Do you know how to write a love letter? Does anyone even still do that?

Or have one-line text messages and “Love Ya” scribbled on a sticky note become the standard ways of communicating written romantic sentiments?

“Nowadays, people are more likely to text their sweetheart or send them a heart on Facebook, but for someone to actually spend time handwriting a letter, that’s special,” said Michelle Libby, a Maine-based romance novelist who uses the pen name Jillian Hallowell.

So with Valentine’s Day just over a week away, this may be a good time to brush up on your romantic penmanship. A real, old-fashioned, hand-written love letter would certainly stand out and show your sweetheart you’ve put some thought into this year’s gift.

More thought than, say, a box of chocolates from the drugstore or a musical greeting card that plays “Love Will Keep Us Together.”

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

Libby and other writers say writing a love letter doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to feel like you’re back in school, writing a term paper on love.

“My best advice about crafting a good love letter would be to write from your heart. Talk about something that makes your relationship unique. What are some of your inside jokes or shared experiences?” said Libby, whose latest romance novel is “Playing with Fire.”

Nancy Gish, a professor of English at the University of Southern Maine, agrees that a love letter should include very specific things that you and your honey share.

“In writing, we need to say what is deeply felt and focus on what we love in the other. So a shared moment remembered and a statement of deeply felt love becomes something to cherish because they show that the writer knows the reader,” said Gish. “I think what we all want is to be known and loved for what we are. To convey that is a true gift of love.”

SOME TRICKS OF THE TRADE

Some people think of writing as hard work. But there are some simple things to remember that will help make your love letter shine.

Use language that is concrete, original and rich in images, says Annie Finch, a poet and head of the Stonecoast writing program at USM.

Stay away from cliches and generalities, says Finch. You could get those in a greeting card.

“So when you are talking about your feelings, instead of saying, ‘You are everything to me’ — cliched, general and abstract — you can say something like, ‘I feel my heart pounding in my chest when I think about being with you,’ or whatever specific things you observe to be true. The more idiosyncratic, the better,” said Finch.

Libby recommends you write simply and from the heart, so your “voice” comes out. Voice is a term used to help describe what is unique about the style of certain writers.

“Your voice is what makes you you. If you were to pick up a Nora Roberts romance, you would expect a certain type of story and a certain style of writing. This is voice,” said Libby. “Don’t try to sound like Shakespeare or some famous poet.”

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU

Also, as a writer, you have to balance the elements of your letter, Finch says. The balance, Finch said, is between writing about your own feelings and writing in such a way that your loved one feels “seen and heard.”

“If you focus too much on the first, the letter will be too self-centered. If you focus too much on the second, the letter can be off-putting, like a letter from a stalker,” said Finch. “Aim for someplace right in the middle, balancing honest disclosures about your state of mind with specific descriptions of what makes your loved one special to you.”

Libby also suggests keeping in mind what sort of things your sweetheart likes to read. If they like “mushy,” try for that. If they are more practical when it comes to matters of the heart, use that in your writing.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL

Finch points out that “language originates as a physical process in our throats, voices and ears.”

So try to keep your letter as physical as possible by handwriting it, maybe on handmade paper.

“The only reason love letters can work to stir feelings is because language is at root a physical thing,” said Finch. “And since rhythm conveys so much of the feeling of language, read your letter aloud several times so you can hear how it will sound.”

And don’t forget to correct the spelling.

Handwritten love letters don’t come with spell check.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]