Tired of Writing to Yourself?

Don’t get me wrong, I think journaling is great. It’s a wonderful way to internalize difficult or confusing situations. And of course any form of expressive writing helps to hone your skills. As one writing instructor put it: journaling helps to keep your writing motor running!

But writing not for yourself, but for others adds a new dimension to your expressions and to your writing experience in general.

Today, there are many, many on-line ways to write for others. This blog is a good example of but one. However, if no one chooses to reply or to comment, then really there is simply no feedback on what you’ve written–no reading/thinking/replying  to what you’ve said. So while blogging or on-line postings (like this one) may get something off your chest, no one is automatically compelled to reply to your thoughts.

But there is a writing regimen that always entails reply. It is the age old genre of the pen-pal.

In decades and centuries before the internet, letters were sent via snail mail and replies were returned in the same way.  That allowed something that instantaneous electronic communication does not: reflection. You inherently had a chance to reflect on what you wrote after it was in the mail. Perhaps just subconsciously, but certainly for days. This mental marination might bring new vistas to your thinking. New ways of seeing whatever you’ve already written and sent. And that could give added incentive to thinking about your writing before the words were committed to paper. Today, the frequent  lament of “ready-fire-aim” kinds of writing are usually thought of as hitting the SEND button before you should, before you’ve thought your words through. Almost all of us would like to have back some things we’ve sent along electronically in a rush. We’d like to have a few more minutes to cogitate. Well, in past eras, you could get a few days to consider what you just sent, before you get a reply.

Then, too, the genre of the pen-pal has an extra altruistic dimension. Becoming pen-pals is a pact of sorts. A promise to thoughtfully reply with the added consideration time that the slowness of the media affords. I think that may lead to more insight and to more exposition. For example, if you have read correspondence of famous historical figures, you may already know what I mean. Their snail-mail  writing was simply deeper in substance and meaning. It was richer.  I’ve read the letters of Jefferson and Franklin recently, and I could not fathom that depth of thinking if those learned men had been pounding out their ideas on an email keyboard for instant transmission.

In regard to writing, and correspondence in particular, perhaps there is more to the art than simply increasing its speed.

So why not consider finding a pen-pal or two as a way to not just “keep you writing motor running” but to rev it up a little? Need a correspondent? There are places where they are looking for people, maybe for someone like you.

I’ve just joined a church-sponsored group that connects felons in prison with church members as pen-pals.

Think about that.

One thing an incarcerated person has is a surplus of is time. They will read what they get and they will reply, if they’ve bought into the pen-pal concept at all. And from your viewpoint, could there possibly be any better correspondent? That is, if a prisoner wants to communicate with the outside world, should they not be given every opportunity to do so – every opportunity to get their mind beyond the oppressiveness of their situation and their surroundings? Talk about your win-win scenario.

So maybe take a look around for a way to write with more than just yourself as an audience. There are a lot of web sites devoted to connecting you up with a partner.

And some of those sites even promote communication in that centuries old way: via pen, paper and post office.


About Richard Haverlack

Richard Haverlack has been writing the memoirs of hospice patients for more than eight years. He has recently written a book, A Memoir of Memoirs - Writing Stories Told at Life's End, which is about the poignant and enlightening experiences he's had in doing this work. Richard is a volunteer for the Good Samaritan Hospice near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also is active in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institution at the University of Pittsburgh where he studies as well as teaches.

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