If you’re reading this, you, the columnist, already believe you have strong messages, insights, and opinions to share in your writing.
Nobody without that kind of self-confidence could ever be reading this columnists’ newsletter, right?
But how did you get here? Chances are you were helped by a teacher, an editor, a very close friend. You didn’t do it on your own.
I’m writing to ask you, the columnist, to consider doing what I sometimes do.
Write a letter of gratitude to that special person who helped you get on the right road.
I first did this with my high school journalism teacher, James Fischer-Northrup. He had an amazing waxed mustache and taught the five W’s. When I got a job on a newspaper, I wrote him on the official stationery to thank him.
When I left that little paper, years later, I wrote the editor, Don Marsh, to thank him for giving me that opportunity.
It got to be a habit.
At first, I thought it would make them feel good. Now I realize it makes me feel good. To use an expression I detest – it’s a win/win.
Recently, I wrote to the editor of my college alumni magazine. Almost 40 years ago, Tony Lyle hired me to be the student columnist. I was so honored. He paid $50 a piece. My first regular column gig.
The Pennsylvania Gazette was (still is) a classy magazine, New Yorker-ish with similarly high literary standards. I was a street kid learning how to write.
So almost four decades later, I write him in Philadelphia to thank him for helping me achieve my writer’s dreams, holding me to high standards, being patient, even when he chewed me out. (There was this one time…)
He writes me back. He’s 79 years old. He calls my note to him “kind and thoughtful.”
He writes that he feels “privileged to have been able to observe and support your talent for writing and your acute sense of fairness. Keep up the magnificent work.”
He recommends I read a certain article in that week’s New Yorker, and adds, “It’s nice to be remembered.”
He dies 43 days later.
Who’s your Tony Lyle? Who’s your equivalent of the journalism teacher with the waxed mustache? Write them, please.
If “I love you” are the best three words, then “thank you” are the best two.