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Life Skill #14

How to write a love letter

This heartfelt task requires some effort, but the result is worth it

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Tribune Newspapers

February 6, 2013

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Sometimes, a sexy text message will not do. Sometimes, you must set pen to paper to confess your love in passionate prose — because, really, people don't do that enough anymore, and sometimes we need to hear it.

Yes, it takes effort. That's the point. Now seriously: Put down the greeting card. Don't you dare post your ode on a Facebook wall. Return to the romance of yesteryear, and craft a thoughtful love letter.

There are no strict rules to love-letter writing, no proof that "there is more sentiment to be harnessed focusing on the eyes instead of the thighs," said Brett Fletcher Lauer, co-editor of the anthology "Isn't it Romantic: 100 Love Poems by Younger American Poets" (Wave Books). But some strategies might help. Some guidance:

Degree of difficulty: A heartfelt task requires a certain amount of effort.

Materials needed: Nice stationery and a good pen.

Think about it. Take notes about what you want to say to your beloved. "A love letter, to me, is about distance and time," Lauer said, not something you fire off after contemplating it for 10 minutes.

Don't be intimidated. Unlike a poem, which is a work of art to be admired, a love letter is a personal communication between you and your beloved, "like leaving a voice mail," said Todd Boss, a poet who writes love poems on commission ($500 to $1,000, at toddbosspoet.com). "Don't worry so much about saying the right thing, just say the true thing."

Get personal. Ask yourself some questions to tease out what you want to say, Boss said. What do you value most about your relationship? What are you most glad for? What do you most hope for your relationship? If the person were gone from your life, what would you miss the most? If someone didn't know your beloved, how would you describe what is special about him or her?

Be specific. Focus on something small — a detail, a moment, a particular day — that represents how you feel about the person, Lauer said. Make a list of memories; you could borrow the idea of artist and writer Joe Brainard, whose book "I Remember" starts each sentence with "I remember ... "

Be authentic. Don't feel pressured to write with flowery, pastoral motifs or classic love language, Lauer said. No need to begin with "My dearest" or "My sweetest" or end with "Your affectionate," though that could be awesome. Love letters can reflect the contemporary world we live in.

Bare your soul. Be vulnerable, take risks, say things you've never said before, let it all hang out. Witness John Keats, in a letter to Fanny Brawne: "I cannot exist without you; I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again; my life seems to stop there — I see no further. You have absorbed me; I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving. I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you; I should be afraid to separate myself far from you."

Handwrite it. There are many beautiful stationery stores, so use them. Type a draft first, though, to avoid mistakes. Spray of perfume optional. If you have time, mail it.

Be creative. If you are having trouble writing your feelings, Lauer suggests making a collage of your notes or text messages to one another, or song lyrics or movie quotes that mean something to you. The point is that you put in the effort. "In the end, you know best," Lauer says, "and maybe your Google search for a heart-shaped pizza is your 21st century way of writing a love letter, but if you can make that heart-shaped pizza yourself, I would say you should at least try."

aelejalderuiz@tribune.com