Refresher Course

Write about the hobby to spread the joy of stamp collecting

By Janet Klug


There are many ways to enjoy the hobby of collecting stamps.

Figure 1. French Polynesia's 1986 28-franc Old Man stamp (Scott 452).
Figure 2. A United States 15¢ P.S. Write Soon stamp (Scott 1806).

Putting stamps in an album is probably the vision that pops into most people's minds when they think of stamp collecting, but attending a stamp show is just as fun and a lot more social.

Making a stamp exhibit to display at a stamp show is a creative and enjoyable project. It is also a fabulous way to learn more about the stamps or covers you collect.

Some people like to travel to places shown on stamps or to countries that issue the stamps they collect. Another way to get pleasure from stamp collecting is to share your knowledge and enthusiasm with others by writing about what you collect. Writing is not difficult if you can get over the false notion: "I am not a writer." Overcoming that stumbling block is probably the hardest part of writing.

Once you have made up your mind to give writing a try, the next step is to figure out what you will write.

In order to do that, you should consider who would read what you write and who would publish it.

Begin with realistic expectations. It is not impossible to get published in AARP Magazine, Readers' Digest or Better Homes and Gardens, but neither is it likely for these magazines to accept an article about stamp collecting from a first-time author. However, it would be equally unlikely for a first-time author to have an article rejected for publication in a local stamp club newsletter. Club editors are always seeking material to publish.

When you get a little experience and confidence you can try writing for a specialist society or larger publication.

No matter what your writing goal, determine who your target audience will be. Will the readers be noncollectors, general collectors or specialists in the field? Your target audience will dictate what you write and how you will write it.

Let's assume you are going to break into writing about stamps by composing an article for a club newsletter. You know everyone who will read it because they are members of your club, and you know what they collect.

If you have been collecting stamps from French Polynesia for many years and have an impressive collection with many varieties, the odds are pretty good that you are the only person in the club who would want detailed information about varieties of French Polynesian stamps.

A better choice for that audience would be an overview of the stamps from French Polynesia. Start with the basic information that a collector would need to begin a collection. What was the first stamp of French Polynesia? What is the most difficult stamp to find? Are there forgeries that can trip up a collector? What is your favorite stamp from French Polynesia and why is it your favorite? How did mail get sent to and from French Polynesia before there were airplanes?

Plan your work, then work the plan. Write an outline of all the key points you want to make in the article so you do not forget anything. This also aids in creating a logical flow. Gather all of the materials you will need when writing, such as a catalog, reference books and maybe a good thesaurus so you are not using the same words repeatedly.

Develop the story. Perhaps you have chosen to write about your favorite stamp from French Polynesia, for example the 1986 28-franc Old Man stamp (Scott 452), shown in Figure 1.

Use the first paragraph to introduce the stamp to the reader by telling when it was issued, what is illustrated on the stamp and perhaps even what function it served in the overall scheme of French Polynesian stamps. For example, a stamp could have been issued to pay the rate for airmail service to Europe. Try to find a hook that will make the reader want to continue reading.

Keep the flow going. In succeeding paragraphs you can tell the reader about what captured your attention when you first saw the stamp. You might want to tell who designed the stamp and what inspired the artist. You could continue by explaining why this stamp above all the others in your collection is your favorite.

Maybe it is because you received a postcard from a friend who was visiting French Polynesia and that stamp was on the postcard. Maybe it is because French Polynesia is a tropical paradise and the stamps reflect the exotic South Pacific. Maybe it is because the man on the stamp looks like your Uncle Fred.

This personal touch gives your article an approachability that is very engaging to readers. As you write, refer to your outline to assure you are staying on track and not omitting key points.

Don't leave the reader hanging. There is more to ending an article than simply writing "the end." Finish it up with something pithy that will make the reader think about what you have written or perhaps will motivate them to respond.

If your "My Favorite Stamp" article encourages other club members to write about their favorite stamps, think how interesting your club's newsletter would become.

Before sending your article to your editor for publication, let it stew for a while. Put it aside for a day or two and come back to it later. Read it through one last time. Did you follow your outline? Is there a logical flow? Have you used too much jargon, too many abbreviations that are not explained, or terms that your audience will not understand?

Remember your target audience and help them understand all of the nuances in what you write. Are the sentences too long? Break them down so they are easier to follow. Correct or edit those flaws. Polish your prose, and your article will shine.

A picture is definitely worth a thousand words. How would you ever engage your audience if your article "My Favorite Stamp" included only the Scott catalog number? It needs a picture. That catalog number is useful information, but if the reader does not have the appropriate volume of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue handy, the rest of the article is likely to go unread.

Because you are the author, it is your responsibility to provide the editor with a clear photocopy, photograph or scan of those items you want to be part of your article. Contact the editor to see what the requirements are for illustrations in the publication. Make certain what you send is correct and fits the story.

The "My Favorite Stamp" article discussed here is written in your own voice. This is called first-person writing, and it is probably the easiest way to break into writing.

You are the speaker, but instead of speaking the words you are writing them. Check your work by reading it aloud to an encouraging friend or loved one. Listen to their questions and comments. That will help you determine where you might have to edit what you have written. The publication's editor will also help make you look terrific in print. That is the editor's job.

Our hobby is blessed with skilled writers, but there is room for many more who will proselytize for stamp collecting and make it more approachable and appealing to others. You could be one of those skilled writers. You love stamp collecting. Be creative and write about it. Take the advice found on the United States 15¢ P.S. Write Soon stamp (Scott 1806) shown in Figure 2.

For more information and help with writing, consider joining the American Philatelic Society's Writers Unit. For information, write to APS WU 30, George B. Griffenhagen, 12226 Cathedral Drive, Woodbridge, VA 22192-2232; or visit online at www.wu30.org.