Hallmark’s new line of job loss cards has reminded me how much I hate greeting cards.

With the exception of a few hilarious cards I’ve received throughout my life (I do love those cards with the 1950’s ladies with sarcastic captions), I’ve never received a birthday, holiday, or congratulatory card with a message that has moved me.

Of course, it would be difficult for Hallmark’s prose to emotionally affect me, considering that I never actually read the card.  If I open an envelope to find a pastoral scene superimposed with lacy script, I immediately ignore those words and move to the second page of the card.  I’m interested in reading the words of the friend or family member who sent me the card, not those of a stranger who was paid to write it.  The stranger isn’t really wishing me a happy birthday, isn’t familiar with my kind heart, and couldn’t possibly know whether or not I have “earned it!”

Many people find themselves in the card aisle debating between a handful of hackneyed messages because they aren’t confident in their own writing ability.  But even a novice writer can successfully compose a sincere note.   As an experienced purchaser of “blank inside” cards, I can give you a few pointers:

If you’re going to quote, choose a quote that’s meaningful to you:  Are you tired of people telling you to dance like no one is watching or to live, laugh, and l0ve?  So are your friends and family.  Instead of using these tired quotations, do some research and find one that is personally relevant to you.  Write it on a card, explain why you think it applies to the present occasion or  for the receiver of the card, sign your name–voila!–  a heartfelt card.

Stay focused.  When you’re writing to someone that you share a history with–a friend, a sibling, a parent–it’s easy to become verbose.  Write sincerely, but simply.

Don’t stress.  Many people tense up at the thought of expressing themselves in writing.  Remember that you are writing on a paper card, not a headstone.  Chances are this is not the first nor the last opportunity you’ll have to write this person.

After my now-husband proposed to me, my grandma sent me a handwritten note on a blank-inside card.  On the front of the card were two fairies in fall-like colors, gazing longingly at one another from opposite boughs of a tree.  On the inside were two full 5×7 pages of marriage advice.  My grandma was happy for me, but she did not mince words: I had just made an important commitment and I better be prepared.  An excerpt:

Marriage is a serious commitment.  “Love” is very important, “best friends” is necessary.

Take that, Hallmark!  She wrote that for free.