Tuesday, December 3, 2013


If you're not following the "This Day in Lettres" portion of The American Reader, you should be. It's such a great site. They post letters, mostly written by authors to other authors, but sometimes between other important/famous people. I love reading them, because no one really writes letters anymore. They're personal, so it satisfies my voyeuristic inclinations. But it also gives me insight into the minds of people I admire, allowing me to better appreciate their works.

Here is a quote from a post on The American Reader today. It is from a letter written by Anton Chekhov to the aspiring writer Maxim Gorky. He first praises Maxim (which is always the best option - praise first, then criticize), and then levels this criticism at him:
"I’ll start by saying that, in my opinion, you lack restraint. You are like a spectator in the theater who expresses his delight with so little restraint that he prevents himself and others from listening. This lack of restraint is especially evident in the nature descriptions you use to break up your dialogues."
This is obviously excellent advice for all writers. I can't tell you how many times I've read a book and thought the same thing. The most recent example being In Cold Blood. (I actually plan to do a review of this soon. Yeah, I know it's not really believable given my track record. Give me a break.) But it's also good advice for me and the legal writing I do. I know it will surprise no one when I say that there is a tendency in legal writing to dramatize and complicate fairly simple issues. We could all use a dose of restraint.

I've been thinking about writing a lot lately because it's been kind of a rough year for me, and I've been encouraged by several people to write about what's been happening. Not to show anyone else or to do anything constructive with what I write, but to write solely as a vehicle for feeling. For processing feelings. For understanding my feelings. And for healing. I've been doing it some, and it really is a great process. I never know exactly how I feel until I spend some time writing it all out. In this sort of writing, there is no need for conciseness and word vomit is actually the point - to say everything as many times as you can and in as many ways as you can.

I say all this, not because it is something new or surprising or even interesting, but because I think that's why letter writing is an important and wonderful thing. It causes one to stop, shut out everything else, and concentrate on one thing. In putting thoughts into words meant for someone else to read, the writer is more careful about what he is communicating. Writing letters is nice for the recipient, but it's important for the writer too. I'm writing a letter today.

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