When I told a friend of mine that I write letters, he asked if I was serious. Then he asked me why. The simplest answer is the best: Who doesn’t like getting letters?
More importantly for me, I’ve found that I like writing letters. When I decided to leave social media and engage in more purposeful, personal communication, I reached out and asked who of my social media pals wanted to be old-fashioned pen pals. Many stepped up and a few wrote back, but that’s beside the point. While writing letters is a form of two-way communication, I’m not terribly bothered if people don’t respond. The act of writing those letters motivates me more than receiving them.
That said, I just got a letter from a good buddy of mine in California—complete with a “CROM”-stamped penny—and it’s like a little Christmas coming through my mail slot. Because, like I said, everyone loves getting letters.
Letters aren’t a replacement for text messages or emails. They’re something entirely different. Social media and text messages are Bud Light. Handwritten letters are top-shelf craft beer.
Why Write Letters?
Since we’ve already established that everyone likes getting letters, we’ve basically done 90 percent of the heavy lifting on this. Rather than opening their mailbox to be greeted by a deluge of junk mail and bills, your recipient will get a small surprise that will certainly brighten his or her day.
More than that, it sends a very clear signal to the recipient. You’re going out of your way to tell that person that you want to know what’s going on in his or her life. There’s something about a letter that’s far more intimate than an email, and that kind of intimacy speaks volumes, no matter what your letter says.
Letters aren’t a replacement for text messages or emails. They’re something entirely different. Social media and text messages are Bud Light. Handwritten letters are top-shelf craft beer. There’s a permanence to letters. The second that North Korea detonates a low-orbit EMP over American airspace, all your emails will be gone… along with the water system. On the other hand, your letters are something your children, grandchildren and distant descendants can uncover and read to get a sense of who you are.
Finally, for the people with whom you’ve fallen out of touch, the hand-written letter is the perfect way to reestablish your friendship. It’s a small gesture that says, without coming out and saying it, that you’re still interested, that you still want to communicate and that you want to catch up on what’s going on in their lives.
How to Write Letters
So you want to write a letter. How do you do it? It’s probably been a long time since you’ve written a letter, if you’ve ever written one at all. Here are a few pointers to help you get started:
1. Get stationery. It doesn’t matter if it’s nice letterpress from The Art of Manliness or whatever is on sale at Target. It feels nice to have special paper for writing letters. Ditto on having a dedicated pen.
2. Make a list of the people to whom you want to write. That way you won’t be sitting around wondering about them. You’ll have a list right there.
3. Think about what you’re going to write before you sit down. You don’t need to outline your letter, but you shouldn’t figure out what you’re writing as you write. That’s going to mean a lot of “throat clearing” on paper, which doesn’t make for a very good letter.
4. Keep it brief. There’s a time and a place for super long letters. Most of the time, however, a glorified postcard is going to do. Get in, get out, say what you’re going to say and send the letter off.
5. Don’t gossip, whine or gripe. It’s ok to insert a minor moan about your situation here and there, but who wants to read a letter that’s full of complaints?
6. Don’t expect a response. It’s a bummer, because not writing any response to a letter was considered as rude in yesteryear as not responding to a text message you know someone read is today. The sad fact is, most people you write won’t write back, even people who say they will. Don’t do it for them. Do it for you.
The thing about writing letters is that it’s a visceral act, a tactile one, a physical communication. For those who, like me, are trying to connect more with their immediate surroundings, there are just no substitutes.
Photo Credit: Twenty20/@shanegrayyy