Writing is a mystical process. You sit with pen in hand – or fingers poised over a keyboard. Words flow from your brain into your hands. Ink and paper help words become flesh. Words transform themselves into stories when they are birthed into the world.
In our 140-character social media society, we may have forgotten how this mystical process of writing is the embodiment of the ordinary magic when the words are then read.
It doesn’t matter who the reader is. Maybe it’s only you, rereading words in your journal. Maybe it’s anyone who passes by your blog or Facebook page. Perhaps you are seeking an audience that isn’t exactly countable as you send your words into the world by writing a book.
Or maybe you’ve leaned into the sacred space of love, connection, friendship, or advocacy by writing a letter intended for one, single individual.
I’ve been in love with the mystical process of turning straw into gold in the form of stories for as long as I can remember. While the miller’s daughter may have never found joy when confronted by Rumpelstiltskin’s wheel, for me, spinning individual words into an essay, a piece of fiction, or a letter gleams as brightly as any precious metal.
I’m also in love with receiving mail. Opening the mailbox to find a card or letter is a physical reminder that somewhere out there, someone cares enough about me to go through their own ritual of turning their thoughts into snippets of their own story – just for my eyes. It’s proof that in the sea of humanity, I am valued. It’s a reminder that someone chose to connect with me by taking some of their precious time to not only write a few words in a card or pen a long letter, but also address an envelope, stick a stamp on it, and send it out into the world knowing that their precious words won’t be received for any number or days.
Yes, this can take place in a reply to a Tweet, a ‘like’ on a Facebook post, a comment on a blog entry. Emails can convey real sentiment. I will never tire of sharing real-time words via phone calls, nor will I ever undervalue the way a telephone call with a friend brightens my day.
A handwritten letter, though, holds a different kind of magic.
“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”
― Phyllis Theroux
I know that I’ve mentioned it here before, but since August of 2015, I’ve been writing letters with a girlfriend focused mostly on our creative lives. We are both devoted to the process, honoring the fact that we each have daily lives full of responsibilities. Sometimes, there are weekly letters, our creative minds unable to stop the flow of thought. Other times, the letters lag and we eke out only enough energy to write a single letter a month.
As with all the various pieces of our creative life, letter writing ebbs and flows.
No matter which part of the cycle I’m in, I look forward to each letter. I experience a thrill upon opening my mailbox and finding a cheery envelope with my handwritten name upon it. I set each new arrival aside until I have dedicated time to sit and savor it.
I give myself time to reread and digest, and then I take up my pen once more. I begin afresh, putting more ink on paper, collecting thoughts, arranging words, filling pages or note cards either to save, or to send away. Sometimes, I tuck in a magazine article or a thin bar of good chocolate.
Whether I am writing letters or reading one, I find myself deeply connected with my own creative energy and better connected to enduring creative spirit of humankind.
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés
We are living in challenging times. No matter what side of the aisle you may find yourself on politically, you’ve probably felt frustrated, angry, irritated, upset, fearful, exhausted, or disheartened in the last few months. I have felt all of those things at differing points, and the number one solace I’ve returned to is words.
Well, not just the solace of words, but the magical power of stories.
I purchased a beautiful copy of Beauty and the Beast purely for the illustrations by Angela Barrett. I read biographies of strong women. I’ve read books some might consider fluff, yet know they are secretly disguised as medicine. I’m reading a passage a day from the last journal written by a Catholic priest. I purchased a Sunday Missal. I’ve reread letters. I’ve unsubscribed from folks that harp on politics, be it on Facebook, Twitter, or their Blogs. I’ve immersed myself within my journal, and sought new blogs to read that don’t focus on politics.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across the concept of InCoWriMo. A nod to the familiar NaNoWriMo where you commit writing a novel in November, InCoWriMo is a commitment to write a piece of correspondence per day in February.
What if I were to take up the challenge of writing a letter per day next month? I’ve already learned that receiving a letter makes me feel as if I matter. I’ve experienced the way a letter that arrives just when I’m feeling most discouraged can soothe my soul.
More than that, though, I’ve discovered that putting ink to paper in letter-form has shifted my creative DNA. It forces me to slow down, invites me to think differently, and encourages me to trust the mystical power of birthing my thoughts into the flesh.
The process of sending and receiving physical correspondence has it’s own tinge of magic. For how else can I explain receiving an encouraging letter about my body of work on the exact same day I got an email rejecting my application for a writing residency?
What if someone out there just needs to open their mailbox and find an envelope with their name on it, written by hand?
I can write letters of encouragement and letters of compassion and letters of love to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.
I can write thank-you letters to those who impact my world for the better, like authors, soldiers abroad, and the Postmaster General.
I can write a mushy love-note to John, for far to often we forget to appreciate those living under our own roof.
I can also use the power the written word can yield by taking up my pen as if it were my sword, writing letters to my Senators and Congressmen.
I ordered a fresh supply of stationary, readied my supply of postcards and greeting cards, and have stocked up on stamps. I’ve begun gathering addresses. I have committed to at least one piece of handwritten correspondence every day in February. (If you want to receive a letter in February, just leave a comment below or email me at debra (at) debrasmouse.com)
“Our lives are made up of time, and the quality of our existence depends on our wise use of the moments we are given.”
–Alexandra Stoddard (from her book Gift of a Letter)
If writing is a mystical, magical process, then letter-writing must be one of the wisest uses of writing time. We must nurture and tend our creative life. And sometimes, we must fight to ensure that the outside world doesn’t encroach on our sacred need to create.
What might unfold in your creative life if you were to take your pen in hand for the sole sake of connecting with a single individual? How might taking up your pen as a sword be the best way to be an advocate? What magic might you open yourself to if you were to open your heart on paper? Might an age-old approach to correspondence tend the sanctuary of your own soul?
About the Author: Debra Smouse
Debra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.