What Does Letter Writing Teach Us

by Joe Bunting | 56 comments

When is the last time you wrote or received a letter? Not a bill or a sales letter, a real letter from a person who cares about you.

A survey has found that one child in ten has never even written a letter, and the trend continues to grow with lightning speed. Letters are becoming obsolete, just like typewriters, tapes, records and many other things. However, there will always be the nostalgic types who hold on to them as a matter of principle and love. Who’s a better fit for the picture of these sentimental souls than writers?

Letters, letterbox, posting, letter sign

Photo by Paul Simpson

Letter Magic

Apart from the romantic aspect, there are a few things about writing letters that make it a good idea, even nowadays, and especially for writers. Like with any writing, letters require a special style, a warm and personal one.

It comes from the very essence of what letters are and who they are meant for: family, loved ones, close friends. Just as putting pen to paper is different from typing it on a computer, writing letters has a different feeling to it than emails.

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, novelist and dramatist

Legacy

Letters are your legacy. Something to remain after you’re gone. Isn’t that one of the reasons every writer writes and every artist creates? Those handwritten pieces of paper are not thrown away in the trash or deleted. They are kept in special boxes, drawers, and get reread once in a while.

Biographers study the lives of people through written correspondence, grandchildren learn about their ancestors, secrets are been revealed. Why not add to your legacy?

For writers, it is a good exercise in developing a personal style of writing. Good letters as part of a short story or a novel are a powerful device, emotional connectors. Think of the popularity of Message in a Bottle. Who would argue that the letters in it weren’t part of its success?

Letter-writing is a tradition that we should keep at least in exceptional moments; we owe it to ourselves, the word-lovers and to our special ones.

Do you sometimes write letters? How would you feel if you were to receive one unexpectedly?

PRACTICE

For fifteen minutes, practice letter writing to someone you cherish. Combine your skills and passion with your feelings and do a good deed for the ones who deserve it. Of course, it can be complete fiction, if you prefer so. Share it with us in the comments section. Let’s make today a National Letter Writing Day.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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56 Comments

  1. Rachel Altsman

    I received a letter from a friend who was trying to use up some leftover stamps a few weeks ago.  It was so fun to pull it out and unfold her tiny pages ripped from a notebook.  And then I had even more fun responding to it, while secretly pretending to be a character in a Jane Austen novel.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      That sounds like fun! and an interesting reason to send a letter. Now you’ve made me curious to know – which character were you? I always imagined myself as Elizabeth Bennet!

    • Rachel Altsman

      Oh man, I wish I was as cool as Elizabeth Bennet, but I’m probably more of an Anne Elliott (on my good days) or Fanny Price.

    • Alisha Knight

       Ha!  LOVED this.  My best friend in 1st grade kept all the letters I sent her after I moved away.  She sent them to me a few years ago.  SO DRAMATIC AND FABULOUS.  A bit of my fresh shiny self saved in print.  Write letters.  It’s magical.

  2. ShelleyD

    I’m an advocate of letter, note, and cursive writing.  For years, I saved every letter until it became too cumbersome for the numerous moves during military life.  I’ve managed to accumulate a few letters my mother wrote to me and some she wrote to her younger sister while they were alive.  The only time I receive any type of missive, lengthy or otherwise, is usually during Christmas when distant friends catch us up with family happenings.  Taking time out in our busy lives to write something personal to a friend or relative definitely shows a degree of caring not shared by many people.  I would definitely appreciate one sent to me.

    Reply
    • Trish Barton

      Now writing in cursive, that is a lost art!  Kids are taught it in school only to never really use it again. 

  3. Cole Bradburn

    I love this. I make it a point to write (and send) a few letters a month.  Years ago my wife gave me an incredible fountain pen that I always use – it makes the cursive so much smoother. 

    My only worry has been this – fewer and fewer people can actually read cursive, and definitely those my age or younger seem to be baffled by it.  Sad.

    Reply
    • Jim Woods

      It’s like writing in “code” isn’t it?? Ha 🙂

    • Joe Bunting

      That’s so cool, Cole. Is everyone writing handwritten letters but me? I need to get on it.

    • Cole Bradburn

      I started a while back, and forced myself to make a habit out of it. Now I really love it.

    • Sophie Novak

      It is sad indeed. We should make it fashionable; people follow trends. 

    • Cole Bradburn

      I’ll write to that! 😉

  4. Jim Woods

    Sophie, this is GREAT!! I’d love to receive a letter, especially from a friend. I am going to go write a letter today. Thanks for the reminder!

