Sunday, January 30, 2000
Turning feelings into rhyme
Greeting-card writer crafts Valentine's Day verses
BY REON CARTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Nancy Breen has a knack for thinking up sweet nothings. As a writer for Gibson Greetings, Ms. Breen, of Columbia-Tusculum, has spent the past nine years helping people express what's in their hearts.
With Valentine's Day around the corner, she gives us the scoop on her job.
QUESTION: How did you get into the greeting-card business?
ANSWER: It just sort of happened. Gibson placed an ad in the newspaper looking for writers. I answered it. I was told they got an enormous response, About 3,000 replies, so I was very excited to make the cut. From there, I took a writing test to get the job. Before I'd done mostly poetry for magazines such as Scriobhaim A Celtic Literary Quarterly; Cricket, amagazine for children, and Cincinnati Poetry Review. I liked the idea of using cards as a way to communicate.
Q: How helpful was your poetry background?
A: Contrary to popular belief, a greeting-card message is not just about being able to write a pretty poem. You must be able to communicate a me-to-you message. There are assignments. Some of them are very specific and ask for certain elements. For example, this card must say "I love you' or "Thinking of you.' It's for a male of a certain age to give to his girlfriend or wife. Sometimes the relationship is not defined. Other times the assignment will get as detailed as instructing you when to use mom and dad instead of mother and father.
Q: How do you set the mood for writing?
A: Sometimes I play new-age music, but other times the television provides the white noise I like.
Q: Do you think of anyone in particular when you're writing valentines for men to receive?
A: I don't have anyone in my life right now and I've never been married, so I think of that fantasy husband, boyfriend or whatever when I'm writing.
Q: What are people's reactions when they find out what you do?
A: They're usually pleasantly surprised. It's not something that many get to do for a living. Most people are interested because at some point they've had to purchase a greeting card.
Q: You've done all kinds, but what's your specialty?
A: Creative, short and conversational. Cards that are written as if you're sitting there talking to the person. I'm also good at rhyming cards, but those are becoming somewhat passe. Humor is not my forte.
Q: What inspires you?
A: To stay on top of the trends, I read what other companies are doing. And I try to keep up with what's current in (popular) culture. I note the way people are talking. I might visit a Web site for teens to find out how what phrases they're using when I'm writing something geared to them. Occasionally, when I go to a card stand, I'll stop and watch what people are buying. And what they're picking up and putting down.
Q: What's your favorite greeting-card buzz word?
A: "Special' is one of the big ones. I've tried to avoid it, but the way English is constructed there aren't that many words that mean the same thing as special. It's such a great all-purpose word, but I do try to come up with other things.
Q: Do you approach cards meant for men and women differently?
A: Men like to give a heartfelt, honest message without being too flowery. Women are more open to buying different styles. They also purchase the majority of greeting cards.
Q: Your advice for those in the market for a Valentine's Day card?
A: Men have to be especially careful sending a humorous card to a woman. You have to really know if this is a woman who would appreciate such a card and that she's not looking for something deeper or more romantic. Evaluate the level of (intimacy in) the relationship. If you just started dating, a sweet basic wish is good. I believe the less said in the (printed) message the better because there's less of an opportunity to eliminate things that don't apply. You can always add your own special note to the card to personalize it more.
Q: Which cards are the most difficult to write?
A: Sympathy cards, particularly for a lost mother. My mother is still here so it can be somewhat uncomfortable to think about that. The loss-of-a-baby card is also a hard one to write.
Q: Your least favorite cards on the market?
A: Ones that have cruel humor or are over-the-top raunchy. I don't do these,but I guess there's a place for them.
Family: Single, no children.
Education: Graduate of Marian High School. Earned an associate degree in communications from the College of Mount St. Joseph (1990).
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