Use these tips for putting your love in writing
The heart is full, but the page… sigh.
How to translate such glowing adoration, such explosions of love onto the empty page?
“My dearest delight, you make my heart explode.”
So, that’s no good. New page, still blank. If the words come together, if they genuinely embody the ardor they represent, this letter will be saved. It will be read and re-read, cherished with a fluttering heart, tied in ribbon and wreathed in lavender. It will be found, decades hence in a trunk or a dusty attic, gently unfolded and read by the twinkle in someone’s eye, and they will know: She was loved. He was somebody’s darling.
“Sweetheart, you will still be loved even when you’re dead.”
They’re not easy, these love letters. Valentine’s Day is Thursday, and on this celebration of love a few fearless hearts feel moved to immortalize that love on paper. A love letter! Not a text, not an IM, not a link to Tumblr or Instagram or even a hilarious GIF, but actual words written in ink on something tangible.
But somewhere between heart and page these vivid emotions become fragile. How to write them without breaking them? Consider:
■ Show, don’t tell, advised Grand Junction writer Wendy Videlock. It’s one of the most fundamental adages of writing, and in a love letter it could mean painting a scene or creating an image rather than stating “you are pretty” or “I appreciate your kindness.”
“A good love letter declares itself plainly, then illustrates particularly,” wrote Tom Chiarella in GQ magazine. “Let the example precede sentiment. ‘I saw you watching the men play chess in the park. So quiet. I love the way you look at things.’ Show her what you love in her before you tell her what you love in her. Show, then tell.”
■ Think in images that capture your beloved and highlight those, said Grand Junction poet Luis Lopez.
“Find an image that draws you to the person that you love,” Lopez said. “It could be the eyes, it could be the personality, it could be all kinds of things that draw you to the person, and write about what it is you love about that particular trait. It shows you’re paying attention.”
■ Focus on the details. You always hear that the devil’s in the details, but in a love letter, perhaps it’s god that is.
“We think that pronouncements are the way to move others, but really it’s a more deep kind of observation and understanding of one’s own observation,” Videlock said. “Love’s so universal and so personal, and it’s the details that make it our own.”
So, for example, if you want to mention remembering how he looked the day you met, don’t stop there. Talk about specific small details: where he was standing, what he was doing, how he smiled.
“Be loyal to the past you share,” Chiarella wrote. “If your love emerged on a kayak trip, then you don’t just mention that experience, you make it. Use your memory. Let the river — the docks, the boats, the rocky shore — become your palette. Tell a story, one that only the two of you know. Or try narrating a moment in which she was unaware that you were watching her. Use detail to show what you remember and that you remember.”
■ Keep the letter’s focus on your beloved, said San Miguel County poet Art Goodtimes. Because love is such a strong emotion and so personal, the temptation is to veer into “I would move mountains for you, I am nothing without you, I would die for you” proclamations. And a little of that can be touching and good, because a shared love is about two people together.
But a love letter also should be about why the beloved being written to is special, Videlock said. What makes her lovable? Why did you marry him?
■ Don’t feel like you need to be Lord Byron, especially if that’s not your natural inclination or you’re not entirely comfortable writing. Sometimes, Lopez said, the simplest statements have the most power because they’re not wrapped — and obscured — in flowery sentiment.
“Maybe the best thing you can do is just say how you feel,” he said, adding that it’s easy to veer into syrupy sentiment if you’re trying too hard. Leave the rhyming couplets and washed-out pastels to Hallmark; just write what’s in your heart.
“Don’t work to be overly genuine,” Chiarella wrote. “Be clear. Earnestness is cheap. Too much of it throws off the alchemy of expression. Don’t feel obligated to wind up a spool of honesty. Clarity works better.”
■ Take a page from people who’ve been there and peruse famous love letters or poems, Goodtimes advised. Reading notable love letters may help you gather ideas for how the heart spills itself in ink on the page.
■ Keep it positive. “You make me happy when I’m with you because…” is a lot nicer to read than “I’m miserable without you.”
Lopez said that when he wrote his poetry collection “Each Month I Sing,” in which the poems are dedicated to his wife of 34 years, Maggie, he thought about what he specifically loved about her, an optimistic process.
■ Spill your heart onto the page, then give it a day and come back to the letter, Videlock advised.
Write without censoring yourself, she said, but read it again before sending it. It may be that you’re happy with what you first wrote, but it may be that, considering the letter probably will be saved for years, a few of the more florid descriptions could be toned down just a bit.
A careful edit before sending gives the emotions room to breathe and space to make themselves known.
■ And finally, if words still fail, simply remember these three: I love you.