    Reply
    • Trish Barton

      I would also like to receive a letter.  It’s been so long, but there’s definite joy in finding handwritten letters in your mailbox.  I’m interested to see if I sent out handwritten letters, how many I would receive in return?!   I feel an experiment coming on…

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks Jim! Glad to hear you would take the initiative. Let us know if you get one back. It’s time for letters revolution. 

  5. Trish Barton

    I haven’t actually written a letter and mailed it in several years (aside from the annual holiday card).  But I have written letters that never got mailed.  They were purposely written to get something out of my heart and on to paper, but I never intended for the recipient to see them.  Thank you for this wonderful prompt.  I can’t wait to compose something.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      You’re welcome Trish. And writing something to release yourself is the perfect therapy. 

  6. Yalí Noriega

    I love this practice! I haven’t written actual letters in a long time but whenever there’s a mildly special occasion, I write little letters on postcards o cards to anyone in my family. Lately I’ve even started to make the cards myself. It’s a great experience, and I love taking a few minutes to write something meaningful for my loved ones, even if it’s just a few lines.

    I agree that it’s really personal and whatever it is you are feeling somehow shows up in the writing. 

    Reply
    • Trish Barton

      I love the idea of making your own postcards!  Gives even more of a personal touch to the note!  

    • Sophie Novak

      Writing personal notes and postcards sounds very cool. I may consider preparing something similar for my friends – a kind message and lovely photograph is a nice gift. 

  7. Malia

    So funny! I made a post about this exact thing last night! I am going to link yours to mine in order for people to know that there are others out there that remember the long lost art of letter writing!

    Malia
    http://www.bethewriter.net

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks for the link Malia! I like the idea of pen pals that you mentioned. When I was a kid, we were all encouraged to find one. Once, I received a letter unexpectedly from a girl from a different country and I fell in love with the chosen paper and envelope so much, keeping it as a treasure. It’s been 20 years now. Letter writing is an art that shouldn’t be lost. 

    • Malia

      I had a penpal for a long long time. When she moved to Thailand, we lost touch, but it was awesome having someone I didn’t know tell me about their life!  I even saved a lot of the letters.

      I love finding beautiful stationary or cards on etsy or something and sending letters to friends and family. They really are beautiful gifts to send!

  8. Suzie Gallagher

    I have a letter to write this weekend – I am married for 25 years on Sunday!

    Reply
    • Trish Barton

      Congratulations on your anniversary!  25 years is a long time!  

    • Sophie Novak

      Wow! Congratulations! Very big occasion for an epic letter I would say! 

  9. Dawnstarpony

    i’ll write letters to my kids and grandkids… when they are actually born into this earth. i like the idea of leaving a legacy. it’s…. mystical.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Maybe bury them in the yard, so when they find the package it will be like time travel, ha!

    • Yalí Noriega

      It is like time travel, even when they’re not addressed to you! I found the letters my great-grandfather wrote to my great-grandmother when they were courting and it’s been great fun reading them and trying to imagine what their life was like. Time travel indeed!

  10. Mirel

    Hmmm.  Actually, I send email letters not infrequently- I mean the real thing.  Just sent a 3 page letter (email) to someone.  Very personal, so won’t share. 

    When I travel abroad to visit my Mom (usually for a few weeks) , I send the grandkids letters twice a week, with a small surprise inside.  Last time I travelled, my oldest grandson (second grade) actually wrote me a letter in return, which he gave me when I got back.  Those are the only ones I write by hand.  Even when I snail mail a letter, I type it on the computer and print it out, as it saves on one very big problem:  illegible handwriting…  A short letter I can write slowly and clearly, long letters I dash off and then, sometimes even I can’t decipher what I’ve written. 

    One other great letter-writing occasion for me:  whenever we have an occasion to send out formal invitations to a family event, I enclose a family letter in the invitations to family and friends who live too far away to attend, to bring them up -to-date with what’s new in the family since the last event.  I have gotten such positive responses to these letters, and even mailed responses with people sharing with news of their own. 

    Nothing can match the excitement of a personal letter in the mailbox! 
    Maybe that’s why I still get a warm feeling every time I approach mine,
    even though most of the time it’s only bills or junk mail.  Still, one
    can hope…

    Reply
  11. Fereshte

    Oh! I’ll write for my dad but it’s not going to be an epic letter!

