HALLIE EPHRON: Recently I was reading an article by Meredith Goldstein who writes an advice column in the Boston Globe. She was pondering unsent love letters, and asked her readers to send her theirs. Expecting a few, she received a deluge.
Reading her article got me thinking about the therapeutic power of writing, and how I often don’t know what I think about something until I write about it. I have no unsent love letters but I do have unsent letters I’ve composed when I felt the need to explain myself to someone whom I’ve managed to piss off.
Writing itself is a voyage of discovery—not because it’s a way to get down in writing what I think, but rather as a process for figuring out what I think. Usually the best thing to do with the finished letter is… nothing. Save it, of course, because as a fiction writer I save everything. Most of the time when I reread it days or weeks or years later, I’m so glad I didn’t send it.
Do you write letters you don’t intend to send, and does writing help you figure out what you think?
JENN McKINLAY: *snort* No, I don't have any unsent love letters, because in my madly, passionately, crazily misspent youth, if I wrote a love letter, I sent it -- whether the recipient wanted it or not.
Sadly, I'm not much of a letter writer. Quick notes dashed off to be included with a mailed package seems to be the most I can manage. I do, however, journal quite a bit. And while I'm not as on top of it as I used to be -- volumes were dedicated to the Hooligans' younger years -- I do still try and get the funny things that happen written down, as well as, my frustrations, worries, and sadness when they need to be let out but not leaked all over everyone else.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I read that column! Fascinating--I was so surprised that so many people have unsent letters. Not me, No way. Plus, if I wrote a letter to someone, they wouldn't be able to read it, anyway.
I do write things down to try to figure them out--usually a list of stream of consciousness what-ifs. And that truly works! (And every time I try to journal, I completely fail.) Hard enough to remember not to hit reply all, you know? So, no letters here. And if I had them, I wouldn't be able to find them.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I was both a prolific letter-writer in my youth, and, like Jenn, recklessly free with sending them, so no, there are no unexpressed thoughts lying around waiting for my kids to unearth them. Somebody ELSE'S kids may get a surprise, though.
One thing I've observed is how my letter-writing and card-sending has slacked off with the normalization of online communications. There used to be a real pressure - if you didn't send a birthday card or a love letter, there wasn't going to be anything. Now... you can wish your loved ones Happy Birthday on Facebook and fire off emails, texts and messages to anyone far away.
I'm embarrassed by how few real letters I've sent to the Sailor, but since he's had access to FB Messenger for some of his deployment and has been able to make phone calls every few weeks, I haven't felt the need to put pen to paper. (I'm somewhat absolved of guilt by the fact his sweetheart Veronique has been a faithful correspondent.)
RHYS BOWEN: I have often lamented that there will never be bound volumes of the correspondence between two of today's writers. No one will ever do their Phd thesis on the interactions of the Jungle Red Writers, because nothing is permanent (apart from Hillary's emails, apparently!) I used to love getting letters. When I was at college my boyfriend used to write to me once a week, even though I saw him quite often. Really funny creative letters. I kept them all until I decided that I was not going to marry him and then I burned them. Now I wish I had kept them.
But these days I do enjoy putting down scathing thoughts about the current political situation, but never sending them. I agree that the act of putting pen to paper is cathartic.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: No letters here, I'm very sorry to say. Letter writing is one of those things I've always wished I did, and did well, and have never really managed.
The only time I ever wrote them prolifically was when I was living in the UK and phone calls to my folks were too expensive. I wish I had saved those, and my mom's letters to me. She used to clip the Cathy comic strip from the paper on Sunday and send it to me.
Nor have I been tempted to put things better left unsaid in a letter. Maybe some of that unexpressed angst has found its way into my novels! I do journal sporadically, but not usually about anything significant, and I'm sure the contents would bore any reader to tears.
LUCY BURDETTE: No unsent letters from me either. My dad and my uncle were huge letter writers. I still have boxes of correspondence from them, along with my older sister, a few notes from my mom, and tons of birthday cards. What is the statute of limitations on keeping those? I can't imagine anyone else would want to sort through them so I suppose I should do it.
Rhys, I love the idea of a PhD thesis on the Jungle Reds. Could the student simply study the blog, or would she have to read all our emails too??
HALLIE: What about you? Do you have a drawer (or hard drive?) with unsent letters? When you go back and read them, what do you think? Ever sent one that you wish you could UN send? #FiguringThingsOut #Writing #Thinking #UnsentLetters #LoveLetters