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From Journal to Memoir: Creating Character Through Unsent Letters

From Journal to Memoir: Creating Character Through Unsent Letters

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Published by Random House Inc.
In this multipart series, Biographile and Dr. Rita Jacobs, PhD, will walk you through finding the inspiration and motivation to start – and keep – a journal, and will later offer some approaches to transforming journal entries into memoir.
In this multipart series, Biographile and Dr. Rita Jacobs, PhD, will walk you through finding the inspiration and motivation to start – and keep – a journal, and will later offer some approaches to transforming journal entries into memoir.

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Published by: Random House Inc. on Oct 11, 2012
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05/13/2014

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 Editor's Note: In this multipart series, Biographile and Dr. Rita Jacobs, PhD, will walk you through finding the inspiration and motivation to start 
and keep
a journal, and will later offer some approaches totransforming journal entries into memoir. In part five of this series, Dr. Jacobs moves on to the topic of getting unstuck in your writing in anunconventional way.  See earlier posts in the From Journal to Memoir
 
 
 dealt with dialogue so it makes sense to me to move tomonologue this week. Of course, many of us see monologue as a standup
routine, maybe a rant or a lecture or even a tirade. But given that you’ve
 warmed up with dialogue, I like to look at monologue in a journal as theclassic letter not sent. Of course this could be a rant
like the letter you would write to the boss who has dressed you down or criticized you unfairly 
or it could be a list of the hurt feelings you have after a friend has, youfeel, mistreated you. And these are perfectly acceptable letters to write and
 
probably not send, despite the Chinese proverb that says “Never write aletter while you are angry.”
 But a letter, a real letter like the ones people wrote before e-mail andtexting became our ubiquitous modes of communication, takes intoconsideration the idea that the reader is truly receptive and reactive, maybenot as a participant in the writing but surely in understanding theemotional effect and perhaps intent of the letter. As the writer Elizabeth
Drew has said, “It takes two to write a letter as much as it takes two to makea quarrel. “
 This means that every letter is thoughtful and complex in its own way.
Moreover, the letter truly captures the writer’s voice as well as the writer’s
 vision and characterization of the correspondent. A letter has a sense of audience and a sense of purpose even if it will not be dropped in a mailboxand sent.
“Writer’s voice” is something that writing teachers talk about a lot and
something that all writers find elusive at varying moments and sometimesfor a long time.
What is my voice? 
and
 Is it something natural orcreated? 
are two of the most often asked questions. There is no easy answer
to this, but voice is most easily accessed when we are “speaking” to one who
 brings out the best in us or who we feel really understands what we mean.For a letter writer, the recipient of the letter, whether alive or dead, real orimagined (fiction writers use this technique to get to know their characters)must be clearly delineated in our minds before we can begin to write aneffective and affecting letter.I had the extraordinary experience of writing a letter in my journal to acolleague who died too young. I felt that I had never told him what hisfriendship meant to me, so I wrote a long letter detailing his qualities,reminding him of funny or telling moments and letting him know how much he meant to so many people. I was relieved and exhilarated at havingspent this time with him very present in my mind. And
since I couldn’t send
the letter to him, I sent it to his wife, who was thrilled to see him through
another’s eyes.
 

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