    Reply
  12. Crystal Martinez

    Love this, I am one of those people who hasn’t written letters a lot in their life but i love the idea of it

    Reply
  13. Alisha Knight

    It was a long day and I wasn’t going to participate and then this happened.  Thank you for the prompt… keeping this forever.

    When you were born I had a dream. 

    You had blond curls and you were three years
    old and your brother was teaching you how to fly a kite.  It was strange.  I have brown straight hair.  Your dad haa black thick hair.  You could never be blond.  This wasn’t, couldn’t be.

     

    I woke up. 
    You were only 5 hours old and I had fallen asleep trying to breast-feed
    you.  You were asleep too.  I wasn’t sure if you drank anything.  I looked down at your tiny face resting
    against my breast, which was four times larger than it should have been, bigger
    than your shinny bald head.  No hair. No
    hat.  Your pink lips were slack, touching
    the side of my nipple, five times larger than your lips, three times larger
    than your sleeping eye, two times large than your pudgy nose, the exact same
    size as your smooshed ears. 

     

    I thought about how I wasn’t sure I wanted another
    baby.

     

    But this made it worth it,

    this…

    feeding you and loving you and being your mama…

    this made it worth it. 

    Even though we were done having kids and you snuck
    in during a camping trip.

    Even though the whole time I pushed I kept
    thinking, ‘I don’t want this baby.’

    This made it worth it. 
    Your tiny lips next to me… your mama.

    I took a photo with my cell phone. 

    You were perfect and amazing and breathing in and
    out, in and out, in and out… your breath in tune with my breath, our heart beats colliding, joining.  You and me…

    you a part of me. 

    Then the nurse came in.  She told me your breath was too fast, too
    ragged, too wrong.  She took you. 

    My third boy. 

    My third birth. 

    My third wound. 

    I stared at that picture on my phone, your lips
    touching my breast.  I hadn’t wanted you
    and now I would trade my life for you to be okay. 
    Two hour past. 
    I asked a passing nurse, “where is my baby?”  She was young, probably an aide.  She shrugged her shoulders and hurried past
    my doorway. 

    Afraid?

     

    I stood. 

    I walked.  

    I had told your daddy to go home hours ago. 

    To sleep. 

    To take care of our other kids. 

    It was St Patrick’s day… a lucky day. 

    You were 7 hours old.    

     

    I had a dream you were three years old with curly
    blond hair and your brother was teaching you how to fly a kite.

     

    Your heart. 
    It was failing. 

    Surgery. 

    Your dad wasn’t answering his phone. 

    They wanted to take you… baby boy Knight… I grabbed
    the emt’s arm, “He needs a name!”   I
    named you.  You dad was sleeping, tired
    from the long night spent on a cot and telling me when to breath and when to
    push.

     

    My mom,

    not maternal ever,

    never,

    telling me crying wouldn’t help. 

    “I CAN CRY TODAY MOM!  I CAN CRY TODAY!  I won’t cry tomorrow or the day after that,
    but I can cry today.  I allow myself
    that!” 

     

    Life flight. 

     

    You were born on St Patrick’s day, a lucky
    day. 

    Are you lucky? 

     

    There are only three hospitals in the US that can
    do the surgery you need.  One of those
    hospitals happens to be 37 minutes from our house by road, 12 minutes by
    helicopter.  You are lucky and you are
    mine and me and you fell asleep before you drank which is good… 

    My milk would have killed you. 

     

    And I had a dream that you were three years old
    with blond curls flying a kite with your brother… only I have brown straight
    hair.  Your dad has black thick hair… you
    could never be blond or curly.

     

    Tonight. 

     

    “Mommy tickle my face.” 

     

    I push your curly almost white, blond hair out of
    your eyes and I tickle your face.  My
    hand moves like it always does, lifting up your Elmo pj shirt to run my
    tickling fingers over the scar that saved your life. 

    “Mommy you always tickle there.  Tickle my face.”

    I look into your daddies dark brown eyes,
    almost black and wonder how I dreamed of an impossible blond boy flying a kite
    with his brother. 

     

    Here you are three years old.

    Our bags
    are packed.

    Heading to Washington tomorrow

    and your brother can’t wait to teach you how to
    fly a kite. 

     

    You are my accidental dream come true. 

    I love you forever Vander Knight

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      So emotional Alisha! I felt it through my veins! If your boy ever reads it later in life, he’ll be grateful for everything you did for him. Keep it, save it and make it a gift when the time is right. 

