Letter Writing as a Reflective Practice

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I have found there is something magical about putting pen to paper and writing your truth. I find this to be especially the case when writing in letter format. I’ve always been a highly reflective person, in my personal life, as well as in my professional practices. As a teacher-in-training, a supervisor praised me on my reflective practice and thought it made me a better teacher and student because I was always willing to look at all angles of a situation and learn from it. Throughout my many years of therapy, I have practiced reflection in so many areas of my life that it’s just now just a part of me and how I move through my life and process the experiences I’m having.

In many different situations, I have used reflection as a way to learn. Whether that was learning to become a better teacher, learning how to make the programs I designed better, or learning more about myself. I believe that reflective practices can be so insightful and teach us so much. In recent years, I have brought these reflective practices more into my life documentation in the form of reflective letter writing. These are often letters I’ve written to myself or others in my life as a response to experiences, feelings, or events.

Letter writing is a great format for reflection because letters are one of the most personal forms of writing and reflection is a highly personal and subjective practice. Marrying these two practices has changed the way I write overall. I see this most in the journaling within my scrapbooks where my writing has become more intentional and reflective, including more of my thoughts and feelings around a particular memory or event, versus just delivering factual information of who, what, when, and where. In older projects, anyone could have written the journaling, as it was not specific to my own experiences, however, in my more recent projects, there is much more of my own voice and more of me in my journaling. It’s more intimate, and that feels like a good thing.

After my husband and I were both let go from our job of 7 years without reason, I struggled a lot to wrap my head around all the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. There was also a lot of misunderstanding from colleagues and my community on what had happened and some mistruths flying around out there. I needed a way to feel like I had some ownership over the truth of the matter and a way to process all the feelings, so I wrote a letter. My letter wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular, but the process of writing it allowed me to document the truth of the matter and share my feelings and thoughts openly. I didn’t send this letter to anyone, but I included it in our annual scrapbook as a layout and paired it with a photo of us taken on our last day there. This practice had a tremendous effect on me! I felt lighter and more empowered after writing that letter, as if by writing out my truth it saved me from feeling like a victim. It was incredible!

I wrote a letter to myself to process all the thoughts and feelings I had about taking big risks, being brave, and making moves to start my own creative brand. This letter actually changed my life. This practice of reflecting on significant moments and writing a letter in response has added so much value to my life and I just can’t get enough!

This week, I’d like to encourage you to write your own letter – to yourself or anyone else – reflecting on something recent in your life. To help you do so, I’ve written out a process for writing a reflective letter.

5 Steps to Writing a Reflective Letter

  1. Choose a significant moment, event, feeling, experience, or thought from recent memory as a topic for your letter.
  2. Select a recipient of your letter. This does not have to be a letter you will actually send to anyone! The recipient can be yourself, a child, a partner, a fictional character, a stranger, your boss – anyone.
  3. Take a few minutes to think about the topic of your letter. Ask yourself some of the following questions to generate your thoughts and feelings on the matter.
    • What does this experience (thought, feeling, event, moment, etc.) mean to you?
    • What have you learned from this experience?
    • How does this experience make you feel?
    • If the topic of your letter is a thought or feeling – why do you think this? what makes you feel this way?
    • What would you like to remember about this? What would you like to forget about this?
    • Is there an overall message or guiding thought you’d like to attach to this experience?
  4. Start your letter with, “Dear…”. Address the recipient of your letter with love and a gentle touch. Yes, even if this letter is to yourself or someone who has hurt or upset you.
  5. Begin writing, reflecting as you go and following where your heart leads you with your letter. Write your letter to express your thoughts, ideas, and feelings openly, honestly, and without judgement. In other words, say what you need to say.
  6. Optional: Do something with your letter. If you want to leave it in a journal, that’s completely fine. But, you can also pair it with a photo and use it in a scrapbook, send it to the intended recipient, read it aloud to someone, or destroy it by tearing it to shreds or burning it. All of these are legitimate ways to process or share your thoughts and feelings. And, remember, you don’t have to do any of those! You can put it somewhere only you know and keep it to yourself.

I’d love to hear from you if you take on this challenge! Please share in the comments below if you decide to write a reflective letter and how you felt after doing so. What surprised you about the process? What frustrated you? I look forward to hearing from you!

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