How could it end any other way? You called me, and I came home to your heart. – Robert Browning
This quote is one of my favorite things ever written about love. It’s great for the succinct way it captures that sense of love’s inevitability. Resistance is futile—you might as well just fall. But also, it illustrates the best way to write about love: simply.
Writing about love—romantic, familial, friendship, even for pets—trips up so many writers: The novels with relationships so idealized we cannot relate to them; memoirs dripping with the bitterness left behind after a heartbreak. And don’t even get me started on rom-coms. While writing about love is hard, there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself.
First, know the clichés, and stomp them out like the weeds they are.
Daniel Jones, editor of the New York Times’ Modern Love column, this week published an essay with shrewd advice on what to avoid: overused memes, archetypal stories, and tired phrases, like “Reader I married her/him,” and “my heart melted.”
Next, don’t forget you need heart as well as heat.
In an essay about the key to a good love scene, Gotham instructor and romance novelist Leigh Michaels notes that too many stories show a glimpse of love—a touch, a flutter—and then move on, as if that were enough. It’s not. A good love scene needs emotion, complication, stakes.
Last, stop worrying, and let go.
Roger Rosenblatt (who, full disclosure, is a friend) recently published The Book Of Love, a hybrid of reflection on love and notes to Ginny, his wife of fifty years, like this one:
“Sometimes, … when the floods descend, and darkness seeps into my foul soul, like black paint on a black door, you will look my way, and I am illuminated.”
What special tips does Roger have for writing notes like that? None. “There’s nothing special or different about writing about love,” he said. “You just have to be a good writer—a good writer can write about anything.”
Since you’re reading this newsletter, chances are you’re already in love—with writing. Next time you’re struggling to evoke passion or heartbreak or desire, focus on that tug, the inevitable pull to the page. And let go. Love, even for writing, is inevitable. You might just as well fall.
Dean of Faculty