Reclaiming the Art of Letter Writing

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When did letter writing become a lost art form? When I was growing up, I wrote more letters than I can remember, keeping correspondences with pen pals and friends alike – no matter how often I saw them in person – and loved checking the mailbox each week hoping to get one in return.

That’s not quite the case anymore. Now that I have a cell phone and an email address, letters are no longer a vital means of communication – let alone the easiest or fastest. According to the U.S. Postal Service, in the span of two months the average American household now receives just one personal letter.

Despite their outdatedness, however, letters offer a unique experience unparalleled in modern communication. Unlike texts and emails, letters can’t be forwarded; each one is personal, a special and concrete reminder to the recipient that someone was thinking of them.

Even the most personal emails do not have the same effect as a simple handwritten note. I almost never save emails, but I do keep a box full of old letters at home that I’ve saved and cherished over time. There’s a note of encouragement from a friend when I was going through a tough time, a letter from a sister while she was off at college, a card from a grandparent before their death and others that each bring back touching memories and ignite a sense of connection with the person who sent them.

The bond that snail mail produces between two people is much more meaningful and tangible than the effects of Twitter and other modern outlets, which encourage a person to broadcast all the nuances of their life to the world. When writing a letter, a person can’t use short fragmented thoughts or emoticons to explain their emotions. The writer must find himself or herself in words, which means that more is being said.

Plus, there’s something about knowing that a letter came straight from the unique world of its sender. It travels through the postal service straight from the hands of the sender until it reaches the mailbox of the recipient. There is a direct relationship between the two that the invisible path of the Internet can never replicate.

So, how better to express one’s truest thoughts and gratitude to a loved one than with a handwritten note? If it sounds daunting and old-fashioned, know that it doesn’t have to be. A card doesn’t have to be long, or formal, or on expensive paper. In fact, it could be as simple as, “Hello friend, coffee soon?” or “Thinking of you” written on a napkin, and still be more significant than a text. There are no specific do or don’ts for letter writing other than to just DO it.

I received a postcard from my 12-year-old sister Rose last month. It was hand-painted with a Malibu mermaid (“for a Malibu girl”) on the front and included a short message on the back. Her sweet voice comes across in each of the six sentences and I can’t help but smile and think of her each time I read it.

Even though I’m no longer a child, I still love checking the mailbox each week for mail. Getting a personalized card is such a simple thing, but it makes all the difference. So don’t be afraid to take a break from the emails sometime and surprise a loved one with a note instead.

What is your favorite part of receiving a handwritten note? When is the last time you sent one?

Image via Anchor Paper Co.

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