Please Write:  Signed, Seal, Delivered

If you told me five years ago that I would write a book about handwritten letters, I might have had a good laugh. While I loved reading books from a young age and did a good deal of writing for my job as a public servant, I never imagined myself motivated enough to research, write, rewrite (many times), and market a book. In fact, had I known the extensive challenges involved and the steely determination needed to create a book of any kind, I doubt I would have ever started. This is where ignorance being bliss could not be a truer sentiment.

My journey to publishing a book would never have happened without the help of many people. First, a friend who told me about a memoir writing class for people 55 years and older, then another friend who took me along to afternoon classes on memoir writing taught by Elizabeth Jarret Andrew. Those whetted my appetite for telling my own stories and for hearing those of other students.

A strange dream came next, whereby a strong voice commanded me to write a book as I woke up one morning. It was a very clear, insistent voice and I decided to listen. This was not what I would call a normal or familiar occurrence for me. In fact, something like this had never happened to me in my entire life. So, I began to think about the things I could write about. I figured that I had little to lose since I was recently retired and had the time and space to play with writing as a hobby.

I decided that I should write about something I loved and knew something about. I settled on the topic of letter writing, as I had been a lifelong letter writer and was grieving the disappearance of handwritten letters as a mainstream form of communication. There were only a few people left that I knew who kept writing, even though few people ever answered them.

About that time, my good friend, Judy, who is a published author herself, had already started a new book about her passion for aquatic life and her story about getting a PhD in science at a time when few women managed to do that. We decided to meet regularly to keep ourselves motivated and to support each other as we each worked on our own writing projects. No matter what obstacles came up as I continued to write, Judy encouraged me to keep working on the book. She was invaluable in finding me some interesting articles and other information which I ended up using in my book.

Once I created the first “shitty” draft of the book, I sent it off for a critical review by amazing writing coach, Mary Carrol Moore. And so, the long journey began that would involve numerous rewrites, the culling of redundant material, the restructurings of the text, additional research, new chapters and often, serious dips in my self-confidence as a writer.

My entire career had involved writing technical documents and materials for the public that translated technical material into something that the average Minnesotan could understand. I had little confidence in my ability to do creative nonfiction, the kind that involved writing about feelings and emotions—something I would have never been able to write about in the career that I had. As a result, Please Write wasa very challenging kind of writing project for me.

Next, I asked ten of my friends and family members to read an early draft of the book. They were very gracious and generous in giving me their very helpful and supportive comments. Even though there were “issues” I needed to address, they encouraged me anyway. That support was key to my continuing to write. Having a supportive tribe seems so important to new authors who have no idea what they are doing on a day-to-day basis, year after year.

It is amazing what perseverance can do in one’s life. Sheer grit and determination and some talent for writing are all necessary to get to the finish line. After two and a half years of writing and a year in the publication process, Please Write finally was delivered to me in plain cardboard boxes. What a thrill it was to finally see the finished product—the labor of love that consumed me for so many hundreds of hours. Any first-time author could probably relate to the elation one feels when the process is over, and a final product appears.

To celebrate the completion and publication of this book, I reluctantly at first, decided to hold a book launch party. I was raised to be a humble person and I am an introvert by nature, so the idea of making myself the center of attention like that was not easy, however, a wonderful author and mentor, Carolyn Porter (Marcel’s Letters) encouraged me to have the party anyway. And what a lovely afternoon it was.

Family and friends from Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota were on hand for the party, held in the wonderful event room at Beaver’s Pond Press. This old Victorian-era building with its high ceilings, brick walls and wood floors provided the perfect backdrop for a party about old and new letters.

Wine, beer, and other refreshments were flowing, snacks and finger foods enjoyed, and great conversations filled the room before and after the program we created in celebration of the handwritten letter.

My wonderful friend, Martha, son, Ian, and husband, Allen all agreed to be part of the program. I first gave a bit of background about the book writing process and thanked those that had been part of my writing journey. Then, the four of us read a total of 9 letters from our own personal archives that were written over a period of 130 years. The letters included those from my husband’s young grandmother in 1893, a Scottish Royal Air Force pilot during World War II, my father’s letter home to his mother from basic training camp, a gratitude letter from my mother to her father, and several chatty letters from my friend’s relatives. Together these letters exemplified the beauty of handwritten letters, their emotional range, the delightful wit they often contain, as well as their importance from an historical standpoint.

Next, I read the Introduction to my book and signed some books before the party ended. Carolyn had been right about how important the launch party is. It is a fantastic way to thank everyone that helped me to achieve an important and somewhat accidental personal goal. Again, I want to thank everyone who attended the party as well as those who couldn’t make it but who conveyed their congratulations and kind wishes. It takes a village to do almost anything meaningful in life, and that was certainly the case for me as I finished and published, Please Write.