Love Letters!

Cornell Writes! Tips from our community of writers is a digital newsletter sponsored by the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines and the Cornell University Graduate School.

Each week, a member of our writing community – a Graduate Writing ServiceEnglish Language Support Office, or Cornell Writing Centers tutor; a writing specialist from the Knight Institute; a writing instructor from our First-Year Writing Seminars or Writing in the Majors programs; maybe YOU – will share a writing strategy from their own writer’s toolkit. #writelikeabear

Contact Tracy Hamler Carrick with questions and ideas.

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Meet Tracy Carrick

Hello Cornell writers! My name is Tracy Carrick. I am a teacher, tutor, and director of the Knight Institute’s Writing Workshop and Graduate Writing Service. I am also a writer and editor. This week, I am responding to student writing and writing autobiographical materials.


Here is this week’s Writing Tip!

It is a Leap Year! 

I am celebrating this EXTRA February day by penning one more love letter.

In this love letter to myself – my writer self – I recall with romantic zeal those moments when head and heart and hands became brighter and fuller and bolder as they danced together on a word-full page. 

I know. We’re academic writers. But this love letter I am writing to myself is no more than a writer’s reflection, and today that reflection is a strawberry dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with heart-shaped candies.


What is Writing about Writing?

As we have explored elsewhere on this platform, writing about writing (sometimes referred to as WAW) can enrich writers’ experiences in ways that enable us to develop, deepen, and drive our practice and our drafts.

We’ve reviewed how WAW can encourage productivity: daily or weekly process journaling, for instance, can help writers monitor progress, set goals, and track valleys and peaks. 

We’ve also considered how WAW can help us channel emotional labor: gratitude journaling, in which we write about what drives our work, explain its intended impact, and express appreciation for those who support our writing projects, for instance, can reinvigorate and fuel motivation. 

See Kate Navickas’s “Process Journaling Creates Space!” and Tracy Carrick’s “Writing Gratitude!” for more. 

Here, I’ll offer how another way to write about writing, in the form of a love letter, can playfully prompt the kind of reflective writing that can help writers sustain writing projects and even writing lives. 


Why reflection?

Reflection stimulates metacognition. When we create occasions to reflect on and name the work we do as we compose ourselves and our drafts, we solidify learning. We ready ourselves to become more effective and efficient writers, writers who are more adept at directing the writing process and who can transfer skills from one writing context to another with dexterity and precision. What, after all, can deepen your identity as a writer more than analyzing your own experience?


Why a love letter?

A strong piece of reflective writing shares many of the same qualities as a love letter. Both gain power and purpose when we lock our gaze on the details. When we write with specificity, we convey to our beloved readers that we see them clearly and acutely. When we write with specificity, we commit to learning and loving with meticulousness and fidelity. 

As we lean closer to notice and appreciate, we might identify how the unique features and attributes of our writer self bring joy or value to our writing lives. We might narrate the course of our relationship with writing, highlighting first, significant, or memorable moments. We might acknowledge shortcomings, misunderstandings, or missteps and express our dedication with hopeful plans to reconcile, grow, and evolve. What, after all, is more appealing than seeing yourself through adoring eyes? What, after all, is a labor of love if not composing a meaningful writing project?


What does a love letter to my writer self look like?

There is no right way to write a love letter or a reflection. The right way is the write way. 

Here is some gentle guidance:

  • Give yourself a target – perhaps 200 words, 2 pages, 60 minutes
  • Write with sincerity
  • Be specific 

If you have never done anything like this before, it may be helpful to have a more straightforward prompt. My colleague Elliot Shapiro shared this one with me many years ago, and I continue to use it often in more and less formal ways in my classes, teacher training workshops, and tutoring sessions. 

Anatomy of a Writing Process 

Choose a specific piece of academic writing you’ve produced recently. It could be anything from a seminar paper to a journal article, a research paper to a dissertation proposal or chapter. All that matters is that you choose a piece of writing that matters to you. 

  • Write about writing this important piece of writing. Narrate the process of writing it. You may want to address some of the following questions: 

  • What sequence of steps did you follow as you produced this piece? Was this sequence typical for you? 

  • How many distinct drafts did you write? What made them different?

  • What texts or data did you engage with as you wrote? 

  • How does this piece participate in the discourse of your discipline? 

  • What observations can you make about your writing with respect to: organizational structure; sourcework; levels of detail and description; modes and methods of analysis and synthesis; syntax, language, and style?  

  • Conclude by answering this question: what did you learn about writing and yourself as a writer in writing this piece?

Enjoy this found day, and enjoy this whimsical activity that invites you to reflect with Elizabeth Barrett Browning as she does in her well-known poem, “How do I love thee (my writer self)? Let me count the ways.”

Yours truly,


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