Tag Archives: writing prompts

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Letter Writing

Guest post by Jasmine June Cabanaw

In today’s digital world, receiving a handwritten letter in the mail is a special treat. It’s interesting to think that only a couple of decades ago letter writing was one of the primary ways people communicated with one another!

Yet the art of letter writing is not dead. In fact, people have such a desire to send and receive letters that there are numerous companies catering to just that! You can sign up to receive letters, be paired with a pen pal, or volunteer to write and send letters to people in need.

If you’d like to rekindle your love of letter writing, here are five interesting facts to get you motivated:

There are writing prompts specifically designed for letter writing.

Writing a letter may seem easy, but oftentimes people are at a loss for what to say. People know they want to communicate something, but because writing a letter is so different from the way we communicate via email and social media, trying to put a conversation onto a page can be challenging.

Enter writing prompts for letter writing! Books like the newly released Write Back Soon! Adventures in Letter Writing by Karen Benke gently help the writer along as they compose their letters. Writing prompts exist for all lengths of letters— from post card sized notes to lengthy memoirs.

Letter Writing is a great way to hone your writing skills.

A neat writing exercise for character development is to write a letter from your character’s point of view. You can have characters in your story write to one another, or have characters write to someone in your life. By writing a letter as your character, you can really get into the character’s headspace and develop thoughts and emotions you didn’t even realize your character could possess.

Letter writing also improves your writing skills by expanding your vocabulary, through the use of descriptive words, and by providing a space for you to express your thoughts on paper. Many authors promote the art of letter writing as a way to improve writing skills, including Albert Flynn DeSilver, who makes an appearance in Write Back Soon!

Handwriting a letter provides numerous health benefits.

A handwritten letter is a tool for easing stress. Handwriting decreases stress levels by helping you organize your thoughts, putting you in a meditative or calming state, and engaging your motor skills. It’s great as a cognitive exercise, too, and will sharpen your memory.

Writing letters also takes your eyes off the screen— so many of us have our eyes fixed to a computer, television, or mobile screen throughout the day. Writing on paper instead of typing on screen gives your eyes a much needed break!

Your personality shows in your handwriting.

It’s not just the message that makes a letter personal— your handwriting is an expression of your personality, too. Research from the National Pen Company revealed that more than 5,000 traits are linked to how we write!

There are deep, personal reasons why we dot our i’s a certain way, or how we cross our t’s. Everything from how far apart you space your letters to how large you make your exclamation marks is linked to your personality. Your handwriting even reflects your mood, state of health, and how tired you are when you’re writing!

The term “pen pal” made its first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1931

The Oxford English Dictionary first included “pen pal” in 1931, truly marking an increasingly globalized world. Pen pals originally referred to people who corresponded with one another over vast differences, often as a way to learn about different cultures, languages, and countries, and as a way to improve literacy.

Since pen pals exist all over the world and in numerous nationalities, it is difficult to determine the exact origin of pen pals. However, the concept of pen pals became popular in the early 1900s. The term “pen pal” actually had a predecessor, “pen friend”, which first entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1919.

#WriteBackSoon We’d love to hear from you! Do you have a favorite letter, a letter writing prompt, or a fact about letter writing that you’d like to share? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter and use #WriteBackSoon so we’ll know to respond!

Top Writing Prompts for Memoir Writers

At its best, memoir writing explores a portion of a life lived in a unique open way, filled with adventurous experiences, transformation, lessons learned, a solid story structure, and prose that shimmers off the page as lusciously as any novel, and as poetically as any great poem.

Everyone is struggling to figure our their existence within this world, and the best memoirs are the ones that help people better understand where they fit in. If you look at the recent popularity of memoirs like Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, it’s evident that most women who experienced heartbreak were able to relate. In fact, most people can identify with the chain of losing yourself in a relationship, having that relationship end, and then struggling with the process of rediscovering who you are.

So, where does your story begin? How do you make your memoir relatable? How do you make people want to keep turning the page? Below are tips and writing prompts specifically for memoir writing that will help:

What story are you trying to tell?

Too often memoir writers try to tell too much. You are not writing an autobiography. A memoir covers a section of a life. It could be about the last three weeks of your best friend’s life, or the ten years it took you to get off prescription pills.

How does your past affect this section of your life?

One of the great defining characteristics of contemporary memoir is the unique play of time using flashback, dream sequence, and future projecting– my favorite example being Boys of my Youth by Joanne Beard. But what we aren’t doing is chronologically recalling an entire life. Past experiences can be useful tools, but only use them in relation to the story you are telling.

What do you enjoy about life?

Many memoirs touch on heavy and distressing subjects. But you don’t want to drown your readers in misery. Think about the things you enjoyed. What pleasures did you experience from that time period? Sharing small moments of happiness with your readers will brighten up even the darkest of experiences and will give your readers hope.

What does your memoir time capsule look like?

If you had to gather up people and objects from that section of your life, who and what would be included? Write down whatever comes to mind and use this list as a reference for the characters and scenes in your memoir. Including little details will round out your characters and give depth to your story.

What conflict is being solved?

Even if nothing dramatic is taking place, some sort of conflict is working itself out in your memoir. Think “problem = solution”. Just like you, people are searching for answers. Give them some.

Who did you used to be?

Make a list of all of your old pet peeves, desires, likes, dislikes, and personality traits. What did you use to obsess over? What situations did you engage in or avoid? Since you are writing your memoir as your present self, it will help to have reminders of who you used to be.