    • Alisha Knight

      Thank you. I keep journals for my kids.  And I plan to give them the journals when they have kids of their own… or reach a point in their lives where it feels right.  I’m putting this letter into my babies journal.

  14. Yvette Carol

    We were raised writing letters, because our extended family was in England, so at regular intervals throughout the year we had to sit and write to them. I remember really dreading it. Yet receiving the letters in reply was such a cause for excitement! My youngest is the same, it’s a big deal to get a letter from the mailbox with his name on the front. This year for the first time I made him sit and write thank you letters to his grandparents and other family members for his birthday presents. I agree, I think it’s important. My oldest sister gave me a book for Christmas, ‘My mistress’s sparrow is dead’, and it’s composed solely of love letters from famous men throughout history. In future, will there be books of famous people’s emails?

    Btw; Marianne, and anyone else interested, my website is up and running as of today.
    http://www.yvettecarol.com

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      I’ve heard about a book with the most beautiful love letters from famous people throughout history. Good reminder to get it. Who knows if there will be books of famous people’s emails, but I do know about someone who published her blog posts, including the comments, in a book. Congratulations on the website, great job!

    • Yvette Carol

      Thanks Sophie!! The book is ‘edited by Jeffrey Eugenides

  15. Keiki Hendrix

    Excellent ideaband prompt. I think I will surprise someone today by writing a long hand letter.

    Reply
  16. Nancy

    Your concept of a national letter writing day is a great idea. If fast food fans can show their support through a Chick-fil-A day, why can’t those of us who love to write, who love our US Post Office, who just love period–why can’t we support a National Letter Writing Day. So many people would benefit.

    Reply
  17. Mirel

    In the space of 15 minutes, couldn’t find the appropriate word below, and just filled in …
    I’ll have to get back to it.  Although I have written several short letters to Simona this year, I would like to thank you for this prompt to actually write a full letter to her before she leaves back home to Slovakia.  (And yes, this is non-fiction)

    Dear Simona,

     

    How can I tell you how privileged I feel to have met you and
    your family this past year?  I know that
    we have spoken of my plans to meet up again this winter in Bratislava when your
    family will be so … recognized for your grandparents special role in saving
    my family.  But while that is the plan,
    only God knows if that will work out.  So
    just to be on the safe side, I want to be sure that I get my chance to say
    these words to you.

    Growing up with my particular family history, I always used
    to wonder as a child where I would have been if my mother hadn’t managed to
    survive all she had been through, if my father and his family had not been
    saved by your wonderful grandparents.  
    Would I have been born to another set of parents?  But then, would I have still been me?   I used
    to pore over the cherished family album, trying to imagine my life with those
    people that I knew intimately from the frozen stills of the pictures they were
    caught in.

     

    It is thanks to your special grandparents, who opened the
    door to total strangers and risked their lives and that of their children to
    extend help to these desperate souls that my father and his family
    survived.  I have no illusions:  growing up it was rare to find someone my
    age, with my parents’ background who were lucky enough to have
    grandparents.   I had one set.   I was blessed. 

     

    It means that for now and forever, our lives are
    linked.  And while we do not share any of
    the same DNA, we are most certainly family. 
    I know that I am not alone in feeling thus, you have met with many of
    the rest of my family, and you know that I speak for them all when I say
    this.  In coming together again, I have
    met not a new friend, but a new member of our family.  I am so sorry that you will soon be returning
    home, and that we will, unfortunately, be unable to continue to meet up as
    freely.   I do know, however, that no matter how near or
    far we are from each other, the connection will always be there, with you and
    your entire beloved family.

     

    I hope and pray that we will continue to correspond and keep
    up the connection with you, and perhaps through you, with the rest of your
    special family.  Getting to see the
    wonderful qualities of you and your parents and aunts, have helped me get a
    glimpse of the intrinsic worth of your grandparents. 

    We  remain forever in
    your debt.

    Hugs,

    Mirel

     

     
     

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      So beautiful and kind! Thanks for sharing this personal letter with us!

    • Mirel

       thanks, rereading I see it needs serious work before I send it.  But then 15 minutes…

    • Sophie Novak

      It is a practice after all…work in progress. 

    • Beck Gambill

      What a special letter. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    • Alisha Knight

       Beautiful.  Letters can be magical.  I’m sure Simona will appreciate this.

  18. Beck Gambill

    What an excellent reminder to incorporate the gracious art of letter writing into our expression of the written word. I’m glad to say that my work in progress includes meaningful letters by the characters. 

