Writing the Unsent Letter

If your journal writing is truly personal and kept from the prying eyes of even your closest family member or friend, then writing an unsent letter can be both cathartic and even revealing through the process of deep writing.

Often times when we write in our journal, the audience is ourselves. We indeed should be writing for us, and no one else. But with the unsent letter, the audience is someone else who may or may not ever read the letter we write.

Human relationships can be challenging, unpredictable, and filled with both joy and pain. Sometimes there’s so much that needs to be said in a relationship, but the verbal communication can be so difficult and so misunderstood. The unsent letter is a tool for use to speak our mind, and express what we really think without the complicated mess of someone talking back to us.

Why the Unsent Letter?

Here a few reasons that come to mind for writing an unsent letter:

  • You want to admit the truth about something, but it’s difficult to admit that truth verbally to someone.
  • You want to explore your own feelings and thoughts about something, but you’re having difficulty figuring what you’re feeling and how to express what you’re feeling.
  • You’re angry at someone, and you want to get some thoughts off your chest. But you know if you actually express your anger at that person, it might make things worse.
  • You want to express your thoughts to someone, but you don’t want your words read until maybe after you’ve passed away.
  • You want to write about a sexual fantasy to a person, but are too afraid to verbally share your fantasy.
  • You’re writing to your future husband or wife to imagine what that future relationship would be like.
  • Your writing to your ex-lover, ex-spouse.
  • You’re writing to someone who passed away and you have thoughts you want to express to that person.
  • You want to write a series of letters to your children when they are very young, and then later in life you may pass along those letters to your children when they are older.
Young girl writing in her journal while sitting at a large window.
Young girl writing in her journal while sitting at a large window.

Writing the Unsent Letter

Writing the unsent letter can sometimes be easier than writing a traditional journal entry. With an unsent letter, you have an audience. You have an actual person in mind as you write.

My suggestions for writing an unsent letter is that you don’t think too much about it prior to writing it. Your letter should be written free form as possible. Allow the writing to lead your thoughts.

 Your letter should be written free form as possible. Allow the writing to lead your thoughts.

Start the letter off with “Dear…” or if you’re angry, “Hey asshole”…. From there let your words flow. Don’t focus on spelling and coherent thoughts. Just get your thoughts out on paper, but keep your audience, that person, in mind. Imagine that you’re speaking directly to that person.

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The only thing I have done religiously in my life is keep a journal. I have hundreds of them, filled with feathers, flowers, photographs, and words - without locks, open on my shelves.

Terry Tempest Williams - Author

I keep a quotes journal - of every sentence that I've wanted to remember from my reading of the past 30 years.

Richard Powers - Novelist

My own habit had always been to write about the things that ticked me off in a given day. If I kept a journal at all, I kept it to vent.

Ariel Gore - Author

Whether you're keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it's the same thing. What's important is you're having a relationship with your mind.

Natalie Goldberg - Author

I've always written. There's a journal which I kept from about 9 years old. The man who gave it to me lived across the street from the store and kept it when my grandmother's papers were destroyed. I'd written some essays. I loved poetry, still do. But I really, really loved it then.

Maya Angelou - Author

Putting words on paper regularly is part of the necessary discipline of writing. A journal is a great way to do that.

Pearl Cleage - Author

As you write, you may discover some hidden truths. You may start to rethink and re-evaluate your previous ideas, thoughts, and emotions.

You may start finding confidence in what you’re feeling. You may become less angry and more clear about what’s making you angry.

If you’re writing honestly, by the third, fourth, eighth, or tenth paragraph, you may of written yourself into another place—turned some corners, arrived at some solutions, or arrived home feeling content and peaceful.

hand written letter
Love letter

A Second Letter?

After writing that first letter, you may need to write a follow-up letter(s). Maybe it’s the next day or in a month or two. So bookmark or tag that first letter, and come back to it. Have things changed? Is there more you need to add? Has it now become a letter that you actually need to send to the person it’s addressed to?

Far too often we write in our journal never to return to what we wrote, and that’s okay. Journal entries don’t always need to be revisited, though there journal entries that you might consider reviewing such as an unsent letter.

Your Suggestions?

An unsent letter is a powerful tool of self-reflection. If you haven’t tried this form of writing I highly recommend that you do.

If have written unsent letters, please share your thoughts about this type of writing. What suggestions do you have for writing such letters, and for what purposes do you suggest letters be written?

 

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Bakari Chavanu

is the creator of NaJoWriMo, and is the author of the interactive iBook, Starting From Day One: Using the Day One Journaling App to Record and Enrich Your Life