Did you have any pets?

Animal companions are key players in the stories of our lives. If you had any pets during the section of your life that is in your memoir, make sure to include them. Your relationship with your pets will also provide insight into your character. Plus, pets are highly relatable. Almost everyone has had an animal companion at some point in their lives.

For writing prompts to really inspire, for them to thoroughly bleed into you and push you deep into the page, it helps to actually be there with the teacher. So if you’ve been thinking about taking a workshop from a master teacher, do it. Don’t hesitate, no excuses, go for it. Take the plunge, your writing and heart will shine from the experience.

In the presence of a master: writing prompts from Cheryl Strayed

I have experienced a lot of amazing things as a writer, teacher, and performer. Years ago I read at Modern Times Book Store in the Mission District of San Francisco with the legendary Beat poet Michael McCluer, who from the back of the room made throat-cutting gestures as I finished my last poem. I was mortified. Was I dragging aimlessly on—cutting into his precious time? He came up to me afterward leaned in casually and said, “I liked the one about the butterflies.” I read poems in Paris with the brilliant New York School poet Alice Notley at a bookstore in the Marais called “The Red Wheelbarrow” after a poem by one of my favorite poets of all time, William Carlos Williams. I was so nervous I thought I’d pass out and have to be carried off in a red wheelbarrow, but Alice put me at ease, being so emotionally astute and radiant in her reading, the whole store was beaming.

When I was sworn in as the very first Poet Laureate of my county, I read an extraordinary  poem by one of our fourth grade CPITS students named Caroline who wrote about Turquoise laughter and whispering in a dragonfly’s ear, about a poet weaving her story on a loom of sawdust. We were floored. In the presence of a true master at age eleven. The Board of Supervisors were on the verge of tears Caroline brought so much joy and peace to an otherwise acrimonious and opinion-grinding county agenda.

And here I am in March of 2015  finding myself in Maui Hawaii teaching with one of America’s truly magnificent, clear-minded, intelligent and generous-of-spirit writers and teachers, Cheryl Strayed. It’s such a pleasure to be in the presence of a creative writer who is so genuine, so authentic, so in touch with the reality of truth with a capital T. Which by the way, comes from being fully committed to your craft, from surrendering to the process again and again. Cheryl Strayed is truly fearless in the face of self doubt, criticism, shame, judgment—never reckless, always clear of heart and mind enough to keep writing. There is a necessary wisdom that shines through in her reading and teaching which emanates as a gift—encouraging, allowing, and even anticipating our own. You get the sense you are on a collaborative journey of discovery together. There’s no sense of superiority no air of her strutting around thinking “I’ve got it and you don’t.”

As I was reviewing some of the writing prompts Cheryl shared with us a couple years ago and some new ones recently in Maui, it became evident to me that writing prompts are fairly dependent on context and presence. Sure you can run with them on your own, pulled from a blog or website, but for them to really inspire, for them to thoroughly bleed into you and push you deep into the page, it helps to actually be there with the teacher. And by there I mean in the presence of a master writer and teacher. So if you’ve been thinking about going to a reading or taking a workshop from a master teacher like Michael, Alice, or Cheryl, do it. Don’t hesitate, no excuses, go for it. Take the plunge, your writing and heart will shine from the experience.

Would you like to join me on my next writing retreat? We’ll be in the presence of another creative writing master, Elizabeth Gilbert. Sign up here: LizGilbertEvent.com

Great Writing Prompts. Thank you Cheryl Strayed!

On June 1, 2013 best-selling author of Wild, Tiny, Beautiful Things, and the novel Torch, Cheryl Strayed came to the Petaluma Sheraton for a day titled “Writing, Truth, & Community”–produced by yours truly and The Owl Press. This was the largest event we have put on and thanks to our volunteers, my assistant–Ali Degolia, and the Sheraton staff, things went very smoothly!! The event consisted of a full day writing workshop, craft talk, reading, and book signing! The feedback has been amazing! Thanks to all who filled out the survey, sent me an email or posted to Facebook! It was an extraordinary day, and Cheryl was charming, insightful, inspiring, funny, and extremely generous with her knowledge and experience.

Cheryl mentioned a number of writing prompts and promised to share them with the group! And so here they are! Enjoy! May you be inspired to be willing to “break your own heart” and go forth to “write like a motherfucker!!”

With gratitude and all best wishes, Albert (& Cheryl)

Writing Prompts from Cheryl Strayed

(The “you” can be you or a fictional character)

Write about a time when you’d dressed inappropriately for the occasion.

Write a few pages in which you obsess over something meaningless.

Write about something/someone being born.

Write about something you can’t deny.

Write about what you have too much of.

Write about when you knew you were in trouble.

Write about something you don’t exactly remember.

What about what you used to know how to do.

Write a long apology.

Write about a secret being revealed.

Write about all the secrets that have been kept from you.

Write about a gift that was not well received.

Write a long thank you letter.

Write about something you are certain of.

Write about having no fun at all.

Write about when you knew something was over (or had begun).

Write about someone you forgot.

Write about a question you wished you’d asked.

Write about something that was too small/too big.

Write about what you’d planned to do.

Write about something that doesn’t get better.

For more writing tips, check out the upcoming online course Brilliant Writer: The Master Class for Successful Writers