For 2018 Nanowrimo, a writer friend of mine decided she was going to do something different for her project; she wrote letters. She picked people she loved, people she resented, people who hurt her and she wrote every single one a letter. And then with a private website and password, she invited the people who’s letters she had written if they wanted to read them. She also invited them to respond, if they’d like, no matter what she’d written.
I was a little unsurprised I had a letter.
We had roleplayed for years together, discussed many creative topics, but along the way there were other things too, and I had no idea what she had in store for me. I considered shortening these to a few key phrases and decided not to, because it would devalue the letter.
I would also like to ask that you read all the through, because at the end I’m going to ask something of you.
Where do I begin? You’ve been such a huge influence on my life that the task of summarising it all in a letter, while simultaneously giving each section the time and attention it deserves, is a little daunting. It doesn’t help that you’re a fellow author. Maybe that’s where I should start.
You are, without a doubt, the first woman I’ve ever known personally that I have looked up to. That might sound harsh given that my mother exists, but that relationship is what it is. I lover her, but I don’t admire her. I admire your writing ability, but more than that, I admire your storytelling ability. They sound related, and to an extent they are, but they’re also vastly different. I am proud to say that the tattoo running down your back is, in my opinion, an apt description. Writers put words on the page. Sometimes they do it for themselves, sometimes they do it at the behest of others, but overall that is all they are paid to do. Storytellers bring words to life. Whether written or spoken, storytellers use words to bring others into another world. Storytellers are empaths and hypnotists. They steal you away from your own world and put you in someone else’s head. You are all of that and more.
Your co-workers might have called you ‘Wikipedia’, but you know what? Fuck them. Not because they’re obviously jealous of the wealth of knowledge that incredible brain of yours can hold, but because you need that knowledge. Being called Wikipedia isn’t an insult, it’s an achievement. What use is an ignorant writer? None, to anybody. Wikipedia is the repository of human knowledge about our universe. Each page of each novel you write is another entry in yours. I’m more than simply astounded by your incredible wit and knowledge, I’m jealous. You seem to know such a variety of information about every subject, and you won’t stop using it to worm your way out of every damn situation I throw at you as a GM.
I knew from that start you’d be a nightmare player to deal with, and I was absolutely right. I looked at every problem, every conflict, from multiple angles before I let you loose on them. Yet you still managed to outsmart me every time. There was always some legal loophole you knew about, or a trick with casement windows. Your personal repository of information is more than impressive, it’s downright unfair. It’s the entire reason I keep meaning to read more of your books. I’m more than a little ashamed about the fact that I never get around to it. I must have read the first five chapters of Hidden Monastery four or five times now. Life just keeps getting in the way.
I might be shockingly terrible at keeping up with your books, but I think I might have finally figured out why. As incredible as it would be to read your stories, to go visit the world that exists only in the Last Prophecy series, why would I ever settle for reading? Why would I read someone else’s account, listen to their adventure, when I have been an active protagonist in your story and fought your villains head on? Why read about anything you can go visit yourself?
I might not have been all that successful at times, and I had an almost comical habit of getting kidnapped (I still blame you for that. I’ll get my revenge somehow, someday.) but I have never felt more awesome and powerful. It was like living the most coherent and clever lucid dream. I don’t know if I could ever replace that magic with the written word. Or, maybe I’m a selfish little shit who doesn’t devote nearly enough time to supporting her friend’s projects. Obviously, I like my version better.
You are, without a doubt, the older sibling I never had. Maybe it’s because you have sisters of your own, but you seem so adept at guiding me through life. I never had anyone like that growing up. I had my mum, of course, but she’s always had her own problems to deal with, whether it be her mental or physical health. I don’t blame her for not being available, but I do sometimes wish I’d had older friends around that I could have looked up to instead. Well, I guess better late than never.
In the past, I’ve been the ones my friends came to for advice. I don’t know why. Maybe back then I talked a lot less, made me seem like I was a good listener. I still am a good listener, I just don’t have as many people around who are comfortable about opening up. I’m glad I’ve had you around to open up to. I know, for the most part, it tends to be for writing advice, but even then you could have told me to bugger off and you never do. You’re always there to help, no matter what it is or how busy you are.
