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Robert's Rules of Writing #2: Get a Pen Pal

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

So after advising people against keeping journals, Masello does a sort of about-face. In his second rule, he says that if you have the urgent desire to write, you should skip the "stream-of-consciousness twaddle" that shows up in journals, and instead, write a letter to a friend.

I think this is good advice, for all the reasons that Masello gives. He notes that the point of writing is to communicate, and that if you write a letter to a friend then you are, in effect, publishing a piece of writing for an audience of one. He also says that writing a letter will help you figure out what's on your mind, and that what's on your mind may be something you could turn into an article or a work of fiction for greater distribution.

I actually take Masello's advice further, but not necessarily in a way he would intend. (Then again, I doubt he'd object.) Sometimes, when I write a story, I aim it at a particular friend. This doesn't mean that I actually send a copy of it to that person, or ask that person for feedback; but sometimes, as I write, I keep in mind that my goal is to entertain this one individual, and if I manage to do that, then I feel I've succeeded.

By the way, Masello advises one to write an actual paper letter, and not just send an e-mail. I understand his perspective; there's always been something special about receiving a personal letter, just for you. Even with the explosion of electronic communication we've seen over the past decade, putting words down on paper often feels more permanent to many people. If you decide to write a letter to a friend in order to jump-start your batteries, I'd strongly suggest trying it longhand on paper and seeing what happens.


I agree, writing letters can be a great way to get unstuck. The audience helps.

I don't think it's necessary to handwrite the letter, as long as you give your email the same respect for grammar and coherence that you would give a handwritten letter. But using pen and paper will change the texture of the experience, for both of you, so it's worth considering as an option. Just as writing fiction by hand can be a good exercise, to see if it liberates you.
From what I remember from browsing that book, Masello has quite a few rules that seem to contradict each other on face value though they don't really once you look deeper. If I remember the intro correctly, the rules aren't necessarily all supposed to apply to everyone.
I never thought of this. The idea of the audience and the permanence of a letter appeals to me. There is something about the kineticness of pen and paper that gets my juices flowin'

December 2016

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