Epistle: An Exercise in Writing

One of my favorite writing exercises is one I call “Epistle.” The term is probably best known in relation to the Bible, but epistle refers to a letter in multiple forms.


noun: epistle; plural noun: epistles
  1. a letter.
    synonyms: letter, missive, communication, dispatch, note, line; More

    • a poem or other literary work in the form of a letter or series of letters.
    • a book of the New Testament in the form of a letter from an Apostle.
      noun: Epistle; plural noun: Epistles
      “St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans”
    • an extract from an Epistle (or another New Testament book not a Gospel) that is read in a church service.

There is no requirement for where the epistle be directed or what shape it take. I use letter writing across genres, sometimes to bridge genres. For Fiction, a letter from one character to another can serve to bring the reader more intimately into the the writing character’s point of view. When we write letters, we come unhinged. We are free to cross boundaries while observing a construct. We might wax wistful or profess deep longing. We might communicate a dream.

An epistle can be a poem. It can flex the boundaries of prose by leaping back and forth between genres. It can be a song. Or it can be the stream of consciousness, the words we wish we’d said when we had the chance, but the chance has passed and we are so sorry. A letter is actually what (re)started this blog and gave me the courage to pursue my dream of helping other write through trauma.

But a missive to the self–that is what I love most. Fictive or nonfictive, the epistle can be transformative. It is monumental in the healing of trauma. The Advice Project uses missives from women to the girls they were for healing on a global scale.

Here are some forms “Epistle” has taken in my writing workshops:

Entry Letter: Write a letter to yourself stating what your goals are for this workshop. Seal it in an envelope and do not open it until your final portfolio (a collection of drafts and revised work demonstrating growth) is returned.

Exit Letter: Write a letter that focuses on your writing successes over the course of this workshop. What are some areas you would like to improve?

Write a letter to yourself describing where you want to be in X number of years.

Write a letter to yourself when you were at a particularly difficult point in your life from your perspective right now.

Write a letter of apology to yourself.

Write a letter thanking yourself.

Other fun exercises:

Write a letter to yourself that explains sex.

Write a letter to your future self which describes a meaningful event you are sure you’ll forget.

Write a letter to the deity of your (or your character’s) choice requesting a specific blessing.

Write a letter for a character to discover that includes information that complicated their story.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

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  1. […] Epistle: A Writing Exercise (I always recommend starting with a letter to yourself outlining your writing goals) […]

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