Creative Writing 101: The Letter-Writers’ Edition

It’s February 1st, the first day of the Month of Letters Challenge. Anyone hanging around with me here or on Twitter has probably figured out that I think this is a great idea on many levels. But I’m not here to chat up the wonders of getting personal mail. Instead, I’m here to offer ways in which you can participate in the challenge AND turn it into a writing exercise that flexes your creative muscles.

For as many writers who have embraced this idea, excited about the prospect of writing lovely missives to friends and family, and hearing their reactions to receiving something fun in their mailbox, I suspect there are just as many who have moaned at the idea of trying to write a letter each day in addition to squeezing in time for their work in progress. Yes, you could take the easy way out by sending pre-written cards, sticking to postcards, or simply printing out copies of favorite family recipes and mailing them off to your younger relatives (and hoping they’ll volunteer to cook something for the next holiday gathering). But how about looking at the challenge as something that will help stretch your mind and imagination, either through writing or by restocking your creative well?

A few ideas for writers:

~ Make your end-of-the-week letter a WIP mailing. Send off your week’s worth of writing to one of your readers in hard copy each Friday.

~ Do you write short stories? Are you interested in trying flash fiction? Attempt to write a few stories over the course of the month that are 1,000 words or less, and send them to friends with whom you typically share your work.

~ Any little kids in your life? How many have ever received mail other than a birthday card? Make one or two your pen pal, even if you live in the same household. Send cartoons, drawings, stickers, as well as little notes, and encourage them to respond. Take them shopping for cute note cards and teach them how to address an envelope properly.

~ Another idea for little kids: Be a secret admirer (though fill in their parents that you’re behind the notes, if the kids aren’t your own). Send little surprises and don’t sign them until the end of the month.

~ Children of your own? Write an ongoing bedtime story and send it out in letter format, with each letter ending in a cliffhanger. The segments don’t have to be long.

~ Older kids away at college? Send letters, care packages, things they forgot to pack up after winter break. (Word of warning: Don’t send to your college kid only; you’ll drive them crazy.)

~ Try writing one poem a week and sending it off to a friend or loved one.

~ Remember that Valentine’s Day falls in the middle of February. Send out cards to your mom, siblings, nieces and nephews, instead of just to your significant other. Stagger the cards in the mail and they’ll be good for a few days of the challenge.

~ Use one “letter” per week as an excuse NOT to write. Make it a break and do something creative that does not include words, and put that in the mail instead. Send a photograph, burn a CD for someone, bake cookies and send them off.

~ Consider writing a letter from the point of view of one of your characters. People used to write entire novels in the epistolary fashion. Give it a go on a small scale and see what you learn about your protagonist or your villain. Send the letter to your critique partner and get their feedback as to whether any of the revelations should be included in your plot. (Mary Robinette Kowal has already said she’ll be corresponding with people who wish to write her heroine, Jane.)

These are just a few thoughts to get you started. How else might you participate in the challenge and really exercise your writing chops? I’m curious to hear your ideas, so please share if you’d like. Happy writing!