Re-Claiming the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Human beings are communicating all the time. We speak to each other about the weather, family events, the latest hometown daily news, and world events. We login to our social media accounts and post, tweet, and share our most recent political irritations, media meanderings, or family pictures. Communication abounds with cell phones in our pockets ringing and connecting us to our friends and business associates no matter where we are; from the grocery store to the gym, or our afternoon walk. But in all the flow of words that wash over us on a daily basis we are often denied one of the greatest pleasure known to humankind: receiving a letter from a friend.

The Psychology of Letters

Psychologists have long touted the benefits of writing our thoughts down on paper. They claim that it increases our sense of personal satisfaction and allows us to view events in our lives with better accuracy. According to top business professionals it is one of the most important keys to success. In the eyes of language arts teachers it is the link between reading and comprehension. The more we write the more we understand what we read.

But aside from how letter writing affects us positively, think of how you felt the last time you found a letter in your mailbox from a friend. We’re so used to bills, credit card statements, and useless advertising flyers that “getting the mail” no longer has the thrill of anticipation that it once had. The letter writing you do has the power to change the outlook of a friend or family member; to brighten their day and lift their spirits.

The Art of Letter Writing

Because writing letters is such a lost art, many of us having never engaged in it for longer than an occasional postcard from Disneyland or Niagara Falls. There is a definite art to writing a letter. Books have been dedicated to the proper way to address individuals in your salutation, which information is necessary for your heading, how much information to include, whether it is appropriate to use front and back of a page, and other such specifics. Each element plays an important part in the body of the letter and how the recipient will feel when they open it. Here are the parts of a letter and why each is important.

1. Heading

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In our modern age this is the most neglected part of a letter. I’m pretty sure that the last time anyone felt excited about reading a heading was when they read vicariously the famed Hogwarts letter that Harry Potter received when he turned 11. But just because we don’t use them doesn’t mean they aren’t still important. For genealogists and historians the headings of old letters often times provide vital information about an individual and leave a paper trail that allows them to piece together the details of a person’s life. This is true of our own letter. If you plan on taking the time to write a letter to a loved one, be sure to add the date and your current location in your heading. This information gives the reader a frame of reference for the letter as well.

2. Greeting

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Salutations can take many forms; “hey”, “yo”, “hello” being a few common ones. For the greeting of a letter you have the opportunity to say more than the standard “Dear….,” it also allows you to personalize your greeting. A love letter can include “darling” or “sweetheart”. A letter to a child can include a reminder of how much you love them, a special nickname, or another endearment. Use this space as an opportunity to remind yourself and your reader of the bond of love and friendship between you. It will set the tone for the letter.

3. Body of the Letter

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This is the part of the letter that contains the information that is in your heart and is the most important. Share information about the pursuits you are working on in your life. Share your thoughts and emotions. Share the most recent events. In short: share yourself.

At the heart of letter writing is the desire to connect one heart and mind to another. The more you write, the more comfortable you will be with putting yourself down on paper in a way that creates a lasting memory. Be mindful of the lasting quality of handwritten letters. In our day of easily deleted conversations, these are the ones that will remain. Make them count.

4. Closing

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The closing of a letter can be just as personal as the greeting. This is your chance to once again declare something specific and intimate about your relationship with the letter’s recipient. “Love”, “Best”, or “Namaste” have become popular recently, but half a century ago it was common to see “Your Loving Daughter”, “Your Beloved”, and “May God be With You”. This can also be your opportunity to create a personalized statement for yourself. A “Glad tidings from the garden” for a yard loving friend, or “Sending love from the seashore” from a vacationing friend would be fun and unique.

5. Signature

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This needs little embellishment: sign your name to your letter. The act of signing your name is psychologically important. We sign documents that are important. Contractual agreements, licenses to marry, drive, or approve certain actions. Your signed name is your approval of what has been written, your last chance to say “I agree with all of the above”.

Creating a Letter-Writing Habit

The more letters you write the better you will become at it. Consider creating a habit out of it. Collect the supplies you want to use: pretty papers, unique envelopes, a particularly fine pen. Keep them in a special desk drawer or cupboard dedicated to your letters. Choose a time to write each week and make a habit of writing to someone, or various individuals, at the same time and create a habit. This will give you and your correspondents something to look forward to.
Enjoy your newfound skill and help to preserve an artform that has defined humanity for over 2000 years.

 

Images courtesy of Miss Kauffman

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