There’s one incident in particular I should probably call to your attention, because I think your advice and perspective was what finally woke me up to what was going on. A few years ago I talked to you about some of the problems Lauren was dealing with. One of our mutual friends was making her feel miserable, and after talking to you I realised he was also being abusive. I thought he was just a self-obsessed idiot who couldn’t see her point of view. It wasn’t until a year later that I realised the situation was so much worse. I obviously won’t go anymore into that because it’s Lauren’s business, but I would have stayed blind if it weren’t for you.
To carry on from that, my experience with Lauren’s situation, and the advice you gave me then, helped prepare me for my own. Another letter in this book tells that story. Which I suppose I’ll have to trust you to read because you’ve never judged be before now… (Who am I kidding? You’re going to smack me and call me an idiot… but then you’ll probably name an RPG villain after him and let me kill him, so it will be fine in the end.) Anyway, there’s not much point in repeating it here. What I will say, though, is that it’s incredible how difficult it is to perceive these things from the inside. It took distance and a whole lot of perspective to realise what that person was doing to me. I don’t think I’d ever have figured it out without the variety of examples you provided me with when I was talking to you over Skype that day. And without the self-confidence you’ve restored in me, I don’t know if I could have stood up to fight any of those battles.
More than just an incredible storyteller and advice-giver, though, you are my friend. I value that more than all of the rest combined. Those features are what make you an incredible example of a human being, an overachiever, someone the world should know about. They’re not why I love having you in my life so much. I haven’t even begun to cover your compassion, humour and vulnerability yet. Oh yes, we’re going through all of that still. I’ve got at least another five hundred words to wax lyrical about you. I’m not going to waste them.
I’ve talked a little about this already when I mentioned receiving advice from you, but I feel the topic does beg its own paragraph. On top of everything else, you are an astoundingly kind woman. I don’t think a lot of people realise it at first because they get too intimidated by your powerful personality. Anyone who does get close enough, however, can see the heart inside the oncoming storm. (Yes, I did just compare you to the Doctor. You are the only person I could ever find worthy of that comparison. I mean, come on… the knowledge of all these concepts completely alien to me, taking me on wild adventures, talking your way out of just about any problem but being more than willing to fight when it comes down to it? I just have one request. Don’t make me be Amy Pond.) Someone who can get as angry as you do about things could only do that by feeling an incredible amount of love.
You’ve demonstrated this quality to me countless times, so it’s not like anyone just needs to take my word for it. You took me, and especially Emily, under your wing right from the start. Like a mama lioness you were ready to defend us against the world if we needed it. We rarely did, or we let ourselves think we didn’t, but I want you to know the effort is always appreciated. So is telling us that, day or night, if we ever ended up stranded or in trouble we were to call you rather than suffer. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had someone I could rely on like that.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a true exploration of the wonders of your personality without your sense of humour. For someone so clever and confident you tell jokes like a cheeky schoolgirl who’s just realised the teacher isn’t looking. You laugh like you’re just happy to be part of the group. Sometimes it makes me wonder if you used to be just like me, and then through some incredible power of metamorphosis you managed to turn into a superhero.
Just like a good superhero, sometimes you really do seem invulnerable, beyond human. You do too good a job of holding yourself up, pretending everything is fine. Even through all the stress you’ve dealt with over the past few years, and the heartbreak of losing your father-in-law, you carry on like it’s nothing. Maybe it’s because I don’t see you often enough to see that side of you, or maybe it’s because only Lucas and your close family get to see it. Either way, to me you are invulnerable and immortal. Occasionally I read posts about you crying, or you tell me about it yourself, and it just seems impossible. Of course, I know you’re human. I’ve just talked about the incredible capacity of your heart. I guess I fall too easily into looking at you as someone incapable of showing weakness.
