As a writer, I think I’ve discovered my metier, the genre in which I excel above all others: letters. Unfortunately, that’s kind of like taking a career aptitude test and finding that you are best suited to be a cooper. It’s not an entirely obsolete field, but there’s not much call for it these days and the job opportunities are pretty limited.
How do I know this? I’ve tried my hand at an awful lot of writing over the years; I even got paid for some of it, though never all that well. In recent years I’ve worked at it more deliberately and diligently, determined to find a way to make some kind of living at it. I’ve had no success as yet, but I’m not giving up. Heck, I’m just getting started!
I’ve learned that I don’t have a novel in me right now, at least not one anywhere near enough to the boat that I can land it. I seem to be able to write very, very short pieces — poetry, flash fiction, anecdotes — which is quite encouraging. I haven’t found a market for the stuff yet, but at least I enjoy it and feel reasonably competent about doing it. That’s more than half the battle.
Today, however, I realized in the shower (which is where all truly useful and brilliant thoughts occur to me) that the writing I love most and do the best is letter writing. I even spent my drying time analyzing why.
1. A letter has no plot. It has purpose, which may be singular or plural, but it doesn’t have to conform to content expectations the way a story or essay does. A letter can develop in a linear fashion, but it can just as easily meander or jump around.
2. A letter’s structure is chiefly physical in nature. It has certain functional parts (salutation, body, closing, signature) that take specific forms defined by cultural convention and dictated by purpose.
3. A letter has no specified length. I have written letters that were ten pages long, double-sided, and letters that were two paragraphs of two or three sentences each.
4. A letter is personal. It may be formal or intimate, but it is always a direct and personal communication. That’s why form letters bother us so much: they intentionally violate the essential nature of the letter as a form of communication.
Alas, even were letter writing not so unfashionable as it is these days, it would hardly offer much opportunity for income or gainful employment. I clearly haven’t yet found an answer in my pursuit of a successful writing career, but I do feel as though I’ve uncovered an important clue. I don’t quite know what to make of it; I guess I’ll just keep working at it until something falls into place or the next clue appears. I do hope, however, that happens sooner rather than later.