Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why Don't You Write Me a Letter

by Susan

This year my darling sister-in-law developed complications halfway through her pregnancy, right at the time they did the gender reveal. I nicknamed the kid Baby Zip, since he was trying to arrive too fast. She was on enforced bed rest; the rest of us were on tenterhooks.

Living 1,500 miles away, I couldn't very well pop over to their house and bake them lasagna. I did the only thing I could think of: I wrote letters. The old-fashioned type in an envelope, with a stamp, sent via the trusty U.S. Postal Service. I thought it might give her something to read while flattened. Plus, since letters are a rarity these days, I thought it might be a nice surprise.

As I wrote to her, I found that I was benefiting from the process as a writer. How? Let me count the ways:
  • I was writing to only one reader: I've heard it said when you write for everyone, you write for no one. No matter how many readers we may have, we connect to each as individuals. Having only one reader in mind to please was good practice.
  • I was writing from my heart: I was writing things that meant something to me. I was delving into emotion. I was trying to make her laugh. I wanted my writing to be a gift to her. As writers, we need to bring that personal emotion into our work and that desire to express something that touches someone else's heart.
  • I was writing in a natural voice: I was having a conversation, not trying to impress anyone. I was using plain language and not running for a thesaurus every third word. We all know how stories seem to flow so naturally verbally but can become stilted when we put them into text. This was a good exercise in writing in that natural speaking voice.
  • Most importantly -- I WAS WRITING: I am notorious for getting so blocked I can't even journal. Writing letters gave me the motivation to put words on the page. (If you're one of those prolific types who drips words from pen every waking moment, I envy hate congratulate you.) 

My good writer-friend Beth has worked with Natalie Goldberg, who discusses writing as a practice, and that can include writing letters. If you haven't tried it in a while, I recommend giving it a go. You'll keep your writing muscles limber, and you might just make someone's day.

I am happy to report that all ended well. Baby Zip arrived in late May, barely a week shy of his full-term due date. Kole (their name for him, I'm still calling him Zip) is healthy and was a hefty nine-plus pounds at birth. Three-year-old Kyden is thrilled beyond measure to be a big brother.

And what did I send for his zeroth birthday? Why books, of course. The first step in turning that kid into a writer is turning him into a reader. Maybe a few years down the road he'll write me a letter.


  1. Letters also document a history! Members of my writing group know that I have boxes of old letters that my mother wrote to my grandmother from 1948 to 1976. I'm so grateful they took the time to write because it truly is a family biography. They often wrote several times a week because long distance phone calls were expensive, used only for emergencies. Thank you for reminding us to write letters!

    1. Good point! My sister has the letters Mom and Dad wrote to each other when they were dating. They passed away a little more than three years ago, so it's nice to have this insight into their lives. As much as I like the digital world, much of our history now may be ephemeral.

  2. I have always enjoyed writing letters. It's more special to receive a letter in the mail than e-mail. I have several letters I have kept from when my dad was overseas. Getting letters in College were heart warming. In letters, you can describe and write what you want and not have to worry about problems with Cyber messages. It is sad that as Americans, we seemed to have lost the art in writing. Thank you for this e-mail. It was an encouragement.

    1. There's something special about getting that envelope in the mailbox, isn't there? Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thank you for this article. I agree, letters are special. I have several letters I kept from my dad when he went overseas. In college, getting letters made you feel special and cared about. It was the highlight of your day. Many times when I needed encouragement, those letters were there. For myself, it is easier at times for me to say what I want or need to say in writing than it is in talking to a person. I can describe or say how I think it should be said and then once that person receives it, they understand me better. Letter writing is a form of art that Americans have lost over the years.

    1. I find the same thing -- sometimes it's so much easier saying it in writing. Thank you for your thoughts.


Writing Wyoming blog comments are moderated--yours will be posted shortly. Thanks for joining in the conversation!