Next time you visit those of us you left behind on Earth when you ascended to godhood, I’m sure everything will be exactly the same as it once was. I have no doubt that we’ll pick up exactly where we left off the last time we spoke, discussing novel ideas, roleplaying plans, and the infuriating reality of being a woman in the modern world. I’ll enjoy teasing you about your overused turns of phrase (Get it? Turns!) and you can wind me up about that time when, supposedly, drunk me tried to lay claim on your husband. At least I know your relationship is secure enough that both of you can continue to wind me up about that. (I almost died the first time he came to give me a lift and said, “I’m here, honey.”)
It’s incredible how big an impact you have had on my life. I’m so fortunate to have you in it, eternally blessed by your friendship every day that it lasts. And I have no doubt that it will last many, many more. It would take a miraculous feat of stupidity for me to somehow lose your friendship, and I don’t think even I’m capable of pulling it off. So I guess we’re stuck with each other for the foreseeable future – me with your infuriating intelligence and you with my peculiar penchant for wanting to date your villains.
All my love,
It was Christmas Day that I read this letter.
I was blown away. The day had actually been a very ordinary day for me, and this was by far one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever received. I sat staring at the screen, disbelief o the tip of my tongue. To add to it, another friend of mine came along and said to me that I’d been there during a very dark time, that I was incredibly kind, and that I had helped them a lot. He doesn’t normally say these things, not quite so eloquently, and in such detail, and I couldn’t believe how many years had passed and he hadn’t said a thing, but wanted to now.
I didn’t believe it. I was sitting there, unable to deny or escape the truth of what these two wonderful people where saying about me. I was crying, this can’t be true, this isn’t true. It threatened to shred away so many doubts, so I showed my husband, asking why I was sitting there on Christmas day blubbering like an idiot. He just said; well of course its true, they wrote it.
And it was only fair to respond in kind, to tell Lorna how important she was to me. To make sure my friend knew that he’d been there for me too. So I wrote letters back, especially to Lorna, and after I’d given it a lot of thought, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
Dear Lorna Honey, (sorry, couldn’t be helped),
I was wordless. For weeks. I kept coming back to this and wondering over and over how was I ever to respond? You have beyond humbled me, and at first I thought I did not deserve such praise.
Reading through the letter again, I have a response for every paragraph, every sentence, every word.
I can’t not, so I’ll take you down a memory I don’t think you ever saw.
I started writing books as a little girl, and go figure it was Disney princesses with no prince, I loved Aurora and the Wicked Queen’s evilness (indicative much?). I read Enid Blyton and made my own Faraway Tree in my head. And in a very big way I have one very special woman to thank for that. I know your mother has had her challenges in life, and she’s not necessarily into the same things as you, but I was lucky in that regard.
My mother read aloud to us all the time. Nearly ever night. I can’t count the books she’s read to us, it’s a library full of them. Hundreds at the very least, Lord of the Rings twice, and I boast about that but it also doesn’t express how rich my childhood was with fiction. I devoured books, and when we moved to a big city I found Goosebumps and horror in my local library. When I hit my teens not even my father’s books where safe, and one bored afternoon I picked up Terry Pratchett because the covers were weird. I think I tore through them all in a matter of days. I read to Kill a Mocking Bird in one night at school, and the teacher had us open our books to start reading in class the next day and I put my hand up and said I’d already read it. She didn’t believe me, until I threatened to tell the ending to the class. She looked flustered, didn’t know what to do, to her it was just a book, but it wasn’t to me. All my classmates stared at me, and that’s when I knew I was different. Truly different. It was the first time I was okay with that, and I was already fifteen.
After that, my weird reading and writing quirks were made a mockery of by most of my year level, and it made me a much different person than the one you know now, for a very long time.
Yes, in some ways I think we were a lot alike, and I wish there was some sort of clock where I could reset time and have gone to school with you, because I like to think we could have been besties. Because all the while you were complimenting me in that letter, you talked about times that were so dark and hopeless for me. Running those games was one of the few things that grounded me, and I am SO very glad you two walked into my games. You talk about my confidence, and I have to tell you the first time I walked into game shack I hid behind Lucas. I’m not good at making new friends.
