go ahead and get your money’s worth. Let it fly! Don’t hold anything back. This is the one time when you shouldn’t read your work before sending it off in a fit of rage, passion, or whatever. Nothing sucks the life out of good letters more than revisions or corrections.There’s nothing like opening up the paper, reading your own letter, and involuntarily muttering, “Holy cow!” It’s a thrill that can last for weeks.Yes, some people will hate you, but others will love you, too. These people all felt the same about you before, but now they will go out of their ways to tell you. Never again will you have to walk through town wondering where you stand with folks. My second tip is to keep it short. Only nerds read the really long letters. If you convince them of anything, what have you really accomplished? Enough said about that.Third, don’t say things like, “I will not resort to crass name-calling like Mr. Smith.” This is just another way of saying, “Mr. Smith is a crass name-caller” and you will have inadvertently become a crass name-caller yourself.Now don’t get me wrong here. My intention is not to discourage you from slinging mud. In fact, I encourage that. Just don’t sound like a goodie-two-shoe when you do it. It makes people think you’re hiding something and are afraid to get a little dirt flung back. Remember, this is a public forum. If you want to be catty, get elected to a timeshare homeowners’ board.Fourth, don’t use big words. How do you know if it’s a big word? Well, if you think it’s a big word, it’s a big word. If you haven’t used it in the ordinary course of conversation since you were studying for the S.A.T., it’s a big word. Ask a good friend to use it in a sentence. If you laugh when you hear it, it’s a big word.Fifth, don’t send the same letter to both papers. That’s tiresome. Nobody likes the person who is in the habit of repeating himself at a black-type affair. It makes you look dumb since everyone, except apparently you, knows that we all read both letters sections every day. If your letter turns out to be so great that the whole town is talking about it, as you will undoubtedly imagine, anyone who missed it can get a copy at the newspaper office, check it out online, or find it framed on the wall at the Hickory House.Sixth, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary the definition of the word “bore” is: Someone dull or uninteresting. This is what you are if you include the definition of any word in your letter. Admit it, we all hate letters that have definitions in them. I think this technique is supposed to make the person who is the subject matter of the letter look stupid somehow. Either that or the writer is demonstrating his or her superior intellect by proving that he knows how to use a dictionary. Poor students throughout the centuries have used this procedure to boost the word count of their essays to reach the minimum number prescribed by their teachers. This is barely acceptable in elementary school; it should not be employed in something so important as an editorial letter. Seventh, don’t give us your credentials, work history, titles, degrees, etc. That kind of stuff might be important in the city, but in Aspen we subtract points for being an unabashed snob. Most of us here figured out a long time ago that initials and acronyms by your name don’t prove much by themselves. If anything, displaying them shows you don’t know a lot about this town. Mostly though, we just don’t care. Eighth, don’t be afraid to throw bait. It doesn’t matter how obvious your attempt is to engage someone in a battle of word processors. Be persistent and he’ll bite. The best thing to do is think ahead a little bit and have a response already prepared. If you are really good, you can attract the attention of a specific person, goad a retort, anticipate the timing of the response, and have your counterpoint printed on the same day as the initial response to you. People will think you are running the paper!Finally, have fun! If you don’t enjoy writing your letter, there is no chance that anyone will like reading it.If you follow these suggestions and are diligent in your efforts to irritate the local populace, someday you might step over the line and make the wrong people mad. You will be branded public enemy number one. You will be humiliated by the papers and beat down to the lowest form of life. You may receive a lifetime ban from the local newspapers. If things get really out of hand, you might even get your own column. Roger Marolt thinks that if you have a problem with this column you should sit and stew over it or make your concerns public. Contact the editor at letters@aspentimes.com


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