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Carolyn See’s Charming Notes in Action

Six months ago, I wrote about Networking. In that post, I mentioned Charming Notes, an idea I read about in Carolyn See’s book, Making a Literary Life. The jist of Charming Notes is: write a fan letter or an encouraging note to someone you admire, everyday. By doing so, you make friends and your network expands.

I told everyone that I would put Carolyn’s idea into practice for a month and then share the results with you. Well, as promised, I’m here to tell you the results of my little experiment. I hope you find it inspiring.

First of all, I have a disclaimer: I didn’t complete the challenge. I lasted only two weeks. I found that writing a Charming Note everyday is a part-time job and I didn’t do a good job at scheduling for it. The notes themselves took time – sometimes I wrote multiple drafts – and it improved the note to know what the recipient was currently up to, which required research.

Basically, I tried too hard to make them “good”.  If you’re going to start practicing Charming Notes, I recommend writing in an off-the-cuff style. You’ll get more done and feel more accomplished.

But, with that said, I did write 10 fan letters that I had wanted to write for a long time. I won’t go into whom I wrote to because most of them haven’t written back, but two people I admire did respond: Gene Luen Yang and Maile Meloy.

Maile Meloy was the first to respond. I wrote to her because I read one of her short stories in The New Yorker titled Red and Green. I read it while I was working as a videographer for local government meetings. The job was simple; all I had to do was keep the camera pointing on the person talking, so I often brought things to read. But when I read Maile’s story, I got so into it that I stopped paying attention to who was talking and left the camera pointed at the wrong person for a good five minutes! Whoops. Maile liked my little anecdote so much that she sent me a free copy of her short story collection, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, which was one of the top 10 books of 2009 in The New York Times Book Review! How cool is that? We shared a few notes back and forth, and I now consider her part of my network.

I didn’t have a self-deprecating anecdote to share with Gene Yang so I simply told him how big a fan I am of American Born Chinese and how I looked forward to reading his next book, Level Up. He responded with a very pleasant and friendly email and we are now friends on Facebook. (BTW, Gene wrote five months after my initial Charming Note, so you never know when someone will respond.)

So, out of 10 cards, 2 responded. That’s a conversion rate of 20%. Not bad at all. My wife, Katherine, took part in the same experiment as I did (but she completed the challenge of going a whole month — good job, babe) and got the same conversion rate, 20%.

Have these results inspired me to continue with the Charming Notes? You bet! If I were able to make this a daily habit, like Carolyn suggests in her book, then after 365 days I’d have a relationship with roughly 70 new people, all of whom I admire.

This weekend, I’ll print up more greeting cards and get to work. (I’m using Katherine’s art on it, btw – I recommend you use your art as well, or your friend’s art. It can’t hurt to spread the word one note at a time.)

This time around, I’ll try to be more off-the-cuff and maybe in another six months I’ll have more numbers to report.

If any of you have tried the Charming Note practice, please let us know. I’d love to know your experience with it.

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