How to Revive the Lost Art of Writing Letters

We live in the almost instant world of technology. The art of writing letters has gone to hang out with other has-beens like 8-tracks, floppy discs, and the phone booth.

In the process, the personal touch that comes with the art of writing a letter is also hanging out on the street corner with the rest of the forgotten items. And it’s a crying shame.

a man holding a pen and writing a letter with a cup of coffee on the corner of a desk

The Art of Writing Letters can be a Breath of Fresh Air

With the impersonal world of texting and emails comes the negative side effects. Medical News Today lists feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety as the top three.  Think about it. If you are having a difficult time, you often find a friend to talk about it. If you have accomplished something major, you want someone to celebrate with you.

But when the only ‘friend’ that is available is a cell phone, computer, and a few emojis, you can understand better why people may feel isolated, depressed or a bit anxious.

Sometimes, we are separated from friends and family through distance. On occasion, we can sit down to chat through the phone. And for the most part, that works well.

However, reviving the lost art of writing letters may just help a bit. Can you imagine walking to your mailbox, and you find a gaily decorated – handwritten – envelope tucked among the bills and circulars? Your first reaction may be surprise, but then a smile will slowly start to spread, and suddenly, you can’t wait to read it.

a pink table, a notebook and pen, blue mug of coffee set up and ready for writing a letter

 The Art of Writing Letters Adds Meaning

There are times when a personal note takes on more value than an email.  You would never send a condolence card through email, much less put those sentiments in a text.  Instead, you pick up your pen and apply the art of writing letters from the heart.

Consider other occasions when applying the art of writing letters would add more meaning. A birth; wedding; birthdays; accomplishments. If you send a text message to say congratulations, it just falls flat. It is almost as if you are saying you just don’t have time for them or are less than excited for their news.

A hand-written letter is a game changer. The very idea that you took time to write your thoughts, feelings, and sentiments is more personal, and can touch a heart in the way no emoji ever can or will.

The Work Behind the Art of Writing Letters

It is a given that a hand-written note is more appreciated by the recipient.  But it can also be a chore for the writer.  Any work of art takes time, thought, and application. You have to have the proper tools, a quiet place to think, and you need to enjoy the process, as much as the recipient will enjoy reading the letter.

Take your time when writing to someone. Find a quiet place and gather the tools you will need. If necessary, write a rough draft, or at least jot some notes of what you want to say. When you first begin exploring the art of writing a letter, you may find yourself doing it in fits and starts.

But when you do it more often, the words will begin to flow on the paper. From time to time, you will think of something, and want to be sure to tell the one you are writing to all about it. Keep a Letter Writing Page in your Journal and make notes on thins you want to say in the next letter you write.

a fountain pen sitting on a notecard

To Whom It May Concern

Okay. That is a pretty formal – and impersonal – way to start your letter. But you may be wondering ‘to whom’ you could even write a letter.

My first thought on that is anyone you know who is in the military. Just recently, a young man I know joined the Army. He is only 17 and was able to enlist early due to a special dispensation. Since he is in Boot Camp, he is limited to the phone calls he can make. His Mom and Dad should really get first dibs on those, so you know he is going to be looking forward to Mail Call, hoping to hear from others.

There are others who would love to hear from you. Here are a few you can consider:

  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts/Uncles (when I was 7, I carried on fun conversations through letters with an elderly great uncle for years!) and other relatives
  • Young nieces, nephews, or grandchildren
  • Friends
  • Pen Pals
  • Favorite ex co-workers who have transferred or moved away

the inside strikers and some keys on an old typewriter

Handwritten vs. Typed

I have to confess. Although I love writing letters, I do have a bit of arthritis in my hands. Considering I often have more to say than my hands will tolerate, I have conceded to typing my letters.

I don’t care much for even that touch of impersonal correspondence, but I have explained the issue to those to whom I write, and they are perfectly fine with it. They just want to hear the news through a stamped and mailed letter, rather than an email or text. (Or, as Rae says, ‘Just send me a letter!’)

If at all possible, write your letters in longhand. But if not, then by all means, head to the computer and start typing.

Different Forms of Letters

With the art of writing letters, a standard letter is one when you tell the recipient what is happening with you and ask a few questions about things that are going on in their lives. I call those the Newsy letters.

