Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
For Your Journal: Writing Prompt

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Do you keep a journal – or wish you could get one started? Literary Mama wants to help.

Three times a month, I’ll post a writing prompt. Open a notebook and write for 10 minutes. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation – just write. Then let the writing simmer and your mind wander for awhile.


Family Influence

My grandpa was a letter writer and wrote to his sister for fifty-some years, to my aunt for more than 35, and to my dad for the 18 months he was stationed with the Army in Germany. All he needed was a piece of white paper, usually unlined, and a supply of ballpoint pens. His desk was a card table set up in the living room; his preferred chair, a swivel rocker that he turned toward the picture window to check the crops when his hand needed a break. After he retired from fulltime farming, he spent a majority of each morning at the card table, jotting a line or two before breakfast and a few more after a mid-morning nap. His goal was to fill both sides of the page before the mailman arrived at noon.

I was new to my first job out of college and living six hours away from home when I received my first letter: " . . . and did you ever notic that most letters we give the weather a once over and then we say how are you? and then we go from there. then we have a whole lists of gripes and then we tell about what we plan on doing and by that time we have used a half page and still have not said much." His uniquely-spelled words, run-on sentences, and witty one-liners didn’t say much--just the day-to-day happenings of two aging Midwesterners--but they were a dose of "home" when I needed it.

As Grandpa reached age 88, then 90 and 91, he often worked on three letters simultaneously. It took him nearly a week to fill each page, each day's entry marked by a change from blue ink to black ink, with the occasional faint display of a pen running dry. He sometimes repeated what he had written the day before, and instead of straight rows across the page, his sentences slanted to the bottom right corner. But he wrote until he could no longer hold a pen steady. His last letters are filled with scratched-out words, blobs of ink, and phrases that don't make sense, but these letters--written to fill the empty hours between sunrise and sunset--were just as important as the letters written to keep family members connected. They gave purpose to his day and a reason to continue living.

There's no way to compare Grandpa's letters with those archived at historical museums or libraries, but his letters inspire me to write handwritten notes to those I love. Like Grandpa, I begin my letters with a comment about the weather and then ask, "How are you?" After a few details about my day-to-day happenings, there's usually a complaint or two about how busy I am. Sometimes there are scribbles to delete a misspelled word, and sometimes there are arrows to insert a forgotten word. But I always try to end with the same optimistic point of view that made his letters so special to me -- even when my thoughts ramble, my sentences slant, and my pen runs out of ink.


Note: This is part of an essay which was first published in "Nebraska Life Magazine," 2008.

Journal Entry: Think of an activity that’s part of your life because you were influenced by a parent or grandparent. It might be related to sports, music, books, crafts, travel, cooking, or your profession. Write about the parent or grandparent who introduced you to the activity and describe one time you watched that person perform the activity.


Karna Converse is a freelance writer who’s written everything from technical documentation and price proposals to newsletter articles, devotionals, personal profiles and essays. Her essays have been published in a variety of regional and national publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, Notre Dame Magazine, the Cup of Comfort and Chicken Soup anthologies, Our Iowa, and on Iowa Public Radio. She and her husband are parents to three young adults. Karna is a former blog editor, senior editor, managing editor, and editor-in-chief of Literary Mama.

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