I received this letter in the mail recently:
It was from a writer I have been working with, and it was a letter expressing her gratitude for what we have been creating.
To receive a letter like this is, well, a shock. I mean, how often do you go through your mail to discover a letter you didn’t expect, and open it to find four thick paragraphs that do nothing but say nice things about you?
Nowadays, I think we default too much to a “like” on Facebook, or clicking that little heart on Instagram. We justify that it is an adequate expression of “I see you. I appreciate all that you are, and all that you create.”
But how can a “like” button truly express that?
In the work I do, I help writers create meaningful connections with their readers. For this, I help them connect their book to the world, and craft experiences outside of the book.
The ideal is something similar to the letter I received. Where an author and their writing creates a moment that is so impactful that it adds a richness to the reader’s life.
Maybe it reframes how the reader see the world, or it makes them feel understood for the first time. Perhaps it takes them somewhere they never knew they wanted to go, but once they arrived they felt they never wanted to leave.
That is the power of a book. The power of writing. The power that authors wield in their work. And it is the goal for how writers can connect with their audience outside of their books as well.
People tend to call this “platform” or “social media strategy,” but it’s more than that. It is living the life of a writer. To craft one’s identity as someone who, through their writing, truly connects people to new ideas, new stories, and new ways of looking at other human beings.
I spend my days working with writers in my Creative Shift Mastermind, my private clients, and talking to writers in my podcast or in conversations on the phone. Many describe with complete joy, a moment when their writing truly connected with someone.
Today I want to take inspiration from the letter I received, and challenge you to truly connect with someone in a way that will brighten their day.
The letter I received is from Shannon Connery, PhD. Her backstory is incredible. She spent a decade working with public safety personnel and private organizations in the fields of police psychology, trauma debriefing, and threat assessment. What this means is that after the Columbine High School massacre and the Aurora movie theater shootings, she helped first responders process and deal with what they were experiencing.
Fred Rogers has this wonderful quote:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Well, Shannon is someone who helps the helpers.
Earlier this year, she quietly challenged herself to better appreciate those around her. She created what she calls “The Gratitude Project.” For 100 days, she sent long thoughtful letters to anyone in her life that she wanted to express gratitude to.
She sent letters to people she hasn’t spoken to in 30 years. To people she met once, but who left a lasting impact on her. She even sent letters to people who harbored deep animosity to her.
She didn’t tell anyone about this project, well, except for me. For the past few months, I’ve been helping her develop her platform in preparation for writing and publishing her first book.
When I asked Shannon what she learned after sending 100 letters, this is what she said:
- She not only felt happier in general, but a sense of calm was created in her life in the few months that she wrote.
- Her memory improved. She was taken aback by the level of detail of people, places and events that she hadn’t thought about in years.
- She was able to use the gratitude letters to let go of anger. She said that when she was upset or angry, she would write a letter of gratitude to the person she was angry at. The anger actually disappeared in many case, and it others, it was lessened to a degree that made it much more manageable.
Today, I want to encourage you to embark on your own gratitude project. Not just for the possible outcomes that Shannon shared, but because it is a wonderful way to ensure that your writing has a profound effect on the lives of others.
Even though I knew about Shannon’s Gratitude Project, I didn’t expect to receive a letter. When it arrived, I was taken aback. As I opened it, I noticed it was a long typewritten note. I mean, how often does someone send you a long formal letter?
I had completely forgotten about her Gratitude Project as I read it. She and I had recently developed her writing, launched a newsletter, and launched a podcast. In the note she said:
“The fact that in two weeks, people have asked me to talk more about my work, makes me thrilled. The fact that people have listened to my podcast makes me ecstatic. Please know how grateful I am for your guidance. It has brought me to this place and this feeling.”
There are two ways that you can join Shannon in a Gratitude Project of your own:
- Go big: spend 100 days writing a letter each day to someone in an expression of gratitude.
- Or, simply find one meaningful way to express to a single person the gratitude that you feel. Put it in writing. Mailing a letter it is ideal, but email works as well.
Then, if you are up for it, share on social media that you did this, and use the hashtag #GratitudeProject.
One thing that Shannon kept telling me is how much response she has received. Each day, someone reacts to her writing. She has been overwhelmed by the gratitude that has been reflected right back at her.
I mean, isn’t that what we all want? For our words to resonate deeply with another human being?
Maybe your next book is months or years away. But today, you can write a letter, and your words will make someone’s day.
You can hear Shannon talk about The Gratitude Project in this podcast episode, and you can find her in the following places: