The Habits of Love

I hadn’t planned on writing a love poem for Valentine’s Day. Having already secured a reservation at a fancy Italian restaurant, as well as purchased flowers, chocolates, and a card, I thought I was on top of it. I’ve been married for 20 years, you see, so I’ve had lots of practice. Over the years I’ve learned that my wife doesn’t want a gift for Valentine’s Day—she wants quality time with me, along with a heartfelt message penned by yours truly. Usually, I write a note in the card with as much fervent sincerity as I can muster; and I really do work hard on those notes. It means a lot to me to communicate to her exactly how I feel. So, again this year, I sat down with pen and card in hand, and attempted to do the same thing. But I was met rather quickly with romantic writer’s block. All the things I wanted to say felt trite or like I’d said them a thousand times. It felt futile. So, I took a break and scanned Facebook for a few minutes. In my scrolling, I came across a post about writing love letters by Jonathan Rogers (the wisest guy I know when it comes to writing). Could this be my salvation?

Jonathan felt my pain and spoke my language. “Here’s my advice to the love-lorn writer: stop trying to describe what’s going on inside you, and instead depict what you see when you look out from your eyes.”

Jonathan said to be concrete; to stop writing about what I feel, and start writing about what I see. As an example, Jonathan quoted Jennifer Gresham’s poem “Missing You.”

The blue cheese dressing rattles inside the refrigerator door, half-empty. I thought about opening it, drenching each red-green leaf, just to fill my mouth with something that you loved.

Jonathan’s response to that poem: “You don’t write that kind of poem by looking in your heart. You write that kind of poem by paying attention to what you see when a heart like yours looks out on the world.”

So I didn’t write a love letter at all. I wrote a love poem instead, using Jonathan’s advice. Here’s what was written in Janna’s Valentine’s Day card that night.

I don’t know if it’s a defect in our mattress, or simply twenty years’ practice reconciling in the middle of the night, but you and I always seem to end up back together by morning. Fried eggs with runny middles (but not too runny). A glass of juice before the kids wake up. English muffins with strawberry jam. Rumpled sheets. A bathrobe and a space heater. To describe love is to betray it. Why speak about it when you can see it?

If you’d like to read more of Jonathan Rogers’ weekly letters about writing, you can sign up to receive them here. Or if you’d like a chance to develop your own good writing habits, you can sign up to take one of Jonathan’s courses online, by visiting this link:

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