Sunday, December 2, 2012

Letter Writing - Looking Back

I strongly believe in the healing power of writing. While I love to blog for others to read, I feel writing can be just as cathartic, and sometimes even more so, when you're writing for no one to read. Why? You don't have to judge it. You don't have to worry about how someone will react. You don't even have to worry if it's any good. You just have to write.

I've decided that in addition to sharing my thoughts through my own writing, I'd like to help others help themselves develop/heal/progress on their own journey through writing as well. I'm creating a series of blogs about writing (the irony doesn't escape me here), most notably in the form of letters either to oneself or to someone else - the latter to a recipient who will, quite possibly, never read it. The first exercise, I'm 100 percent, "stealing" from The Artist's Way book, on which I've been basing my creativity project for the last month and a half or so. I have added some of my own touches and suggestions from my own experience with it, though the basis for it is from the book. Despite not being a personal original, it impacted me so profoundly that I had to share it. That being said, I can't fully disclose how it impacted me so strongly at this time, but I suspect you'll find out eventually.

That leads me to this: you probably, at least at first, don't want to share your letters with others.  Perhaps if they're the subjects of it and you think they really need to read the contents, but even with this I'd at least give it a re-read to make sure you truly want to share it, and can deal with whatever results come from sharing it - remember, it may not be as you think. Why do I suggest not sharing? Because you may come through the exercise with some sort of a breakthrough, great idea, or energy. And you may be excited, ready to take action, but what if you tell someone and they shoot it down or are skeptical? It could completely undo those positives that came from the letter. I'm not saying that you can never share it, but I would wait until you know you're confident enough in your decisions not to let others discourage you if they're not completely gung ho.

And now, with the "formalities" out of the way, on to the first writing exercise. This is the letter that made me realize just how powerful of a tool it is.

Imagine yourself as an 80 year old . Yes, you're alive, you're not writing from the grave. This is an imaginative exercise, but not quite that imaginative. Write a letter back to your current self (I changed the age here, that's the only difference from book exercise). Describe what your life is like at 80, and what's occurred between your age/state of life now and your 80 year old self. If you need inspiration, some things you could include, but aren't obligated to, are:
  • Which friends are still in your life? What are they up to? What is your friendship like at 80?
  • What has your career path looked like over the years? 
  • How are you spending retirement (if in fact you are retired)?
  • What about your romantic relationships over the years? (this particularly is effective if you're unmarried/not in a serious relationship, but can be helpful to address either way.)
  • What chances have you taken/adventures have you had?
  • What questions/decisions are you facing in your current life that you can speak to from your 80 year old self? What actions/paths would you encourage your present self to pursue?
There's no template for this. It's important that you write stream of consciousness, and don't judge your work. That's where your intuition and gut reactions play a part. If you see something down on the page that you weren't expecting or don't like, don't cross it out and try to rewrite it to something that pleases you. There's a reason it came out that way, even if you don't yet know what that is. If you haven't listed someone still being in your life that you thought would be, don't include them just because you feel bad. We can't possibly remember to include everyone, and truly, they won't ever know. 

You don't have to over-analyze your letter, but take a look and give it some thought. Why did certain aspects of your life come up, and why did others not? While I don't suggest ending a friendship because they didn't come up in your letter, I do suggest that if you wrote about an unexpected career change, relocation, path in life, you may want to consider why that came up, especially if it's something you've been struggling with or even something that might have been in the back of your mind but you hadn't wanted to say out loud. Your letter doesn't have to be all positive motivations, rainbows, and sunshine. Allow it to flow as it does. Life has disappointments, and they might come out here. They may also bring to the forefront situations that you're thinking about but have been pushing to the back of your mind. It's amazing what truths may appear when we can express ourselves with no judgement from either ourselves or others. 

One final thing to consider - the letter doesn't have to be all serious, and it doesn't have to be all-knowing. If it comes naturally, and that's the key here, have fun with it; feel free use some humor, and it's okay to acknowledge that you can't disclose everything - you don't want to make something up and put it in there just to have it in there. 

I'm so curious to hear how you feel about this exercise after trying it. I would never expect anyone to share the secrets of their letter unless they felt truly necessary. However, I'd love to hear if you came up with anything that genuinely surprised you or opened your eyes. Until next time, happy writing! 

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