    Reply
  19. Katie Axelson

    My freshman year of college, we had a professor who made us hand write a letter every week. We had to stamp and seal them but then turn them in so we could get credit and he mailed them for us. I thought that was a great habit. I haven’t built it the way I had hoped but I do try to write letters periodically. Thanks for the kick, Sophie!

    Katie

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      You’re more than welcome. I like this professor you mentioned. He must have been a literature lover. 

  20. Kristin Nador

    Thanks for this writing prompt. I love letter writing, particularly in cursive. Somehow you feel more connected to the words, I think. In my teens I had 22 pen pals! But I haven’t written much lately. Your prompt encouraged me to start up again.

    Dear Grandma, 
    I wanted to let you know I’ll be
    coming to see you soon.  I’ve been
    wanting to visit for a while but lack of money and an overabundance of life’s
    dramas keep getting in my way. Time is not on our side. But I’ll take all I can
    get with you. You deserve it, though most everyone thinks not. Grace is not
    deserved favor. You gave me grace when I didn’t deserve it either, and for that
    I’ll always be grateful. 

    I know you don’t like your new place that much, but I
    hope you’ll try. There are people there who could be a friend to you. How is
    the food? I know it’s not as good as I remember your homemade bread and custard
    pie and those tomatoes from your garden. Summer tomatoes. Do you remember your
    garden on the old farm? Do you remember how you taught me to hold my hand flat
    with the sugar cube on it so the pony wouldn’t nibble my fingers? I remember.
    If I remember it’s okay if you don’t. 

    I wish I lived closer so I could come by
    more often and check on you. Do you remember me? I’m your granddaughter. I’ll
    be coming to see you soon. With my daughter and her laughing son. I bet he makes you laugh. You still have
    your laugh. Keep your smile on and your chin up, as Grandpa used to say. He
    always said just the right thing at the right time. Do you remember? I’ll be
    there soon and we’ll hold hands and I’ll help you remember. 
    Love, your favorite
    granddaughter    

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      22 pen pals – wow! You’ve had a big practice. 

    • Kristin Nador

      I really got into it as a teen. It was so interesting meeting people from all over the world, and at that time there was no immediate social media. Letters were savored, because you didn’t know when or if you might get another one. I also learned a lot about different cultures, and how other cultures viewed America and Americans. But we all grew up and got busy with life. I wonder what many of them are doing today.

    • Mirelba

       How beautiful and sad.

  21. Puffy

    (This is dedicated to my brother, Joridge, who I haven’t yet written a letter to so I’d feel better doing this XD All of this is true :3)

    Dear Joridge,

    How are you? I’m pretty sure you are fine, having fun, and getting in trouble for messing around, as usual. You have always been a funny and mischievous kid.

    I still remember the time our mom was pregnant with you. Did you know that I bet you were going to be a girl? (I obviously lost.) Well, I’d rather have a brother like you than the 10 bucks I lost. WOMEN ARE MADE TO BE CHEESY, BRO.

    I also remember the first night you came home. You were crying soooo loud that nobody in the house got any sleep. You cried all the time. It was frustrating. I admit you still cry a lot–no offense–but that was nothing compared to those moments. (WOMEN ARE MADE TO BE CHEESY, BRO.)

    How about the time when you took your first steps without the walker? You didn’t walk, Joridge–you ran. That was how it was for you. You prefer to run instead of walk, and you kept that for the rest of your life. (WOMEN ARE MADE TO BE CHEESY, BRO.)

    And then there’s three-year-old you, who loved playing with Barbies just to copy me. Well, I don’t know WHY you thought that would flatter me because I gave up playing with dolls when I turned 8, but you’re the reason why I spent half an hour looking for videos on YouTube on how to make doll furniture just for you.

    I’m getting too sentimental now. Sorry. (WOMEN ARE MADE TO BE CHEESY, BRO.) But this is because you’re my only little brother, and you’ll always be a li’l bro to me.

    The next time I see you, I’ll tackle you in front of your friends, give you a bear hug, and scream “YOU’RE STILL SO CUTE! MY LITTLE BABY BRO, RIDGEAVEER!” while giving you a noogie.

    I don’t care if that’ll probably humiliate you for life. Women are made to be cheesy, bro.

    Looking forward to that bear hug 😀

    Your sister,
    Puffy

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      I hope you’re planning to send it too. Your brother will appreciate it! Thanks for sharing. 

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