Get ahead writing: 5 ways letters can motivate you to write more

Get ahead writing: 5 ways letters can motivate you to write more

From gaining clarity to giving you inspiration or providing props, there are many ways letters can motivate you and energise your writing. Here are five that can help you find energy and inspiration

1. Writing to your novel, poem or other project

A technique I came across recently via an interview on the Professional Writing Academy with author, teacher and co- author of Writing Works, Victoria Field, is to write a letter to your novel asking what it needs from you. Adapting this technique slightly, I composed a quick letter one evening to my blog instead of my novel. The next morning during my journaling time, I wrote the reply to myself from my blog.

Having spent a long time experimenting with different types of articles trying to decide where my blog is heading, I was surprised by the clarity in the response; a three-page letter containing ideas, suggestions, a clear direction, words of encouragement and reminders of what I have already achieved. After finishing the letter, I read it to myself, highlighting the key points. As a self-coaching exercise, I loved this activity and plan to use it next with my novel.

2. Writing letters as if you were your characters

My novel is another venture that actually got started thanks to the power of letter writing. The story is an idea I have been carrying around for years. However, I wasn’t sure how to start telling it. While I had detailed descriptions of my characters (what clothes they wear, what colour their eyes are, what they do in their spare time) the descriptions weren’t helping to get the words on the page.

So, I decided to get the characters to write letters telling their side of the story. I chose three characters, put myself in their shoes and wrote letters to their friends. The letters turned out to be extremely powerful. They gave me an unexpected insight into the thoughts and feelings of my characters as I got inside their heads to write the letters. These insights helped me to start writing the first draft as I understood the story from the characters point of view. Some of the content of these letters has appeared in the prose. Plus, one of the characters is currently communicating in the novel through the letters I wrote (although this may change).

There are some excellent examples of writers using letters as a way to get their message across in novels; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer, being one of my favourites.

3. Distance yourself from negative emotions

It is thought that we are more creative when we are happier. Writing letters to get rid of pent up feelings can be a powerful process and is used by many practitioners in writing therapy sessions. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests writing to someone who has criticised your creativity in some way. The idea is not to send this letter, but to unload your feelings of injustice and anger so that you feel lighter and more positive. Discharging negative thoughts this way can help you to free yourself of those feelings and renew your energy.

Writing to someone who you feel has offended you in some way often has a cathartic effect and helps to get it off your chest. As there is no intention of sending the letter, you can write whatever you like without fear of regret, judgement or upsetting anyone else. However, be careful not to leave it lying around for others to find  (you may wish to destroy it afterwards). When we are upset, we may say things we later regret. Therefore, expressing ourselves through unsent letters could also serve as a way to sieve out some of the stronger emotions we have before we communicate with others on difficult topics. It is important to remember this is an activity to create positive energy that inspires you to write. It is suggested as a way to download negative feelings that might be holding you back, so that you can move on.

4. Letters to ourselves

Writing letters to ourselves can help to bring about memories that re-create a feeling of creative flow and energy. At the end of my courses, I often ask participants to write themselves a letter. In this letter they thank themselves for attending the course. I first came across this technique when I attended a course with the NLP trainer, John Cassidy-Rice. John asked us to write ourselves a letter at the end of the course, pop it into a self-addressed envelope and hand it in. Sometime later the letter arrived in the post as a reminder of all the things I had learnt that weekend and encouraging me to continue making progress. 

On finishing a course or workshop, it’s easy to switch off and become absorbed in our normal routine again. When our letter arrives, it’s a reminder of what we achieved and the goal we set ourselves. It takes us back to the sense of achievement and positivity we felt on the course. This, in turn, gives us a new wave of motivation.

When participants return to join my follow-on courses, I ask them how it felt to receive their letter to themselves from the first course. The answers are always positive. They discuss the boost it gave them and how it reminded them, in their busy lives, to continue with the goals they had set themselves. Maybe next time, I will ask participants to write themselves three letters to be posted at different stages after the workshop?

5. Writing to others

Another way letter writing can influence your writing is by dedicating some time writing to others. In the days of instant messaging and emails, it can be a lovely treat to receive a handwritten letter in the post.  For the writer, it’s also a way of bringing out warm memories that inspire us and help us to maintain our positivity as a writer. If you prefer, you can also volunteer your writing skills to letter-writing charities such as From Me to You who receive and deliver letters to patients who are awaiting cancer treatment. Read more about From Me to You and how this can be beneficial for both the writer and the receiver here.

Over to you

So, will any of these techniques help you with your writing?

Maybe a letter to a friend reminiscing on positive memories will create the energy you need to write that short story you have been avoiding? Or, perhaps you could write a letter to a blog, work project or novel that you are feeling stuck with. Ask it how it feels and what it wants from you. Your reply may provide you with a focus you haven’t considered before. Maybe you could you write yourself an inspiring letter with your goals and ask someone to post it for you in a month’s time?

Let me know what happens for you in the comments below!


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6 thoughts on “Get ahead writing: 5 ways letters can motivate you to write more

  1. Thank you for these great ideas, Rebecca!
    I will certainly have a go at penning myself a letter to encourage my writing, and I also really like the idea of the characters in my stories writing to their friends too.
    In the past I’ve used an email service where you can write to your future self and decide how far in the future you want to receive it from one week up to one year. I’ve found it fascinating to discover one year on, what I was thinking 12 months previously! But until now have never thought of using it as a vehicle to help my writing – so thank you, I think I’ll do that.
    I love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society too! And another of my favourite stories which is entirely one letter from a teenage boy JJ to his mum after a shocking incident, is Hello Mum by Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin Quick Reads 2010) – one of her earlier works before her glittering success with Girl, Woman, Other. It’s written for teenagers and is really compelling.
    Thanks again for all your suggestions and the really useful links.

    1. Thank you for sharing the email service, Hilary. It’s a great idea to use that as a vehicle to help your writing. I am glad you like the idea of the characters in your stories writing to their friends; I think it gives a deeper insight into who they are. Thank you also for the reference to Bernadine Evaristo; I have yet to read one of her books but I am looking forward to it reading her work.

  2. Love the idea of writing letters to yourself after courses and your letter to your blog – I’m thinking about how I can apply this in my own life now – great technique!

    1. Thanks, Jane! I look forward to hearing how you get on! Post-course letters are really powerful.

  3. I shall explore these ideas. I use letters from my ancestors to unravel their lives and personality for my life writings.
    I like the idea of writing a letter to myself.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jenny. It must be fascinating reading your ancestors letters. I’d love to hear more about how it inspires you to write!

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