Friday, September 9, 2011

Letters to Ourselves by Pam Hawley

Happy Friday! A few announcements before we get started.
1. Be sure to check TheBlueDuck link. It's just getting started; however, what's on there now is part of the United Front Against Boob Cancer. Which brings me to:
2. Look out for the United Front Against Boob Cancer page to be appearing soon. A few friends and family members are joining up in the fight against breast cancer.
3. Milestone party coming up! (Yay! Pretend pictures of ballons because I'm lazy!). That means a give away to anyone who leaves a comment during the month of September up until the 23rd. Incidently, the Friday before my birthday. I'll be at Lagoon. Kate Moir has graciously offered her serial killer photo series in 4X6 to the winner. Kate will be having an art showing at the Hive Gallery on October 7th. More details later. Remember if you want to win be sure to mention interest and leave an email address to be contacted at.

Onto the fun stuff! Today I have the pleasure of hosting Pam Hawley of Hawleyville.

Note: Usually, my List Guest Posts focus on the best ways to achieve goals in general and writing goals specifically. However, my life has been a whirlwind since our last round of guest posts, and I’ve been served a heaping helping of writer’s block. The good news is that experience has helped me reconnect with a more personal side of writing. Just about all I’ve been able to craft during this stressful period have been “letters to myself,” but that has helped me see the value in doing just that. So this week, I wanted to share my experiences with journaling through tough times, especially since my host Emily often talks about the struggle between life stressors and writing herself.

Like so many others, I've lost the feel of pen-to-paper over the years. It has been replaced by the clickety-clack of my keyboard. I actually find that my writer’s mind gets “clogged” when I try to write without technology. I can jot down notes or snippets of insight that I want to revisit later, but I can’t actually compose a finished piece without my trusty keyboard.

My writing habits have become a prime example of “use it or lose it.”

I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the past few weeks. When Hurricane Irene blew through my state, it left many of my friends and family without power for days. I was one of the lucky few who only experienced a flicker in terms of outages. But watching my parents live with the constant grumble of a generator in the background and having to choose between cold food or air conditioning made me realize that I’d be tempted to sacrifice both food and cool air for the sake of my computer. I am completely dependent on the darn thing if I want to be a wordsmith.

I’ve also been struggling with a bit of writer’s block. On top of the wacky weather, I work at a university, so the beginning of a new fall semester is always a crazy time of year. In late August and early September, I work an average of 60 hours a week and am constantly surrounded by others. I’m an introvert who is getting no downtime. That’s a recipe for disaster in terms of the writing goals.

At first, I just obsessed over how all this stress is keeping me away from my Life List Goals. When I did sit down at the keyboard, usually operating on only 3-4 hours of sleep, I’d frazzle myself to tears over the fact that nothing would come.

But then I remembered that when life gives us lemons, we Life Listers try our hardest to make lemonade. So instead of obsessing over my short-term inability to do any “polished” writing, I’m taking the opportunity to reconnect with my sloppy left-handed scrawl.

In my younger days, I wrote letters by the ton. High school notes to be folded and passed down an aisle of other students in the middle of class, or long rambling diatribes to my cousins who lived in other states. These were wonderfully freeing letters. I didn’t think about capturing the perfect metaphor or building up to an ideally placed witty one liner. These weren’t stories for publication or blog posts to be blasted across the internet. They were simple missives to friends, dashed off in the loopy handwriting of a teenage girl who had never touched a computer.

When I finished these letters, I always felt relieved and free, as if I’d cleared out some sort of space in my head. I miss that feeling.

I never write letters anymore. I dash off emails. I send texts. I update my Facebook status or post a blog entry. Since my family and friends have several online options for keeping up with my life, I really don’t have much to write to them about.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t write letters to myself.

In the last week or so, I’ve explored letter-writing as a way to reconnect to my creative energy. In a paper journal, I’ve dashed long and awkward scrawls, not worrying over sentence fragments or perfect phrasing. I’ve just let my pen flow with my brainwaves and do its best to keep up. I may only have five minutes here or there, but sometimes that is all that’s needed. Here are a few of the “letters to myself” I’ve scribbled:

- A letter to Irene, telling her why I think she sucks.

- A letter to me from the two main characters in my novel, letting me know what they’ve been doing while I haven’t been able to visit with them.

- A letter to me from my inner “coach,” reminding myself of all I HAVE accomplished in the face of chaos over the last few weeks. Another letter from my inner “critic,” where I just dumped out all the negativity I feel about getting behind.

Do these letters help me with my Life List Goals? Perhaps not directly, but what they have done is help purge some of the stress that is currently holding me back. They are helping me clear the debris from my head in much the same way homeowners all around me have been clearing downed limbs from their yards after storms.

I wanted to share this with fellow Life Listers and other writers because we all have these times in our lives. The circumstances may not be the same for everyone. For me, my road-block has been exhaustion and stress after a serious storm and an exceptionally chaotic time in the office. For others, these blocks may be medical issues, family troubles, or financial woes.

When you can’t write what you want, write something. Or do something else that sparks your creativity. Grab your camera and have a playful photo session. Draw, even if you think you can only do stick figures. Keep the line between you and your inner muse open, even if there is a little static.

For me, that connection to the muse has been these “letters to myself.” They will never be seen by anyone else, but they are my way of clearing out the debris so I can get my word-garden growing again.

What do you do when you’ve got a case of “life-induced writer’s block?”

Biographical Info:  Pam Hawley is a writer living in Baltimore, MD. When she’s not working at her day job, writing or in the gym, she can usually be found at her family’s pub, Hawley’s in Baltimore. So far, her new approach to achieving goals seems to be working – her first published short story, “A Wingding and a Prayer” appears in the July issue of eFiction Magazine. Pam blogs regularly at Hawleyville (


  1. Thanks for hosting me Emily! So looking forward to the Life Lister celebration on the 23rd!

  2. Wonderful ideas! Sometimes I write longhand and it really helps free up my creativity. Thanks for the suggestions.

  3. Pam, I love this post! I journal a lot and have written letters to myself too. I love this idea and think it may help me with my own WIP issues. I love the humor you used to get out of your writer's funk and get the pen rolling again! Kudos!

  4. I agree with this wholeheartedly, Pam. This is a huge motto for me and it literally gave me back my writing last December. Great letters!

  5. Pam- It was a pleasure hosting you. I loved this article.

  6. Thanks Jess! Humor is always what saves me and makes me get back up again. Jenny, knowing that you and Jess do this kind of thing too makes me certain that it is definitely a saving grace for writers! As long as we can write something, we're still in the game as strong contenders. Thank you Emily - it was great to post here!

  7. Pam, I love this idea! I have had the same writers block issues, and I also found writing in journal helped me ( similar enough to your letters) Great post!


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