But when we all sat down together, that game just worked. It was by far one of the most magical roleplaying experiences, but come to think of it, most of the games we’re in weren’t just amazing because of me, and as the saying goes it takes two to tango.
I saw so much of myself in you at first, and then I realised how horrendously wrong that was. At your age I was alternatively shy, confrontive, aggressive, and superior with my knowledge. I didn’t know how else to be because I was always ostracised for being me.
Yet there you were, doing you, with far more kindness and compassion than I had at your age.
And I’ll tell you the biggest secret of all. I envy you.
I wish I’d made your choices, I wish I’d been braver, I wish I’d started this journey sooner, and not wasted all that time and energy on fruitless things that didn’t matter.
You are such a beautifully complex person that no Dr’s companion does you justice, you’ll be a doctor in your own right one day.
Because I’ve seen you plan, I’ve seen you set your sights on what you want, and I know that you’re going to make it. It might not feel like it, but you are doing all the right/write things. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).
My experience might have overwhelmed you at first, but I’ve got a lot of years on you, and I suspect by the time you get here your knowledge will far outshine mine, but most importantly, your achievements.
So now to the hard part.
I didn’t read the other letters. I didn’t have to. I knew there was something going on you weren’t telling me. And I’m sorry I was wrapped up in other things and couldn’t be there for you. That is all.
I have always tried to answer yours and Emily’s questions carefully, and with the due consideration they deserved, knowing, or at least hoping, that you would make the right choices. I was never afraid for you because even if you made the wrong one, you would still get through it, because you are unbreakable. Bend perhaps, sway maybe, but I don’t believe you can ever be torn down.
You will never be judged by me for mistakes you have made or decisions you regret, because I have all those and more in spades. And you’ll keep making them, friends, family, lovers, there are a host of bad decisions out there waiting for you. You’ll make them in anger, and frustration, and perhaps regret. But this is the way it is. This is where my experience comes from. Kindness is not an innate talent one naturally takes unless you are already predisposed to be like that. Kindness, compassion, and support are learned because you have suffered, you’ve seen it, and you want it to stop.
You will never be able to fix every problem. Finish every story. Read every book.
Things will slip and slide, life will get in the way.
I have weakness as do you, but we have strengths too.
You are so very brave. I was so proud of you when you finished your degree. More than you will ever know. I thought to myself; she did what you always wanted to, what you should have done. I should have followed that little girl’s dreams of being a writer, and instead I believed I needed to get a degree to get a job.
And here you are, getting a degree in writing, conquering Nanowrimo ingeniously, working on your creatively talents with the relentless pursuit I can only admire, and envy.
You fight standards and expectations and forge your own, you are a warrior in your own right. You are a dancer with words and expression, a fire I want to see burn on until I am gone. You are the person I wanted to be, and so if anything you said about me rings true, know that I see it in you.
I hope one day a young woman, bright and intelligent, writes you a letter like that, so you understand what a profound difference you’ve made on my life.
Never give up on you, because you are so beautiful inside, and you have so much yet I hope to see.
With all the love in the world,
Afterwards I decided that I needed to do something more. I couldn’t just let these letters lie, I needed to spread Lorna’s message, about how much we admire and love other people and you never know when that’s going to tear down walls of lies inside a persons own mind, or give them the courage to keep going, or save their life.
So I’m asking you to do it. Write someone a letter, with all the words of a creator, a sorcerer over a cauldron concocting fairy tales and stories among the stars, write a letter to someone who needs your magic.
To another author you admire, a painter who you love, and it doesn’t matter if they are famous or not, a person you’ve met in real life or not. Write them a letter. Tell them what you meant to them. There is not enough love and caring in this world and if you can take the time to read this far then please, take the time to tell someone else how important they are to you. You will never ever know how desperately they need to hear it.
One response to “Letters To Writers”
I’m currently a little bit obsessed with letter in my writing. I think they’ll play a central character in my novel (which is at the shambolic, random scribblings in scraps of paper and 10,000 words of nonsense on my computer.)