In the modern age, the telephone, text messaging, video chat, websites, and email dominate the communication platform. Technology is fast, efficient, and easily allows you to keep in touch with people from all around the world. I myself am a fan of technology. My dad owns a computer business and my older brother’s job is to manage computers, so I’m always up to date with new technology coming into the marketplace. However, despite its numerous advantages, I am still fond of a very old-fashioned form of communication called the letter. There are many reasons for this, but the two primary ones are the following: it’s a more intimate form of communication, and it was one of the keys to opening the door to my career. For me, letter writing has developed into a natural skill. If I wish to share my thoughts with someone, this is one of the easiest, if not fastest ways. There is something delightful about penning words on paper and mailing the note off to someone, knowing that it will likely bring a smile to their face and make their day. For this reason alone I would encourage you to take up letter writing. However, if that is not enough, here are three more reasons.
First, people who can write well (note: well, not perfect) show that they are able to logically organize their thoughts and convey them in a sensible manner to other people. This skill cannot be underrated in the modern world, where text messaging with its emoticons and strange shorthand spellings is king. Many people lack the ability to communicate their thoughts in a coherent manner on a piece of paper. Now if a person cannot express themselves well on paper, I doubt that they’re able to explain themselves clearly in conversation either. Letter writing helps you practice organizing your thoughts and putting them down on paper so that someone else can understand them.
The second reason to take up letter writing is because letters make an impression. Again, thanks to technology we’re able to easily connect with almost anyone anywhere in the world at any time. However, ironically enough, this ability has come to be a curse in some ways as people are almost permanently tied to their devices, becoming slaves to the technology that ought to help them. Bombarded by emails, texts, and Facebook messages, it can be very difficult to attract, let alone hold someone’s attention for more than a minute, if even that. In the midst of this technological chaos, a letter stands out like a bright red flag. The fact that you took the time to actually sit down and write a physical note is bound to attract someone’s attention.
The third reason to try letter writing is because if you do it regularly, it will necessarily improve your writing skills in other areas. I have no doubt that all the letters I wrote to my friend over a period of almost a decade were the primary reason I was prepared to start writing a book. Unlike school work, which was composed of factual papers, these letters leaned more towards the creative side of the spectrum. I was writing about events in my life, but I was often conveying them in a colorful manner, unconsciously making the mundane sound interesting and exciting. Since the point of fiction is obviously to write a good story, this practice with letter writing was certainly crucial for me.
Now, having done my best to encourage you to try your hand at letter writing, let me switch into Sherlock Holmes mode and show you how fun it can be. Pretend that you have just received a letter from a person you have never met before, or if you chance to have one laying around, go get it (note: for this exercise I’m assuming that it’s handwritten.) Study the handwriting first. How would you describe it? Is it is big, bold, and confident? Is it spidery, crabbed, wavering, or scribbles? Sharp and angular, or a graceful cursive? Elegant script or an unintelligible mess? Now having studied it, what conclusions might you draw from your observations? A child, for example, would be expected to have an awkward, sprawling print with big letters. A man might also write big, but with a smooth, confident hand. Women, by contrast, are probably more likely to write in small, neat letters. If the handwriting is exceptionally even and the letters are written in a stately way or embellished with fanciful swoops, I would guess that the letter was written by a person of class, a calligrapher, or a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Sloppy writing with uncrossed t’s may indicate that the person was in a hurry or simply couldn’t wait to convey the flow of words rushing through their mind. Messy writing could indicate a lack of education or practice, an old person with shaky hands, or even just carelessness.
The second thing to examine is the piece of paper and envelope and stamp if these are available. If it’s fancy paper and a bright colored envelope with a flower stamp, I will bet you that the letter was written by a woman. A typed letter enclosed in a plain envelope with a regular liberty bell stamp may be from a man. A business person, however, may choose to use business stationery complete with matching envelopes. Personally, I tend toward college-ruled notebook paper when writing my friend. The reason is that I like to write very long letters and so need lots of space to convey my thoughts. I also like how the lines keep my words from wavering on the page, a subtle hint that I’m a stickler for neatness.
The third thing to study is the style of writing based on the actual text and the closing. Everyone has a unique style that they develop over time and vary for different people and occasions. A business person would be expected to be professional and brief with a courteous, but not overly familiar closing. Lovers may ramble, use superfluous language, fancy closings, and possibly not make a lot of sense. Condolences or ‘thank you’ notes would be shorter, respectful, and depending on the person, a bit more personal. A letter to a friend is likely written in a relaxed and easy style, punctuated by bouts of humor and earnestness, with an affectionate or informal closing.
This all may seem excessively analytical, but remember what I wrote above. Letters make an impression. Unlike email or texts, they are a physical object that can be touched and held. In addition to their content, they have a unique value in that they convey little details technology does not. Hence they also give you a deeper insight into a person than technology does.
Perhaps I have swayed you into taking up letter writing. Maybe you’ll pull out some paper and pen, settle in a comfortable chair, and then, just as you’re ready to get started, freeze. This is what we call writer’s block. Usually when it occurs, the mind is overwhelmed with anxiety as the person wonders what in the world they’re supposed to write. Perhaps you’re just not used to writing and not quite sure how to start. If that’s the case, I suggest outlining your letter or typing it out first on the computer, starting in the middle of a paragraph. Maybe though, you’re paralyzed because you don’t think you have anything to say. Reader, I assure you, you must have something to say. Let me just share this quote to prove it.
How frequently do we hear persons exclaiming, that they do not know what to write about! Such an observation is a disgrace to the person who makes it. Were the mother, the sister, the cousin, friend, or even acquaintance, to enter the room in which you are sitting…would you have nothing to say?[Young Lady’s Own Book, 1836]
Take a deep breath now and start scribbling down those words. Your letter does not have to be long and detailed and written in fancy cursive with elaborate swoops. It can be written on plain old notebook paper with a pencil and in regular manuscript. Or it could be done in a fun green or purple pen with drawings along the edges. Or you could use that fancy stationery you bought a while back, but never opened up. Whatever you do though, just write. Oh, and enjoy the moment.
Letter writing is a timeless art form that never goes out of style. It shows that you care for the person you’re writing to, and additionally, distinguishes you in the modern age. It is courtesy at its best.
Go write now and enjoy the feeling of ink flowing onto paper. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get a surprise when the other person writes back. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?
P.S. If you wish to try letter writing, but have no one to write to, feel free to send me a digital letter at email@example.com. I love to hear from readers and I promise that I’ll write back.