When Elizabeth Barrett Browning offered to "count the ways" she loved Robert Browning, her words no doubt set her lover's heart aflame.

But before you start prattling on to your lover about "the depth and breadth and heighth" your soul can reach, remember this: What was hot and fresh in 1850 may be a tad trite today.There are better ways to say "I love you" than resorting to 19th-century poetry or simply letting Hallmark doing our talking for us, says Heidi Annexstad, 27, a college English teacher who also leads seminars on the art of writing love letters.

Love letters - simple, uncluttered, cliche-free expressions of our emotions - can do much to keep a relationship alive and exciting, Annexstad says.

And she should know. She dated her husband for seven years - five of which were spent in separate cities, three on separate continents.

She says the biggest mistake people make in trying to write love letters is to get all tangled up in lame platitudes that really don't mean much.

For instance, don't just write "I miss you." How boring that is. Instead, try something like "I got up and the coffee just didn't taste as good this morning without you here."

"A lot of people don't write the way they talk," Annexstad says. "They get very formal and stiff, as if they feel the letter is going to be graded."

Relax. Write your letter just as if you were talking in person to your love. Share your thoughts. Describe whatever routine, ordinary thing you're doing at the moment.

"I'm sitting at my desk and the sun is shining in, and the coffee's on. It's beautiful outside, and I'm thinking about you. . . ."

Isn't that nice?

"Even if it's not eloquent, it gets you going, it starts you thinking," Annexstad says. "We tend to discount the ordinary. But describing the ordinary lets the other person know you think about them, even if you're just sitting at your desk. Most of our relationships are conducted in ordinary settings. It's a nice surprise to think, `She loves me while she's washing the dishes.' "

Another pitfall: trying to write too quickly.

"Don't try to do it in five minutes," Annexstad says. "Give yourself an hour or two, time to rewrite, time to think about the other person, why you miss them, why you're writing the letter at all."

Your first attempt may be clumsy, but don't get discouraged. By the 10th letter, you'll be churning out love prose just like Elizabeth Barrett Browning.