When to stop

Today, in the first part of a new series that I literally just decided upon as I began typing this sentence, I come bearing some crucial letter-writing advice courtesy of American comedian Fred Allen, from a letter he wrote in 1944 to the young son of a friend.

At the end of your letter you say “I guess I will stop writing. I am coming to the end of the page.” It is always best to stop a letter when you arrive at the bottom of the page. I know a boy who never stopped his letters in time. He would keep on writing past the bottom of the page and write down one leg of the table until he finished. Then when he mailed his letter he had to saw a piece out of the table and cut off the leg of the table, too, and send it along in a large paper bag instead of an envelope. Another time, this boy was writing on a desk and he didn’t stop again but wrote down the front of the desk and along the floor for nearly two feet. When he mailed that letter he had to tear off the front of the desk and pry up two feet of the floor. This left a big hole in the floor. His father and mother both fell through the hole and since the boy lived on a houseboat and his father and mother couldn’t swim the boy became an orphan. This is why it is always better to finish a letter when you come to the bottom of the page.

Fred Allen | Letter to Everett Rattray, 7 Feb 1944

Wise words, indeed. I’ll send you another letter-writing tip next week.

Bonus: A sheet of Fred Allen’s stationery:

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