The Basics of Writing Love Letters
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The Basics of Writing Love Letters

Letter writing may have gone the way of the horse and carriage but that doesn't mean you can't revive it. Read on to find out how to put your feelings into words and make someone's day truly special -- not only in the days leading up to Valentine's Day, but whenever the impulse strikes.

Love Letters

I am pleased to announce that of all the letter requests I've received on my Web site, love letters are the highest in demand. I expected apology letters to be number one -- or even breakup letters -- but no, love letters conquer all. Admittedly, I was surprised yet ecstatic because it made me feel that all is well with the universe. There are plenty of people walking around in love and looking for new ways of saying old things.

When I first launched I received an immediate outpouring of support from my family and friends. Though I think most of them thought, What is she doing? The first two considerate acknowledgements came from my cousin Jennifer and her husband, Graham. Thoughtful gestures come naturally to these two and they both touched base with me unaware that the other was doing so. Jennifer sent my Web link to her friends and colleagues and gave me their feedback. Meanwhile, Graham took on the much-appreciated responsibility of being my first customer by requesting an eighth-anniversary letter for his lovely wife.

Practicing on people I know was an ideal way for me to get my feet wet. It also helped that Jennifer is an easy person to write a love letter for, since she gives people no choice but to admire her. She attended Boston College with the intention of being an English teacher but changed her mind and made getting an MBA from Harvard Business School appear effortless. She then went on to be a full-force woman in Manhattan's old-boys-club financial world and somehow found time to bear three children (all boys!). On top of this she happens to be a knockout -- a blue-eyed, wide smile, she-couldn't-possibly-have-three-children knockout. Upon receipt, Jennifer obviously knew I wrote the following letter. But she also knew that Graham wouldn't dispute any of it and appreciated, no doubt, his motion of support toward me.

The Love Letter

May 2005

Dear Jennifer,

We went into this eight years ago knowing to expect the unexpected, and we certainly haven't been disappointed. As far as life's surprises go, I'm still amazed at the way you balance our marriage, your career, and loving our boys with beauty and grace. You've accomplished so much since we first met, and I'm so proud to have participated in your three greatest accomplishments with you. I'm even prouder to know that our sons are being raised by a bright, ambitious, and faithful woman who continues to set exceptional examples for them -- mothering three kings is no small task.

On a more selfish note, being seen with a slender, beautiful woman on my arm never EVER gets old. Thank you for embodying all things wonderful, and thank you for taking such good care of me. In other words, I love you. And, believe it or not, I love you more than I did when we first got married.

There's still so much left for us to do, but I thought you might like to know (or be reminded anyway) that I'm your biggest fan. Thank you for taking this journey with me. Happy Anniversary.

Your not-so-secret admirer, husband, and friend, Graham

Be Specific

Imagine, if you will, a room -- a gathering -- of all your old flames. I mean all of them -- Gina from the fourth grade, Chris the sophomore soccer player, and hot, handsome Joe from last night. Now, let the sheer terror of this situation roll off your back -- it's just a daydream. Let's say that at some point you wrote love letters to all of them, and they are now going to stand in a circle and, one by one, read your letters aloud. My question is: Do your letters all say the same thing? Do you jump from relationship to relationship carrying with you the same compliments, the same romantic turns of phrase, the same run-of-the-mill repertoire?

If you do, then don't. You've got a new and exciting person in front of you and they deserve new and exciting tokens of appreciation as unique as they are. Grant each person a version of your love that no one else will ever have access to. Even though things won't always work out, each relationship is significant and special in its own right and should be treated as such. Let this be reflected in your letters. So that if you ever did end up in the scary circle scenario it wouldn't be as awkward. With every letter read it would be clear that you noted and highlighted everyone's individual eccentricities. It would flatter them all to know they possess affections from you that no one else has ever or will ever receive.

