We sat down with Shelby Cowell, author of Future Stella, I love You, an online diary of letters written for her daughter with the intentions of being read in 20 years. We asked her a few questions about what inspired her to start writing to future Stella and the importance of it.
Write_On: How did you get the idea to start writing letters to Stella? What was the first letter you ever wrote to her?
Shelby: I started writing to her because I have always been curious about my own childhood and what went on day to day. For instance, I would pay serious coin to see what the inside of our fridge looked like when I was 5. My mom doesn't remember that stuff at all and I thought Future Stella would love to read about the details of her early life authentically and not through the edited stories that happen when many years have passed. My first letter I wrote to her was in November of 2013 and I described to her in detail what a typical lazy Sunday looked like with Current Stella and her morning routine. I also told her about some words that she can't say properly that make me laugh (tum instead of tongue). Even now, when I read the letter the details are not fresh and many have been forgotten so I know it would have never made it to the future.
Write_On: Your letters are hilarious. What is your writing process like? Where do you find your inspiration? When and where do you write, and how often do you write?
Shelby: First of all thank you, but honestly, you can't make this stuff up! Kids are hilarious. I dedicate Tuesdays to writing and I usually start by flipping through my camera on my phone to remind me of the past week's moments. I like to write at a night with a glass of wine but sometimes thats not realistic so I write wherever. There is a coffee shop near my house that for whatever reason, gets my juices flowing like nowhere else. Most weeks there are too many funny things to include all of it, so I would say Im never short on material. Our family dynamic is pretty funny and I have a husband that cracks me up and his relationship with Current Stella is so damn delicious that I feel compelled to document it.
Write_On: It seems like your letters are as much for you as they are for her. How have your letters helped you gain perspective on being a parent?
Shelby: You pretty much nailed it on the head. First of all, just writing out some of the fights we have gotten in has been like therapy. Suddenly, I see where she was coming from or where I could have handled it better for next time. Its also kind of a big deal to write things about someone you care about that not only is getting put on the internet, but will be re-read by the adult you are typing about.
Write_On: What is the hardest thing about writing letters to Stella?
Shelby: Lately, it has been hard for me to be authentic knowing other people are reading the letters. Strangers are fine, but a lot of my family reads them religiously and I want to bitch to Future Stella about my family and I can't because I know they will read it. I now have a journal I keep by my bed where I write her an actual letter filled with the family gossip. The goal is for Stella to end up my best friend and so I can't leave out the fact that Grandma actually drives me insane. Thats just not what friends do.
Write_On: What was your letter-writing habit like before you started writing to Stella? Has the project inspired you to write letters to anyone else?
Shelby: Ha. I never wrote letters, ever. When I was in high school I would write our family's Christmas letter and people still talk about them. Even back then, producing highly sarcastic material that was equally sentimental was my jam. I can't ever just say I love someone without roasting them first. It's kind of my specialty. That's essentially what I am doing to Stella.
My blog has not inspired me to write anyone else letters, but you guys have! I used all the cards in my write_on gift bag and it felt so good. Its definitely going to be a regular thing for me.
Write_On: When do you think you'll start reading the letters to her? How do you think she'll respond?
Shelby: Future Stella is slated to read the first one in 2035. She will be 25. The 20's are just a mess and I hope the letters help her navigate through it. My intention is for her to get a kick out of it, truly understand my deep love for her, and recognize components of her personality that have been consistent since she was little so she can really own them. So far, her sense of humor is not exactly what I would call dry or sarcastic so I am a bit worried she will be offended and not get it.
Write_On: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start writing more letters?
Shelby: Don't put them on the internet! Just kidding. Kind of. Writing a letter to someone you care about is so meaningful. I looked back at my text messages to my dad, who happens to be my personal hero, and our conversation has been reduced to emojis and one word responses. This is my hero!!! While emojis are awesome and I hope to one day be fluent in them so I can communicate with my future child, they are not a replacement for our actual feelings for the ones in our lives we care the most about. Only our words on paper can convey it and writing it down is the only way to make it last forever.
More on her blog- shelbycowell.com