Why do I start almost every writing class by asking people to write a letter to someone they miss?
–Writing a letter is easy and natural.
People are generally comfortable saying things that start with “I.” A letter is written directly from the writer, so it’s a good use of the first-person (“I”) voice. If you’re intimidated about writing anything–a report, a paper–they can start out by writing it as a letter.
–Writing a letter “to” someone or something the writer misses gives the writer a point of focus.
The writer isn’t writing about life in general or how WiFi works or the life-cycle of raccoons–he/she is simply writing things he or she remembers to someone he/she knows.
–Writing to “someone or something you miss” elicits feelings of loss and yearning.
People writing this prompt sometimes start to cry. Sometimes they sit staring in the air or fiddling with their pencil. They may or may not want to share the whole letter. Feelings of loss and yearning are real and human. They are something every reader can relate to.
–It’s easy to pick out the details in a letter and “feel” how they support they support the feeling of loss. Details I remember from classes through the years: the difficult bed-bound aunt who used to ring a bell when she needed something; the uncle who made hot pickles; the big brother who carried his little sister around on his shoulders so she could pick oranges. These aren’t details I experienced or thought up, but ones that were vivid enough they live in my mind today. The root of vivid, by the way, is the Latin “vīvidus” meaning animated, from “vīvere” or “to live.” Vivid is a word I love to use.
I’ve started writing workshops for teenagers, adults, older people, and children with “write a letter to someone you miss.” The only group I’ve had problems with is American children, because some of them said “But there’s nothing I miss” or ” No one’s died.” So to them I said: write about a friend who moved away or a lost pet or even a stuffed animal you’ve lost track of. The first time I taught in Israel I worried about children not having something to write about, but everyone did, immediately–either they had some relative who had died or someone close to them had moved to America or Europe.