Saturday, May 19, 2018

Writers Can Learn a Lot From the Etiquette of Amy Vanderbilt

by Emme Gannon @GannonEmme

I love rules. 

I love the smile that resonates from deep within when I reach beyond myself and live for others. It’s like escaping for a brief moment from the me generation to the otherworldly life of God, others, self. When I enter that enchanting world, I know that’s where I’m meant to be.

The reality is that I come from a long line of rule breakers that go way back to the Garden of Eden. There’s always something calling me back to my former self. In every life, however, there seems to be that one who calls us from the world of me to the world of us. 

It started with my grandmother. 

Her words echoed in the valley of my childhood like the voice of God in the wilderness. As I’d leave the house, she’d call out from her portly, five-foot frame, “Mind your manners and don’t forget to say please and thank you.” Sometimes she’d even add, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, ya hear.” Like an old tune that continues to play in my head, my grandmother’s wise words sing to me even now.

Her advice sank so deep that, as a young girl, I saved my allowance and bought my very own copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette. While my grandma showed me the importance of manners, it was Amy who ignited my passion. She deserves all the credit for my ability to sit at a table set with five pieces of cutlery and know which fork to use to eat my salad. 

Amy even taught me the proper lady-like way to remove a fish bone from my mouth. Who knew one could dare place a thumb and forefinger in one’s mouth and gently remove the “foreign matter.” She had me, however, when she explained the importance of the hand-written thank-you. When applying her advice, I got the rush that happens when we do something right—something that makes another person smile. The blessings we give always bounce back to gently caress our soul. 

Good manners are more than following rules. 

When we respond to someone’s gift of themselves to us, we are showing gratitude. Jesus told his disciples the story of ten lepers who were healed. Of the ten, only one received His gift with thankfulness. Only one came back to say thank you. There’s no doubt that the other nine were filled with joy but they were just too busy talking about it to thank the One who gave them the gift.

As writers, we show gratitude by making deadlines, being respectful of one another’s gifts, and saying thank-you to those who encourage us as we struggle. We writers spend hours in solitary sitting in front of a computer creating imaginary characters. We live in a fantasy world of our own making. If we crave communication, we often go to social media for our people fix. Communication tends to be a short text or e-mail. While I love the immediacy of these two tools, there’s nothing like a good old-fashion hand-written note. 

A friend kept every thank-you note she’d received. When I asked her why, she said that on days when she’d forget her worth, she’d read the notes. And remember. I want to give that gift to those who reach out and bless me. I want to remind them that the time they gave me was worth pulling away from their lives. It’s all part of living Agape—God loving through me. It starts with family and spreads from there like ocean waves across a sandy beach.

While cleaning out my closet, I found hidden in the back of a shelf, a pile of dusty old letters my husband had written me when he was in Vietnam. I untied the pink ribbon that I’d wrapped around them so long ago and opened one of the letters. My husband wrote of the dreams we’d shared for our future and of his anticipation at coming home and starting our life together. His words reminded me of the good man he was then and is now and how God had allowed us to live out so many of those dreams.  

I have such good intentions. I really desire to occasionally forgo e-mail and write words of truth to a giver of light in my life. I write that thank-you in my mind and never get around to putting it on paper. I desire to do better, because after reading those dusty letters written so long ago, I’m reminded that hand-written words from the heart have the magical power to transform today and rekindle the promise of tomorrow. As Amy reminds us, “A verbal thank-you is enough, but a note is never amiss.”

Writers Can Learn a Lot From the Etiquette of Amy Vanderbilt - @GannonEmme on @EdieMelson (click to tweet)

Why Amy Vanderbilt Can Be a Writer's Best Friend - @GannonEmme on @EdieMelson (click to tweet)

Emme Gannon is a wife, mother, and grandmother who loves to write stories that stir the heart. Her award-winning writing has appeared in Focus on the Family magazine, several anthologies, and numerous newsletters. She just completed her first novel.


  1. Emme, How poignant. It makes me wish I had done all those 'small things' all these years, and resolve to do better. Too many times I have wanted to send that special note, only to find it stuck somewhere with my stationery too many days hence. I love the 'days when I forget my worth'. You have a great day, and God bless. Donevy~

    1. Thank you, Donevy. I tell myself it’s never too late. I promised myself to dig out that lovely stationary hidden in the back of my desk and bless someone as they’ve blessed me. Blessings on your day.

  2. Timeless advice and good manners never go out of style.
    Great post, Emme.

    1. So true, Ingmar. I’ve promised myself to do better. Thank you for responding. Have a blessed day.

  3. Can only add an Amen Ms. Emme. I am convinced, grace, elegance, and etiquette all come from a heart that is surrendered to God. What a blessing it is to find someone like you who demonstrates that each day. God's blessings ma'am...

  4. Jim, you are always so kind and exhibit encouragement in all your responses. Thank you for taking time to bless. God’s blessings to you as well.

  5. Not only thank you notes are worth saving, notes of encouragement are also something to hang onto. A lady at church in her early 90's showed me a note she keeps in her Bible. She then told me it was one I had sent her. I felt humbled.

  6. What a beautiful story and such a confirmation of the blessing of a hand written note. Thank you so much for sharing.