When the situation becomes the most boring, the most routine, the most expected…that’s when you have the greatest opportunity to surprise.
Such was the case in August 2015 with Michael Merschel who writes book reviews for The Dallas Morning News. Merschel’s story resurfaced in August 2016 as a top read on The New York Times and thus became great fodder for my blog, News To Live By.
Here’s what happened. Merschel went on vacation and, rather than leave a typical “out of office” message, penned something far more creative. This is a snippet:
If you are pitching a book to me, please be aware that I receive hundreds of titles a week and can’t promise a review of each.
I am able to do little with self-published materials, but if you are in the area, I can usually list you on the Author Tours calendar, which runs every Sunday.
Standard stuff. But then he included an emotional paragraph, a move you have likely never seen in an “out of office” reply.
If you are annoyed with me for leaving the office, I want you to imagine a middle-aged man who fell in love with a beautiful baby girl almost 18 years ago, and now he is driving her to a gigantic college in a distant city filled with all kinds of people who do the things people do at college … and he has to leave her there. And drive home alone. In the dark. In a minivan. Alone.
Wow. Betcha didn’t see that coming. And that’s the whole idea — to surprise people in moments or situations where we expect the work done a certain way.
I call the tactic a “wrinkle,” and it can have a huge impact on our careers. Think of the many classic writing situations where we can defy the reader’s expectations. I provide examples for each if you click on the links.
- Resume objective statement
- Opening paragraph of a cover letter
- Grant application
- Fundraising email
- Mission statement
- And so many other business writing scenarios
Each time, ask yourself:
- How can I replace “what’s always been done” with a story that proves my success? That’s a great use of the “wrinkle” approach.
- How can I replace typical adjectives (“motivated” and “dedicated”) with hard numbers, data and metrics to back up my claims? Once again, a powerful “wrinkle.”
We are conditioned to write a certain way because, well, that’s “what everyone does.” To stand out, go your own way — even on a “boring” task like an out-of-office reply.
Every writing assignment is a chance to shine.
Do you have any special touches with your “out-of-office” reply?
Featured photo: Randy Robertson (Flickr)