I'll be the first to proclaim that there is no formula for love letters. Close your eyes and feel is the best advice I can give, but if you need help kick-starting the process, here are a few suggestions:

How to Start The first sentence of just about any written work is always the hardest. It is, however, slightly easier with love letters because there's no introduction required -- you can get right to the point. One quick sentence and you're good to go. Try starting with a sense of urgency, "There's something very important that I need to tell you." Confessing a state of helplessness -- both mentally and physically -- also works well, "I'm sitting here unable to focus and barely able to breathe, as thoughts of you are taking on a life of their own."

Bring on the Adjectives Make a list of all the things you adore about the other person. For example: Bright, thoughtful, driven, daring, beautiful, breathtaking, I-can't-stop-looking-at-you! You get the idea. Then use this list to craft the letter. Wrap a few sentences around each word. Like so: (Adjective = striking) "You know I didn't hear a word Chuck said when we were at his party because you were in that baby blue dress and everywhere I turned I could see you out of the corner of my eye. My God, you're a striking woman."

Disguise Your Letter Camouflaging love letters as thank-you letters always gets a good response. Thank them for the things they do, "Thank you for washing my car last weekend." But also thank them for things they have little to no control over: "Thank you for making every day a truly unique experience -- you are an unending mystery." Or "Thank you for looking so radiant when you first wake up. The sight of you is the perfect start to all my days."

Ask Questions I find that clever, rhetorical questions work well as a flattering technique: Could you be any sexier? Could I look any better being seen with you? Could you be any sweeter? How could I possibly stop myself from falling for you?

Take Note of the Time Pointing out the length of a relationship is an effective tool. If you've been together for a short time, write "I can't believe my feelings have grown so strong in only four months." If you've been together forever, then that certainly deserves a nod: "Well, would you look at that? After thirty years I think it's safe to say we beat the odds."

Fake 'Em Out Please, forgive the reference I'm about to make: There's a Michael Bolton song, "Said I Loved You...But I Lied," which sounds harsh, but the lyrics continue, "Said I loved you, but I lied. 'Cause this is more than love I feel inside." This misleading concept translates well to letters. You could write something like, "You, for some reason, find it necessary to distract me from work and from volleyball on a regular basis. Thank you so much for doing that."

Counteract the Cliches There are common compliments that we all need to hear -- pretty eyes, lips, hair, naturally good-looking, talented, smart, funny, etc. Of course use these, but try to use them in a fresh way. Play with the words -- it's fun. Well, I think it's fun. Instead of writing "You have beautiful eyes," try "I'm helpless in the presence of your electric eyes." Instead of "I love your smile," try something like "Your smile is my favorite distraction."

For Better or for Worse Every relationship has its sore spots. Some spots are huge issues and others are minor irritations that you eventually learn to laugh about. I suggest using the latter in your love letters. Let them know you love them with all their imperfections attached. For example: "You are still my favorite person, despite the pile of trash that always seems to be at my feet when I ride shotgun."

Role Reversal Think of a few compliments that your love may not be used to hearing because of their sex. You can tell a woman you admire her for her strength, courage, determination, and bulging biceps (okay, maybe not that last one). And I'm a firm believer that every man deserves to be told at least once in his life how beautiful he is, especially by the one who loves him.

Have Fun You're not in trouble. They're not in trouble. There is no trouble. There is only satisfaction and delight. If you find yourself sitting down to write a love letter, congratulations! You're in love, and that is a good place to be (unless you're writing a love letter for someone who does not feel the same way).

Details, Details, Details

Signing Off

Yours through time and eternity, Civil War General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) ended a love letter to his wife, Elizabeth, this way.

Always, with undying love, yours, An affectionate ending from Irish poet Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) to Lord Alfred Douglas in 1893.

Lover, Lover, Darling, Signed by Zelda Sayre (1900-1948) to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the spring of either 1919 or 1920.

Always, You could also try, "always" by itself. This is a favorite of mine -- one simple word that says a great deal.

With (something), With love, with admiration, with adoration, with endless devotion.

Love, Simple, yet always effective.

