Saturday, 6 January 2007

Greeting Card Writers

Ever wondered about the working lives of Greeting Card writers?

From Writer's Block.

How do you personally come up with new ideas?

RD: I keep paper with me all the time. Sometimes I'll get the first six lines and I need two lines to end the piece and I struggle with it all day and it will hit me while I'm walking. Hallmark brings in a lot of educators for us to listen to, people who are experts in sociology and the way people relate. We also have visiting lecturers from different art schools or different writers. We've had a lot of big writers come and give workshops and that kind of helps you get unstuck.

We've also got a huge creative library with periodicals for designers, and writers and editors. It's not really hard to come up with ideas because I love the study of relationships. If I have to write for a situation that I haven't personally experienced, I think of a friend or a relative who has. Or I'll watch a movie or read a book. The study of human nature is so fascinating; it's not hard for me to imagine what somebody's feeling or thinking. Getting it down in the right words is tricky.

What makes a good greeting card?

RD: A card that someone picks up and says "God, they were thinking exactly of me when they wrote this." The beauty of that circumstance is that we were thinking of you and that it works for you, but it works for about 100,000 other people too. It's just the whole science of emotions. We're all a lot more alike than we know we are. People also appreciate honesty in greeting cards. If something sounds like it's really sincere and there's an important message behind it — it's not just something strung together — that makes all the difference in the world.

What makes a good greeting card writer?

JH: The best writers here tend to be people who are well read, and who have a lot of different frames of reference. The other thing that really supports greeting card writing is having a life of your own. I think it's sort of the negative capability that Keats talks about when he wrote about Shakespeare being able to step into somebody else's mind. And in a way it's like an actor's skill, because you have to be able to project yourself into somebody else's situation or make a connection between your own and theirs. I've always assumed that I'm not so different from everybody else.

RD: A good greeting card writer has to be able to open her heart for other people to see and not be embarrassed about being called foolish or too personal or too sentimental. The difference between a greeting card writer and other types of writers is that we're all about emotion. Hallmark is often held up as a common object of ridicule. People will say "that sounds like a schmaltzy Hallmark card" but not all our cards are that way. You always run the risk when you're writing from the heart for somebody to say "that's a little bit more than I wanted to know."

SE: Anyone who can think of fresh, funny, or clever ideas, and who can have a good sense of what is likely to sell. That and a willingness to sit and work on it for a long time. It's a business where you can't afford to claim writer's block because you've got to keep producing. The biggest challenge is that your subject matter is so limited. You're dealing with the same topics again and again. You're always going to have another requisition for birthday and for Christmas and Valentine's Day. That, especially, is one of our challenges in traditional humour. In alternative humour, I think they can range a little bit more and have looser tie-ins between the occasion and whatever joke they're making. We are generally expected to provide a pretty direct message about the occasion. What do you say for the hundredth time you've been working on birthdays? What could possibly be new?

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