“A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.”
― Emily Dickinson
Writing can be a challenge. Period.
Writing a letter is personal….and challenging….and personal.
So how do you write a letter that is neither an essay, nor filled to the brim with awkward small talk questions? (How are you? How’s the weather? What have you been up to?)
How do you write a letter that actually sounds like it came from you, and not some unnatural version of yourself that, odds are, the recipient can see right through?
Here are a few tips to help you, and, if paired with some ideas from here, will send you well on your way to writing a letter that sounds like it came from YOU. Not your professor, mother, best friend, or dentist. You.
A letter is one side of a conversation.
Think of letter composition as talking, not writing.
Picture the recipient sitting across the table, sharing a cup of tea with you (or coffee….or wine…or something stronger depending on how your day is going…), and talk to them. The only difference with a letter is that you write down your side of the conversation.
If you are used to writing papers, essays, or reports, trying persuading yourself to relax. Take a breath. And talk.
When in doubt, begin with a “statement/here’s why” paragraph.
You sat down, pen poised over paper, then…..nothing. What do you start with?
Whenever I hit “letter writing block”, I always go back to what I call the “statement/here’s why” paragraph. It helps to get the letter moving, and my brain juices flowing (…..um….ew….).
Here’s how it goes: begin with a statement, any statement. Could be “I only like scrambled eggs at suppertime” or “6am is my favorite time or day” or “Christmas music should only be played after Thanksgiving” (I may be starting a war with that one….)…..Again, the statement can really be anything you like.
Then explain why. Can be done in three sentences or thirteen. The length of the explanation is entirely up to you, but you’ll find that it will help to stimulate more ideas and topics to write about (or questions to ask the recipient).
Aim for sincerity, not perfection.
Of course you want your spelling to be correct and grammar understood, but if it’s not, don’t worry about it.
Don’t be afraid to scribble out a word (or line) and continue on like it never happened. Don’t second guess an entire paragraph if one sentence ends with “with”. Don’t worry about it. A perfectly punctuated letter can never compare to messy sincerity.
Life and emotions are messy, but beautiful.
Use varied topics.
One of the beautiful things about letters is that you don’t have to stick to one topic.
Feel free to write about two, or three, or ten! and don’t worry about bridging from one to the next. Abruptly changing topics in a letter refreshingly works. Probably because it mimics live conversation.
So if you begin your letter writing about Jane Austin, you can by all means switch to the joys and woes of hardwood floors in the next paragraph. No one’s grading it (unless you are actually submitting a letter as part of an assignment….then you may want to rethink the whole “Jane Austin/hardwood floor” combo), so you don’t have to force yourself to follow the same academic rules.
If you enjoy writing the letter, the recipient will be able to tell.
Most of all, be honest.
If you hate avocados, then don’t pretend that you do. If you struggle with your daily routine, don’t try to hide that. A letter does not need to paint a perfect life. It’s okay to have rough days, to doubt and question, to dislike Jane Austin (well, maybe that’s taking it too far…), and to let all of that come through in your words.
And depending on who you are writing to, they may appreciate the chance to see that part of your life. A real part.
Did you find these tips helpful? In what other ways do you make your letters more “you”?