How to Write a Love Letter

The Triumph of Saint Valentine (Valentin Metzger, 18th century)

Ah, Valentine's Day: a holiday often derided as a "Hallmark Holiday" created as a saccharine commercial venture to capitalize on starry-eyed romantics.  I think it's actually quite an interesting holiday, personally.  Though it's become largely secular, it is, of course, drawn from the Feast of Saint Valentine, originally in honor of an early Christian martyr (or possibly two) named Valentine.  The history is hazy, but the oft-repeated legends are certainly appealing.  According to stories embellished and expanded upon over the centuries, Valentine was a priest who was imprisoned for illegally presiding over the marriages of soldiers.  In those days, it was thought that married men made poor soldiers as they were constantly wishing to be back at home with their wives, so they were forbidden to marry.  Enter Valentine, persecuted Christian who married these soldiers in the new Christian faith and flouted the emperor's decree.  He was discovered, jailed, and, while imprisoned, performed the miracle of restoring sight to the jailor's blind daughter.  Before his execution, he handed her a letter signed "Your Valentine," which ostensibly became the basis for the holiday as we know it.

From a secret admirer...

History, religion, and legend aside, what I enjoy most about this story is that it suggests that at the heart of this holiday is a letter.  I'm a big fan of conversing via letter in general.  I have a number of pen pals around the country, and for several, post is just about the only way we keep in touch.  There's something about the anticipation of waiting for a letter, and the one-sidedness of the conversation.  How often do we just sit and listen to what someone else has to say, hanging off their every word without interruption or planning your reply?  Letters force that kind of active listening, and demand a similar kind of consideration in response.  A letter takes things slow, which is, perhaps, one of the reasons why it is still so popular among couples today.

And so, with Valentine's Day only a couple weeks off, I thought I'd share a bit of advice for writing your own love letters.

1. Avoid surprise love letters.  A Valentine's Day letter is not a great place to confess your undying affection to the secret admiree who doesn't know how you feel.  That's a good way to find yourself slapped with a restraining order.  No, love letters aren't intended to begin a romance, but are supposed to be part of the conversation of it.

2. Don't worry about your abilities as a writer.  Sure, there are lots of classic love letters and poetry that you could hold up as shining examples, but that's not what you're writing.  Remember, this is an ongoing conversation.  There's no need to throw in some flowery language if that's out of character for you (if it's not, though, go for it).

Can't go wrong with a Lovepop card!

3. Presentation counts, but don't stress about it too much.  If you've read some of my other articles on here, you may know that I'm a fountain pen fan and er...collector...of stationery (it's not hoarding if you use it!).  I love paper and ink and the classic feel of a fountain pen's light scratch.  It's part of the ritual of writing a letter for me (I always write letters in fountain pen).  I find my stationery and ink sets the tone for what I'm writing—a small postcard and I use a fine point pen and black ink.  A birthday card might get ink that coordinates with the artwork on the front, and maybe a doodle or two.  If you find you're having trouble getting started with your letter, try some different stationery.  However, if you're worried about avoiding crossings-out or misspellings, write a draft on something plain first.  Personally, I think those little errors and changes of mind are charming, but I can see the impulse for perfection in something like this.  No sense in spoiling a gorgeous Lovepop card by accidentally writing "Deer so and so."

4. Be specific.  Write about the actual things both big and small that make this person special, both to you and in and of themselves.  When's the last time someone told you, "I love how excited you get when we're strolling along the sidewalk and someone has a cute dog you just have to pet," or "I love the way you line up your shoes beside mine when you get home."  Often, we get sidetracked by how we relate to one another, and while it's wonderful that your partner always remembers how you like your coffee, or what your favorite restaurant is, keep in mind that those things are more about you than them.  A love letter is supposed to tell the recipient how much you love them, not how much you love that they love you.

5. Say what you mean.  You've got a captive audience, so there's no sense in being vague or metaphorical.  It's a love letter.  Say "I love you" at least once.

Socks.  Go.  In.  The.  Hamper.

6. Don't say anything you don't mean.  Don't vow to never leave your socks next to the hamper again because you know how much they hate it unless you're actually going to make an effort to make that happen.  There's no need for grand gestures.  Just be you.

7. Sign it.  You don't have to use your formal signature, but don't leave it blank or just put XOXO or something like that.  You wrote it!  Put your name on it.

That's it!  You did it!  You wrote your love letter.  The presentation is up to you, but be sure to give them space to read and absorb your letter without you sitting there waiting for their comment.  Leave space for them to actively "listen" to what you wrote, and time to think about how they want to respond.  Maybe they'll want to talk about what you wrote.  Maybe they'll want to tuck it away with keepsakes forever, or maybe they'll prefer it's not around for the kids to stumble across... but whatever their response is, your words made an impact, and that's all we can ever hope for.

And yes, I know I said you don't need to turn to literary love letters or poetry for guidance on how to compose your own, but for purely inspirational purposes, here are a few references that might come in handy.

 

Love, Kurt: The Vonnegut Love Letters, 1941-1945 Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780593133019
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House - December 1st, 2020

Letters of Note: Love Cover Image
By Shaun Usher (Compiled by)
$15.00
ISBN: 9780143134633
Availability: Ships from our warehouse today
Published: Penguin Books - October 6th, 2020

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Cover Image
$22.00
ISBN: 9781982117122
Availability: Ships from our warehouse today
Published: Scribner - July 23rd, 2019

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Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada: (Edición Deluxe de Penguin Classics en dos idiomas) (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) Cover Image
By Pablo Neruda, W. S. Merwin (Translated by), Cristina García (Introduction by), Pablo Picasso (Illustrator)
$14.00
ISBN: 9780142437704
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Classics - December 2nd, 2003

A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953 Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780156527910
Availability: Ships from our warehouse today
Published: Mariner Books - April 22nd, 1989

Felicity: Poems Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780143128762
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - October 3rd, 2017

Floriography: An Illustrated Guide to the Victorian Language of Flowers Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781524858148
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Andrews McMeel Publishing - September 15th, 2020

On Love Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780062420732
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ecco - January 3rd, 2017

Little Letters of Love: Keep It Short and Sweet (I Love You Gifts, Gifts for Girlfriends and Boyfriends) Cover Image
$9.95
ISBN: 9781452168494
Availability: Ships from our warehouse today
Published: Chronicle Books - August 14th, 2018

Letters to My Love: Write Now. Read Later. Treasure Forever. (Love Letters, Love and Romance Gifts, Letter Books) Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9781452142678
Availability: Ships from our warehouse today
Published: Chronicle Books - August 11th, 2015