Have you ever sat down to write an email to a friend and struggled to think of anything (or anything interesting at least) to write to them about or struggled how to start the email?
It should be easy to write an email to a friend, but it is often more difficult than writing an email for work. So why is that?
The problem isn't that you don't have anything interesting to say. For most people it's completely the opposite (you probably will have too much to tell and ask them). And neither is that you don't have the ability to write well (which some of my students have believed). The reason why it is often both difficult and takes a long time to write these types of emails is because of how you write them.
In my experience, anybody can write good emails to friends. You just need to learn the process of how to do it. And this is not just knowing how to plan and structure the email (which are both important), it's also about knowing how to decide what and what not to include in the email and how you express what you write it.
To see an example of a good email, go to my online exercise for writing an email to a friend that you haven't spoken to in a long time.
If you want to write a good email to a friend, you can't just write about anything. You have to be both selective about the things you decide to include and know how to write them. If you don't, the email will be boring or frustrating for your friend to read, which is not what you want.
In general, whatever you decide to write about in an email to a friend should:
Write about things which you both have a common interest in, situations which you think they can appreciate, past experiences or people you both know. For example, if your friend likes cars, you can talk at length about the new car you've just bought. If they have no interest in cars, don't.
Although you can write about things which aren't relevant to your friend in the email, if you do, don't write a lot about them.
In addition to writing about things which are relevant to your friend, you want to ensure that they like reading the email. Although your friend will want to know what's been happening in your life, don't go on about how perfect your life is or how successful you are (it's quite boring for other people to hear!). You should neither talk about how bad your life is either (you don't want to depress them).
When you talk about things which have gone well in your life (e.g. getting a better job, passing an exam, moving into a bigger house etc...), be self-critical and/or modest about them.
Another thing which will make your email interesting for them to read is to include a funny story. I always find writing about something that went wrong (but not seriously wrong) in my life entertains my friends. For example, tell them about a time when you said something inappropriate or did something stupid.
And as we all like to hear gossip (although many of us don't like to admit it), you can also write about something that has happened to somebody that you both know.
Although your friend will probably be more interested in reading about you, you should frequently ask them questions in the email. Ask them about what's happening in their life or for their opinion on something. In addition, think about things which they were both planning to do or were doing the last time you had contact with them and ask what's the situation about these things now.
By asking questions to them in the email, it not only shows that you remember things and you are interested in finding out about what's happening to your friend, but it also makes it easier for them to write their email back to you (because they'll already have a list of questions to answer in it).
Knowing about what types of things to write about and how to write them is fundamental for writing good and interesting emails, but it won't necessarily make the process of writing these types of emails quicker. To do this, you need to learn how to plan the email you are going to write.
The biggest mistake you can make when writing an email to a friend (or to anybody) is to think about what things you're going to write about in the email when you are actually writing it. By doing this, you are trying to do two different tasks at once. This not only makes it more difficult to write, but both longer to do and a lot more frustrating.
To prevent this from happening to you, you should separate the two tasks. So before you start trying to write it, spend some time just focused on thinking about the things you are going to write about. Write down any idea you have on a piece of paper. After about 5 minutes, you should have enough ideas.
The next step is to decide what you're going to include and what you're not. Although a long email is good (it shows that the person you're writing to is important), it shouldn't be too long (around 500 to 700 words if you haven't spoken to the person in a long time). So you should remove things which you don't see as relevant or interesting for the person you're sending it to.
Once you have decided what things you're going to write about, then you need to arrange them into a structure (i.e. what you write about first, then second etc...). This is to make sure that the email flows well (the person reading it won't get lost or confused when reading it and it achieves the aim you want it to).
The structure will depend upon what type of email you are going to write. The structure of an email you're sending to somebody you haven't spoken to in a long time will be different to an email where you are inviting somebody to something, or asking somebody for help.
Whenever I write a long email (either to a friend or for business), I already have a basic structure in mind before I start writing it. When I've decided what things I'm going to write about, I then arrange them quickly on a piece of paper (and normally the same piece of paper I used when I was deciding what I was going to write about).
Once I'm happy with the structure, I'm ready to start writing the email. And this is what I'd recommend you do as well.
Using the structure you've made write the email.
Although you don't have to do this, I sometimes don't send the email after I've finished writing it. For some emails to friends, I leave it for a couple of hours (or longer) and then re-read it again. I find that by leaving it for at least couple of hours, when I eventually return to reading it again, it is easier to both find mistakes and see if the email reads well.
After I've done that and I'm happy with what I've written, I then send it and await for their reply.
Although this may seem like a lot to both think about and do for just sending an email to a friend, it will in time not only make the process of writing emails to friends both quicker and easier, but mean you write much better (i.e. interesting and readable) emails.
Knowing what types of things to include and how to write them will in time become automatic. And planning and structuring what you are going to write before you start writing the email, not only means that you write better emails, but you may also start to enjoy writing them.