I’ve been hand-writing letters since I was 16, when my friend moved a couple of hours away for college. I decided it would be cool to write to him, even though we could always message and call. It was like retro and cute af.
From then, writing became a bonus way to keep up with friends, family and even to solve conflict. If there was something I struggled to say to someone, I’d find it easier to write in a letter.
Writing letters became more important for me when I moved to Japan. The option to see loved ones face-to-face had gone, so instead I find myself at the post office almost weekly with letters, postcards and packages to send. Due to social distancing, it doesn’t matter if if you’re in another street, town or country, our positions are similar and many of us are starting to feel the strain.
If you read my recent post, Living Away From Home During COVID-19, you might have spotted a hint to my love of letter writing. In the sources at the bottom of that post, I linked some good news, and good advice, for dealing with isolation from the BBC (brownie points if you read it!).
The article talks about the beauty and value of receiving letters, with the writer’s grandmother keeping her husband’s wartime letters and passing them down through the family.
The writer assures us that:
‘It is not hyperbole to say that they are my most precious heirloom’
While Melissa’s article talks of the value of receiving snail mail, I’m going to talk about the benefits of writing it. I’m going to list below some of the ways that hand-written letters are better than their techy successors, and better for you. It’s time for some long overdue SNAIL MAIL APPRECIATION!
Writing a message on your phone is different.
You could be typing the world’s most heart-breaking message all while the faces of your friends grin at you from your newsfeed, waiting patiently for your return behind the chatbox.
While you’re typing, you might get another notification, remember that you forgot to reply to someone or to check your mobile banking. You might forget to send the original message altogether.
On the other hand, sitting down to write a letter changes your headspace and gets you in the zone.
You’d struggle to write a letter while looking at your phone or speaking to someone else; meaning that when you’re writing to someone, your attention is completely on them. This focus also means you’re going to be more articulate in what you want to say.
Everything has context.
A lovely DM, even those talking about how beautiful you are and how suitable you’d be in the role of wife, is still a DM. While receiving affection from the right person in any form is positive, I know that I’m a little desensitized to e-love letters and you’ll have to have pretty decent GIF game to convince me otherwise.
DMs, PMs and Snapchats are common. They get lost in the sea of virtual conversation and, even if you grace the message with a sentimental screenshot, in time that too will disappear into the void of your archives.
A letter, on the other hand, is a physical object, it occupies space.
Every single person that I write to tells me that they have a special place for my mail. Under a pillow, in a shoebox, my auntie even has a collection of all my postcards dated and noted!
Messages or face-to-face conversations generally happen in real-time, where communication is flowing. You’re expected to respond quickly which can put pressure on your responses. Sure, if you’re messaging you can ghost people but if the conversation is with someone important who you want to build a relationship with I wouldn’t recommend it.
Note: Creepy dudes popping up, by all means, ghost away.
What I’m saying is that there are times in all conversations when we wish we could stop time, or slow it down, and actually think about what we want to say, without damaging our relationships.
Writing letters allows this. You get that distance from the conversation without upsetting anyone and you have the opportunity to communicate clearly. A letter is a monologue written at a specific time and often with a specific purpose. There’s less pressure for you to get the message across straight away.
If you’re writing about an event, you’ll be writing a little while after it happened and, as you’ve had some time to reflect on it properly, you’re likely to have a different perspective on it. You can ponder, even draft, what you want to say before you pull out your Paperchase stationery set. This extra time means that the quality of your letter is probably going to be higher than whatever you would have typed.
Plus, the time required for the letter to arrive is exciting in itself, while you anticipate it’s arrival. I like to keep most of my letters as a surprise, in hope that they’ll arrive at the perfect time- just when someone needs a boost.
In this retrophiliac culture, a handwritten letter should be right up our street.
It’s more personal- it’s your writing, your paper, you’ve made the effort to send it and pay for it to get to the other person. The act alone of receiving a letter is more telling than a romantic message. You’ve literally sent your words on an adventure to get to another person- it’s basically magic.
A handwritten letter also adds a little colour to our usual pile of post, breaking up the bills and takeaway menus. But why stop at a colourful envelope?
You can turn the letter itself into art. It doesn’t have to be words. You can send someone a painting, drawing, sketch, make a collage or be like me and just annotate your letter with colourful pens.
I like to fill out my letters. I’ll take the time to look for relevant quotes or poems to add some more depth. Then, when I’ve written the letter, I go back with a coloured pen and annotate it, doodle on the page, underline and just generally make it more personal! You can get creative and do whatever best communicates your feelings.
Speaking of feelings, did you know that letter writing can be therapeutic? Whether you’re writing to cheer someone up, to apologize, keep in touch or even if you’re writing a letter you’ll never send (if you know, you know)- it works as a free therapy session, from you to you.
The paper isn’t going to look at you funny or get mad at you. You can’t say anything wrong because, at the time, no one else is listening. A study from the 80s by Pennebaker and Beall shows the long-term benefits of writing to deal with trauma. It’s definitely worth the read!
In short, letters are different. They’re a different area, they require a different way of thinking and they send a different message. Have I convinced you? What are your creative ways to keep in touch? Please let me know in the comments, we can all swap our ideas!
Right now, most of us have nothing but time, so turn your time into a gift and write down your feelings. It’s a process that will brighten someone else’s day, improve your relationships and lighten your life.
“Confronting a Traumatic Event: Toward an Understanding of Inhibition and Disease”, Pennebaker & Beall (1986)