Love and luck, A cute way to end a platonic love letter. I saw this at the Country Music Hall of Fame -- a Patsy Cline (1932-1963) letter on display. It was a one-and-a-half-page, handwritten letter to one of her fans. Now that's a grateful celebrity! On a side note, one of Patsy's albums was entitled Sentimentally Yours (1962).


In love letters it is the words and the emotions supporting those words that are the stars of the show, so you're welcome to take grammatical liberties. Keep in mind that grammar is a tool used to make thoughts come across as clearly as possible and also to insert spoken-word inflections into the written word. So don't set grammar aside to the point where some of your sentiments are lost.

I once dated a man who would e-mail me and consistently misuse all of his homophones (words pronounced alike but different in spelling and meaning). He'd tell me he got stuck outside in the pooring rain, or he'd ask weather or not my interview went well. Truthfully, this boy blue my mind and I, of coarse, was so taken with him that I found his mistake absolutely adorable. So again, grammatical inconsistencies in love letters are easily forgiven and oftentimes endearing.

How to Send

Whether handwritten or typed, my vote here is that the letter ends up on paper -- something to hold on to. I have no problem with typed letters because they'll take on a nostalgic charm of their own someday. I find old letters written via clunky typewriters as enchanting as a lover's poor penmanship. When it comes to delivery, the element of surprise is important. Slip it into a startling spot -- the kitchen table, the lunch bag, the driver's seat. I think it'd be fun to hand it to them before they get in the shower. If you're away from your love for a while, then you have the perfect opportunity to do it the old-fashioned way and mail it. That being said, I fully understand that love lends to many out-of-control moments, so if you can't wait and you must send your sentiments immediately, then e-mail away. Who am I to stop love in motion?

If You Receive a Love Letter

Be grateful and enjoy. Certainly let your enthusiast know you received the letter and how much it means to you (I hear sexual favors are widely accepted as a thank-you), but I wouldn't return with a giant gesture right away. That implies that you're doing it because they did it first, and love letters are most effective when given out of the blue.

One very sweet moment in great 1980s cinema comes at the end of Flashdance -- Nick is waiting outside for Alex after her big dance audition and hands her a bouquet of roses. She takes one of the flowers out of the bunch and hands it back to him. The moral here is, return a big gesture with a small one. Then wait your turn to surprise them with an equally moving love letter when they least expect it.

Great Expectations

'Tis true that I emphasize the element of surprise in giving love letters, but I realize that's impossible on certain occasions. There are designated days -- Valentine's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. -- when your significant other is harboring high expectations for an amorous gesture. The good news is, there are infinite ways to put new twists on old words and actions. If you always deliver glorious gifts, then catch your love off guard by adding some length and thought to the card -- or giving a card for the first time if you usually don't. If you're a frequent card giver then try highlighting a few details about the other person that you have noticed but never mentioned, or stress your favorite features in a way you never have before.

You could also resort to a humorous approach as my ex-boyfriend-still-very-good-friend, Jesse, did a few years ago. He bought me a "You're a Nice Cousin" card for Valentine's Day. It was clever and much appreciated. FYI: His nickname for me used to be "Noodle." Let there be no mystery to this nickname -- I bear a striking resemblance to a long, skinny strand of pasta.


My Dearest Noodle,

I thought this card was hilarious. I bet they don't sell many "I love you cousin" cards on V. day, except maybe in West Virginia. Anyway, I am sitting here foolishly trying to capture my feelings for you in this card. If I had a thousand cousins in love cards, I couldn't describe my feelings for you.

I can only express to you that this has been the best year of my life. You are the most engaging person I have ever met. You continue to impress me and make me fall in love with you every time we are together. I am closer to you than I have been with anyone on this earth. You are my best friend, lover, entertainment, obsession, solace, comfort, object of my most intense desire and owner of my heart. And for that, I will love you forever. Happy Valentine's Day!

Love always, Your Jesse

Crush Confessions

I've had a handful of people write me and say they're dating someone new and want to send a letter confessing their interest and intrigue but fear coming on too strong. Initially, this was difficult for me because I tend to play no-holds-barred when writing about feelings, but a little self-discipline never hurts. After enough of these requests I dubbed this type of letter the "crush confession." It's the little sister of the love letter -- a breezy note telling that you're standing on comfortable ground and anticipate an onset of stronger feelings.

