For example, I’ve had strangers phone to tell me how much they loved my article in the newspaper. How they got my number, I’ll never know, but in a small town with only 600 residents, I’m not surprised. They love it when I admit to being a newbie to the rigors of Maine. They guffaw at my descriptions, such as when I wrote:
During my first October in Maine, I purchased a nice, shiny red snow shovel. Old man winter wasn’t going to catch me napping! My neighbor Bruce came over one day and spotted it sitting in a corner, the $19.95 sticker still attached. He confused me when he said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you had small children. That should be fun for them.”
It sounded like a joke that lost its punch line. Was the snow so easy to shovel that small children could do it? I’d heard about Maine winters, and that didn’t sound quite logical to me. I explained, “I want to get a jump on the snow. I haven’t seen it in five decades while living in Phoenix, but I’m looking forward to shoveling it for exercise. I suppose we might have some by Thanksgiving, you think?”
He smirked and said, “We’re late, actually. The first snowfall usually arrives in October.”
I clapped my hands in amazement! I would get to use my shiny new shovel sooner than I thought. He looked at me and smiled, just like my uncle smiled when, at five years old, I insisted on opening the pickle jar all by myself. Come to think of it, that didn’t turn out too well. Why did I recall that broken pickle jar now?
Just as Bruce was leaving I asked, “Have you got your shovel out yet, too?”
He answered, “Yeah, I just put it on today.”
“Put it on?”
“Yep, it’s sitting right outside.”
I looked out and saw a four-foot wide snow shovel (which I later learned was called a snow plow) attached to the front of his pickup truck. He turned back and said, “When you need help with that shoveling, let me know.” He didn’t say “if.” He said “when.” Hmmm.
Our first snowstorm hit the next week, and it suddenly dawned on me why he had asked if I had small children. I hung that mangled shovel on my wall and called it art, and then nearly broke my neck trudging through the drifts to yell, “Bruce . . . HELP!”
When you open up, confess (and even exaggerate, just a little, as I did in the previous passage), you lift your readers’ spirits, make them feel good about themselves (after all, they now think they’re smarter than you are!) and you forge a relationship that allows you, later, to display your acumen without making them feel inferior. Everyone loves to know that while you are smart, they have at least one area of expertise in which you lack knowledge. Eventually, you wind up on an equal footing.
On the other hand, when you try to dazzle them with your wit right off the bat, you set up a distance between yourself and your reader . . . a distance that may or may not be erased in the future. No one likes a smarty pants.
Erma Bombeck knew this so well. She once said, “He who laughs, lasts.” It is my belief, (I am sure she shared, it) that the one who makes them laugh, also lasts. Be the one they remember forever, the one that made them laugh by laughing first at yourself. Publicly. With abandon. Without shame. You’ll find yourself laughing, too.
Kathleen Cook is a free-lance editor and the author of twenty books. A former copy writer/editor for Demand Studios, she also served as the Fictional Religion Editor for the ODP (Open Directory Project). She is currently the Arizona Authors Association newsletter editor.