But if you want to truly add the ‘art’ in the art of writing letters, consider a ‘To Be Continued’ story. When a friend had been going through a tough time with the illness of a loved one, I created a story. Each week I sent her the next ‘chapter’. It was lighthearted and designed to give her a smile and something fun to look forward to.

This type of letter would need to be written in advance. And it doesn’t have to be long. You could do a five- or six-chapter version, and if it goes over well, consider doing one maybe twice a year.

a notebook, pen, and open recipe box to use as a swap letter when writing a letter

A fun way to correspond with someone is the ‘Swap’ letter. In this one, you can discuss the finer points of cooking, crafts, or skills, and then add a recipe, pattern, or some type of article or worksheet you found helpful or interesting.

If you are writing to a child, consider an ‘Art’ piece. Write your letters using sentences, substitute words for drawings or stickers. For instance, instead of writing the word ‘dog’, add a sticker or drawing of a dog instead. You could also paste your letter onto cardboard, then cut it into puzzle shapes. Mail the letter in a larger envelope and let them have the fun of assembling the letter before they read it.

a china teacup with pink and purple flowers and green leaves, in a matching saucer filled with tea

If you are just starting to write letters to someone for the first time, make it a ‘Gift’ letter. Choose a fun mug and a bag of coffee. If they are a tea drinker, consider a vintage teacup and saucer with a tea bag. If it is loose tea, consider offering a small tea strainer as well. Add in a small bag of hand-baked cookies. Put it all in a box and ship it to them.

For this type of gift, you may want to start your letter with words such as these:

“I recently read a post about the art of writing letters. It made me smile, and of course I thought of you! I think it would be fun to start corresponding the ‘old-fashioned’ way, so I am sending you my first letter. You will also find a vintage teacup and saucer that made me think of you when I saw it. So, I thought I would add it to the first letter. This way, when you hear from me, you can pull it out, fix yourself a refreshing cup of tea, and settle in for a fun ‘visit’!”

This will not only explain what you are doing but offer them a bit of enjoyment when reading your letter, and a bit of anticipation for the next one.

a pen on top of an open notecard, surrounding by thank you note, a card of two stylized dogs, and a set with a cartoon image of a cow pulling laundry off a line

The Tools for the Art of Writing Letters

Albeit a bit old fashioned, one of the first things you need is a selection of stationery. This can be as elaborate as personalized paper and cards, or as simple as a lovely, but still generic sheet of paper.

An assortment of cards for all occasions is also helpful.  Blank cards can be used for any occasion, just to say Hi or that you are thinking of them.  Keeping a box of Thank You cards is the most beneficial of all.  These will probably be used more than any others, so having a box within reach is helpful.

The next thing you need is a good pen.  A regular Bic or Pilot will work.  But to help make writing something to look forward to, consider investing in a beautiful pen.

To select a pen, be sure it feels good in your hand.  Make certain the ink flow is smooth, and the nib moves easily across the paper. 

a thank you note with thank you written in purple, a pen lying next to it  and a bunch of purple violets sitting on a desk

Writing your Sentiments

There are many ways to write your sentiments. Thank You cards are probably the most common, followed closely by a card of Condolence. Instead of purchasing a generic card, choose a blank one and add a personal sentiment.  

Make your words count but beware of trying to sound like someone you aren’t. “I am deeply saddened by your loss” is a pretty formal way to offer condolences if you would ordinarily say “Oh, Jane! My heart hurts so much for you!”

Be yourself. Say what you mean. And use your own words – unless you found a perfect quote, and then it is best to use it word for word, with credit. “I read something by Vigdis Hjorth, who said “A letter is practically a gift!”

A Simple Life eWorkbook

Develop your own Art of Writing Letters

So many times we lose touch with those we love. The art of writing letters is a great way to be able to settle in for a visit, and not lose those precious moments with each other.

Think about it.  All we seem to receive in the mail these days is bills, political notices and sales circulars.  Wouldn’t you love to get a personal letter from a friend instead? If so, then grab your supplies and settle in for your first lesson in the art of writing letters.

And don’t forget to grab your own mug of coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies. And if you prefer, treat yourself to your own vintage teacup and saucer. It will help make the art of writing letters a celebration!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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