A good way to start these is to get it all out and write everything you feel. Yes, I said everything. Next, take out your red pen and edit away. Remove everything that fits into the "coming on too strong" category -- be optimistic and save it for later. Then send along your watered-down declaration. The following crush confession is the summation of a few that I've written:

Dear Chris,

I wanted to drop you a quick note and come clean about something. I have admired you for all the time we've known each other, but I am really enjoying getting to know you in this new romantic context. One of my favorite things to do is be myself, and it's nice to spend time with someone who makes that so easy.

I look forward to hearing more of your travel stories and spending an obscene amount of time kayaking, which I'm so glad you enjoy as much as I do. You have such a welcoming air around you and I didn't want you to think it went unnoticed on my part. I know we're taking things slow, as we should because we've both been burned before, but I thought you might like to know how much fun I'm having.

Yours, Karla

If You Receive a Crush Confession

Crush confessions are great for a status check. If you're dating someone and they hand over one of these, then they're telling you that they think you're a good catch and are gearing up to move forward. If you receive a crush confession and feel the exact same way then I suggest you put this book down and go kayaking. If you do not feel the same way, it's courteous to tell them that -- lest they fall any further. I know it seems obvious but all too often people are flattered by the idea that someone likes them and they think, I'll see what happens, rather than admit they don't share the same mind-set. Whoever wrote the letter gave you fair warning about their feelings and you should return the favor. If you decide to write your response to them it could go something like this:

Dear Karla,

Thank you so much for your very thoughtful note. You are absolutely the best kayaking partner I've ever had, and I too, have enjoyed our time together. That makes this more difficult to say, but I think you should know that I'm not on the exact same page as you. Our romantic endeavor crept up on me, and I wasn't fully prepared for all that it would entail. My uncertainty is not your problem, and I don't want it to become your problem. With that in mind I think it's best to put the brakes on this. I can explain further if you'd like, but I'd rather do so in person. If I've misled and disappointed you, I apologize.


Remember Mom

Don't reserve love letters solely for the people you love erotically; they equally affect the people you love platonically. And since love letters are seldom expected in a friend/family relationship, with the exception of special occasions, you're almost always guaranteed to catch them completely off guard when you deliver. The same rules in writing these love letters apply -- obviously you're just going to leave the romance out.

I know a woman who writes letters in a journal to her young daughter. In the days leading up to the child's birth she expressed her uncontrollable enthusiasm about how she couldn't wait to meet her. Then she told her all the details of her birthday and what it was like to bring her home from the hospital. I imagine she keeps this going with big moments such as walking, talking, first day of school etc. And what a wonderful gift this book of letters will be to present to her daughter for sweet sixteen or graduation day.

My sister once surprised me with a love letter. We were sitting on the beach -- I was reading and she was writing in her journal, or so I thought. As we walked back to the house she handed me a note. I had no idea what it was. Turns out, it was one of the most beautiful love letters I've ever received, and I'll cherish it always:

Circa 2000

To Whom It May Concern (Her birth name is Samara): I have so many dreams and so much passion that I don't truly know how to express. Sometimes I think it's artistic passion, but I never really try to be artsy. Sometimes I think it's sexual passion, but you're my sister and that doesn't involve you. My basic point is that I want you to know you are an inspiration to me. Your honesty is refreshing, your inner beauty is inspiring, while your outer, breathtaking.

Although, speaking of honesty, I must admit at times I want to staple your mouth closed, but that is the joy of sisterhood. You are the only person in the world who shares my blood while caring enough to pick my brain for creative specks.

You know me, and not many people do. Thank you for that. For persevering through our younger days and achieving our current standing.

With hope and awe, Lynn


For more about letter writing, go to

Reprinted from "For the Love of Letters" by Samara O'Shea. Copyright 2007 HarperCollins Publishers.

Originally published on, January 2008.