Write it like a love letter

One of the very first things I do when I work with authors on their books is to have them imagine one specific reader. One familiar-faced, I-know-you-in-real-life kind of reader. Not a “compilation-of-some-people-you-know” kind of reader. Not an “imaginary-made-up-for-marketing-purposes-ideal-reader” kind of reader.

One person who’s face you can picture and who’s name you know and who’s very being you adore.

Without even trying. You just love them.

love-letter (1)

Pick that person. Then write the book or the article or the poem to them.

Directly.

To be fair, I work with almost exclusively non-fiction writers—usually creative non-fiction—so I can’t say certainly if this advice carries over to other genres, but after writing 12 books and coaching hundreds of authors, I can tell you this one shift in perspective changes everything about the writing process and outcome.

[If you’re interested in learning more about how I help writers, register for one of the 11 writing workshops I’m teaching before the end of the year.]

I was telling friend recently that my most recent manuscript, which hasn’t been published yet, is different than anything I’ve ever written. It came out more quickly and easily, is more raw, and I believe is deeper and richer and better than other things I’ve written. Some of this, of course, comes from gaining experience (your most recent book should be your best book).

But also, I told her, I did something different this time.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“I wrote it like a love letter.”

There are several things this approach did for me and I believe it can do the same thing for you if you give it a try.

First of all, it virtually eliminates writer’s block.

I always tell writers that writer’s block isn’t so much writer’s block as it is life block. When we don’t know what to say, it’s usually because we don’t know what we think, what we believe, how we feel. When your words fall flat on the page, it’s not because your grammar sucks. It’s because you have lost touch with yourself.

Nothing puts you back in touch with yourself faster than being with someone you love.

Our families. Our lovers. Our pets. Our kids. Our friends.


When we’re with the people we love, we talk and listen and argue and gush and ask questions and laugh and say whatever comes to mind and guess at answers and edit as we go. We feel all of it, all the feelings—the grit and humor and transcendence and transformation and tension we so crave in a piece of writing.

If you’re stuck on a specific piece of writing, or stuck knowing you want to write but not knowing where to start, try writing it like a letter to someone you love.

Second, this approach makes your writing deeply personal and human.

Writing is relationship.

We forget this, I think, and reduce writing to this very forced, stilted, mechanical thing we do. Writers I work with struggle the most often when they’re trying to show up to the page all buttoned and laced—to make their sentences flow perfectly and their grammar impeccable instead of just getting it on the page.

Writing is conversation. Communication.

When you’re communicating with someone directly and personally, you don’t waste too much time worrying that what you say is the last and final word on something, or that it has to be spoken with perfect grammar, or any of that. You look in the person’s eye and talk to them like a human and take the feedback and edit and change course as you go.

You may get hung up, but when you do you adjust and keep things flowing.

No perfection needed.

Where have we come up with this idea that writing is some elite activity and only certain people can be good at it?

Writing is so terribly and beautifully human.

No wonder we all lose interest when you distill all of your humanity out of your writing.

Finally, this approach keeps you motivated and moving forward.

On those not-so-infrequent days when your “graceful-writer-in-the-coffee-shop, light-streaming-in-the-window” fantasies have been crushed once more, and you find yourself perusing Twitter for the second hour in a row instead of doing the writing you promised yourself you’d do, and then judging yourself for not sticking with your plan, and then berating yourself for judging yourself…

Love is motivating.

It will get your fingers moving when you feel frozen and terrified.

It will get your butt out of bed in the morning when you want to hit snooze for the fifth time. It will wake you up in the middle of the night when you suddenly have that dream that clarifies everything.

When you have something specific to say to someone you love, it feels dire, doesn’t it? Urgent. Secret. Life-or-death.

Pretend that’s the case with your writing, since it is.

Write it to the person you wish you could talk to, but can’t, for all kinds of terrible and ridiculous and totally practical reasons.

Write it to the person who holds your heart.

Write it to that part of yourself that you finally have compassion for.

To your kids.

To your parents.

To your partner.

Bring all the energy that you bring there, to your writing. All the passion. All the intensity. All the anger. All the fear. All of the joy and the gumption and the tenacity and the bravado and the surrender. Bring it all.

See what happens. I dare you.

13 comments on “Write it like a love letter

  1. Good advice. Most of my writing has someone specific in mind. If it’s a group, I think about each specific person in that group.

    I am currently writing a play with a specific person in mind. I like the idea of it being a “love letter” of sorts, unrequited as that love may be. The writing is not for the purpose of reciprocity. I simply must write it. That’s how it is.

    • That’s great, Tony. I love the analogy of unrequited love! Ha. It is a bit like that, isn’t it? A one-sided conversation for a long time… until it’s not 🙂

      Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ally, I love this!! I am a fiction writer, but my work tends to be very personal and my characters often have experiences and struggles that I have had, so I think this advice will be helpful when I get stuck in those places.

    Also, “And then judging yourself for not sticking with your plan, and then berating yourself for judging yourself…” This is a place I can spend all day in… and have. So thanks for sharing another new path out of that place.

  3. This is great advice, Allison. Sometimes I will writers block and it last for about five minutes or more and then finally when it’s over I will start writing again. I will start using the great tips from your article because I think they will be very helpful for me.

    • I’m so glad Tracy. Hope they’re as helpful for you as they have been for me and so many of the writer’s I’ve worked with! Keep me posted.

  4. I have been away from my blog for a long time. I was part of a writer’s group for a long time and we sort of fell of the wagon. We are meeting tomorrow night – we each decided we wanted to focus on our blogs instead of the fiction we were writing before. I have been stuck. What do I write after all of these months? Thanks for inspiring me. And just in time:)

  5. Allison,

    You popped up in my email as a Twitter suggestion. The title caught my eye so I saved it in my inbox. I finally opened it and read your post. Timely, for sure.

    Thank you for much-needed writing advice!

    God bless you!

    Toni

  6. This is how I wrote my book chapters. Not every chapter was for the same person, but most chapters or passages were written with someone I love in mind. And I can’t tell you how thrilling it was when one friend came back and said (of the chapter I wrote for her), “That changed my mind, and changed how I eat.”

    For some reason, I don’t automatically do that same thing on my blog. Gonna have to be more intentional about that.

  7. Ahh I love this, so very much! Thank you. Definitely going to give it a go, or 10. 🙂 And also loved the part about how writing is not supposed to be ‘polished’ the first time round but rather an unraveling as one would have with a good friend. Going to be writing to someone I’m holding in my heart but could not (at this moment) be able to tell them. X

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