The Art of Letter Writing

How and why it's more important than ever to reach out in writing

by Emily Schoonover / Garnet & Black

Graphic by Emily Schoonover

Dear Reader, 

I hope this finds you well — as well as a letter can find any student who is perhaps stressed by classes and the state of the world. I’m writing you on a Monday afternoon in the company of my cat and weather just barely hinting at fall.  

I decided to write so that you might share in the joy I feel upon receiving mail. To know that someone has taken time out of their day to find a pen and paper so that they may share their thoughts with you is beautiful.  Especially in the midst of a pandemic, it is a fantastic tool to stay connected. Letters have been used for ages to stay connected when it otherwise feels impossible and to brighten the day of the recipient. From billions of love letters sent to troops during World War II, to hospitals posting letter requests for patients on social media, there is an abundance of examples that can be used to illustrate the importance of a letter. 

You might not be able to visit people physically in the current moment, but the words conveyed on a page carry some of that same intimacy. In the way their pen moves across the page, you can hear the intonation of their voice. In the way it is all presented, you might imagine seeing their face. 

The argument can be made that if one just picked up a phone, all of the same things could be accomplished — to hear and see someone. What digital communication lacks, though, is a sense of artistry; it is too fast-paced to allow for depth and thought. The purpose of communicating digitally is a sense of instant gratification. What happens if we slow down and take time to explore written communication? Psychological studies suggest that practicing delayed gratification leads to a better sense of impulse control. When communicating digitally, your thoughts are immediately sent to someone (instant). When writing a letter, you can choose what to say without the pressure of an immediate reply (delayed).  It is a conversation that never ends. I start with this, writing you about writing. You read it, think it over, respond when you find time. 

I’ve tried to find more time to write people. People from around the world, people down the street, even those in my own house. It isn’t as hard as you might think to find someone to write: a pen-pal. There are websites such as Post Crossing, a personal favorite, that sends users an address from somewhere in the world so that you might send a letter there. You also have the option of posting on social media to ask if anyone wants to receive a letter. Finding a pen-pal is as easy as deciding you want one and picking up a pen.  

I suppose I shouldn’t say that letter writing is easy. There are challenges to be had in the process of writing them. In my case, I’m not very good at ending letters. Starting to write and opening the letter with a greeting is easy. The page is a safe space so you just write, talk about anything you want. Figuring out when to stop is the hard part. Generally, I decide to end it and say goodbye when my wrist begins to get stiff or when all of my rambling loses focus.  

Not only is there difficulty in deciding when to stop but also that sitting down and writing to a friend is can be such an act of commitment that it feels like actually saying “goodbye”. I have come up with a bit of a ritual to make the sign off a little easier. 

After mustering the strength to wrap up my thoughts and sign my name, I fold up my letter and slip it into the envelope. 

Next, I’ll print out a picture of the flowers in my yard or maybe my cat. I’ll layer a sticker on top of whatever picture I’ve chosen and tie it up in some twine. It, too, goes in the envelope, which is painted some shade of the recipient’s favorite color. 

In the hopes that there will soon be a response in my mailbox, I add my return address in the corner. With the addition of a gold wax seal on the back, it is finished.   

Perhaps you’ll adopt your own letter writing process — reach out to me in response or anyone else in the world. I mean, finding someone to write is as simple as messaging someone you want to communicate with to ask for their address and if you can send them a letter. Given the care behind asking, the need for new methods of communication in the midst of a pandemic, and the thought of supporting the postal system, I’m sure it would be much appreciated.  

Your friend,