I read this rather fine essay / blogpost yesterday, and it made me want to write. A lot. So, as I sometimes do, I resolved to write more. And as usually happens, that resolve was crushed into a very fine powder this morning by the inexorable, repetitive pounding of my index finger on the snooze button of my alarm clock.
After getting to work late, I worked like a madman all day because we were a person short and had a killer backlog in the wake of the three-day weekend. I worked through my scheduled shift as well as an hour of thoroughly frustrating unpaid overtime, then returned home and began to mow my jungle of a lawn.
As I mowed, I pondered the question of why my writing resolutions always come to nothing. The following Compelling And Pithy Answer came to me: Those who write for a living have a difficult time writing for the love of it. Like it or not, I am one of the former. Until that changes, I will always have difficulty forcing myself to write for the love of writing.
This line of thought led me to reflect further on my Other Writing -- the Writing I don't normally discuss with others because it is part of my daily capitalistic transactions with The Man. And, quite frankly, writing doesn't get much duller and drier than Life Insurance Letters. My first instinct was to consider this whole written genre inferior, simplistic, and much too common to be worthy of any kind of extended cogitation. Life insurance company employees write things like:
Dear Mr. Smith:
We are sorry to learn of Harriet Smith. Please accept our sincere condolences and extend them to the family.
Our records indicate the policy's beneficiary is Bill Smith, husband of the insured. In order to pay the claim against this life insurance policy, we require the following:
- An original certified death certificate indicating Ms. Smith's cause and manner of death. The certificate will be returned upon request, as we are unable to accept a photocopy.
- A Claim Form completed by you as beneficiary.
For your convenience, a self-addressed return envelope has been enclosed. If you have any questions, please contact our claim representatives at 1-800-LIFE-INS.
Pretty prosaic, right? Bulleted, straightforward, written for the Lowest Common Denominator of readers. Certainly nothing my college English teachers would have given gold stars to.
But don't sell Life Insurance Letter-Writers short. They can be pretty suave and even artsy, in their own way, when the situation calls for it. For instance:
Dear Mr. Smith:
We value you as a customer and strive to provide you with exceptional customer service each and every time we do business with you. Please accept our sincere apologies for the problem that occurred with your policy's surrender check.
During a recent audit, it was discovered that you were inadvertently overpaid for the surrender of your policy. On June 1, 2010, a check in the amount of $20,000.00 was issued to you. According to our audit records, the correct surrender amount was $2,000.00.
We ask that the overpayment of $18,000.00 be returned to us. For your convenience, a self-addressed return envelope has been enclosed. If we do not hear from you within 30 days, this matter will be sent to our legal department for additional action.
Again, we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this problem may have caused. We also apologize for any incorrect information you previously may have received regarding this overpayment. If you have any questions, please contact our service representatives at 1-800-LIFE-INS.
Pretty straightforward, huh? You'd have to be pretty good at reading between the lines to guess that our hero(ine) is putting a brave face on the following facts:
- The "audit" was just one of the guys in Finance who finally caught up on his suspense reconciliations and realized that an error had happened
- The "inadvertent overpayment" occurred when a careless employee who had already given his two-week notice didn't stop to double-check the figures on a check he had requested (what a shock!)
- The error should have been caught by Finance but never was because the ridiculously Byzantine approval process fosters a fiesta of feverish clicking rather than a rational review of each case
- The customer had called in two weeks earlier to ask about the check and was assured that "everything is fine"
- A week after that, a letter was sent informing the customer that he owed $1,800.00 for this overpayment
- The letter-writer, having just spent an hour sorting out this issue and figuring out what the correct overpayment amount was, is tearing out his/her hair trying to leave his/her emotions out of this communiqué
- There is no Legal Department, and if there was, they wouldn't touch this issue because they'd be afraid of complaints filed with the state insurance commission
- The company doesn't utilize a collections agency for any overpayments under $20,000.00, so basically the letter-writer's only weapons are politeness and persistence
I hope you begin to see some of the artfulness and zeal that goes into this type of letter. They may not be pretty, but they can at least be functional.
In closing, I put the question to you, dear reader: With all the effort and emotional energy expended on cases like the one above, is it any wonder that people who have to write for a living have trouble writing simply for the love of it?
I thought not.