Not Yet Trending: Letters & Why I Write Them

Fingers harmonize a melody against keys as they search for just the right combination of... words. With exactly 1.5 spaces between my paragraphs, I press print. Brightly colored pen in hand, I strike through what doesn’t make sense. I circle words I want to change, and parenthesize phrases I don’t know what to do with. Colorful scribbles of questions and ideas fill the remaining blank space. Another edited document is tossed into the recycle bin. This process continues until I reach complete satisfaction with what I’ve written. Sometimes that means three reviews, other times, that means twenty. And sometimes, that piece never sees beyond the horizon of that blue bin.

Much of my writing goes public—be it through my blog, within a research community, or other publication platforms. There is a small collection that makes it past the recycle bin, and is not for public consumption--my letters. My writing process for letters goes one step further: physically taking a pencil to paper and writing. A three-page piece in print equates to roughly six pages of my nearly indecipherable handwriting on loose-leaf paper. Add a lipstick mark if you’re one of the lucky ones. 

Considered "love letters" by most, Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook may come to mind in romanticized media. Letters are seen as old fashioned. Something maybe your grandparents or great-grandparents did during their courtship, or while away at war. Handwritten, typed on a typewriter, and often unreturned. Why bother writing them today? Millennial dating is easy. You download an app, create the best version of yourself, swipe left or right through people in your city, and come up with a clever pick up line in hopes of grabbing the interest of your perspective dates. Undoubtedly, most suitors likely don't have the courage to approach you in public, or even use those oh-so-clever lines.

The lines I create require much more intimacy. I write when I have something of importance to say, but cannot trust the delivery method of speech. This can be a double-edged sword, and has often left me wishing I spoke up instead of allowing my thoughts and emotions to boil. The problem with verbalization, for me, is that it comes out wrong. Or is misinterpreted. Or I turn into a blubbery, crying mess. Or it just flat-out sounded better in my head than the words that spewed off my tongue. So I write. I write until I find the perfect syntax structure and tone. I write until I find meaning. I write until my heart feels release. I write until I can rest my head against the pillow at night.

And maybe some believe this communication method to be as cowardly as those online dating apps. But for me, it comes down to effort, and living a life of authenticity.  Writing exactly how I feel, why I feel it, and handing it to another is a courageous act, an intimate act. It's something that took reflection, preparation, and, knowing me, unnecessary overthinking. Letter writing is a rarity--there's no app for that.