Letter Writing: The Lost Art

letterI’ll bet you didn’t know that the second week of January is Universal Letter Writing Week.  Sadly, letter writing is a lost art.  When I was young I had two pen pals, one in Japan and the other in Missouri.  I often exchanged letters with my cousins.  I still remember the excitement of seeing those envelopes with the postmarks and opening the stationary to recognize familiar handwriting.

How many of you have letters tucked away for safekeeping?  Love notes from your husband or the letters your grandfather or father wrote to your grandmother or mother during the war?  Letters your child penned when she was just learning to write cursive?  I have letters my grandmother wrote to me during the last years of her life, and I treasure them.

 

Who will have one of your letters to cherish?  Do you think you could take time between now and next week to write a letter or two?

Here are some ideas:

 

– Write a letter to your son (or daughter), letting him know what wonderful memories you have of him growing up.

 

– Write a letter to your grandchild and tell him how you felt the first time you saw him or held him in your arms.  Tell him how proud you are of his accomplishments in school or band or on the soccer field. 

 

letters2– Write a letter of appreciation to your chiropractor or other doctor, thanking him for a better quality of life.  Also send one to the person who recommended the doctor to you.

 

– Write a letter to a friend who has done something special for you or who always makes you feel special and appreciated.

 

– Write a letter to an author whose books have given you many hours of reading pleasure.  (I can’t stress enough how dear these letters are!)

 

– Write a letter to your child’s teacher, letting her know how much you appreciate her thoughtfulness and concern for your child.

 

letter3– If you have a living parent, write a letter, reminiscing about a time when that person made you feel loved or took the time to teach you how to do something.

 

A friendly or personal letter normally has five parts.

 

First is the HEADING, if you want to include your address or if you have printed stationary.  Don’t worry about a heading this week, since the point is to write with your own hand and not have it look like a business letter or an email!  Do include the date at the top, so the recipient can look at it years from now without having to wonder.

 

Your GREETING, which is something like, Dear Mom, Hi Kelly, or My Sweet Daughter will end with a comma.  Skip a line.

 

The BODY of your letter is the main text, which you will divide into indented paragraphs.  Our purpose is to get our message across, not to be perfect or impress anyone, so keep your words natural and heartfelt.  Skip a line or two after the body before you sign your name,

 

The COMPLIMENTARY CLOSE comes next.  For a teacher or doctor, you can use In appreciation, or With warm regards.  For a family member or close friend you’ll want to say All my love, simply Love, or perhaps Thinking of you.  Follow it with a comma.  Skip three spaces before your signature.

 

letters4Your SIGNATURE is your first or first and last name, depending of course on your relationship to the recipient.

 

If you think of something you want to add once you’ve finished, skip a line and add a postscript.  Begin it with P.S. and end it with your initials.

 

For inspiration, here are a few quotes from the letters of  Jane Austin:

“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”     letter of December 24, 1798

 [To her sister Cassandra, on the birth of a son to one of their sisters-in-law:]
“I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.”      letter of April 25, 1811

[On another of their nephews, then about three years old:]
“I shall think with tenderness and delight on his beautiful and smiling countenance and interesting manner, until a few years have turned him into an ungovernable, ungracious fellow.”     letter of October 27 1798

“Next week [I] shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend.”      letter of October 27 1798

“I could no more write a [historical] romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.”     letter of April 1st 1816

“I have read [Byron’s] The Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.”     letter of March 5, 1814

letter5[On the appearance of a second printing of Sense and Sensibility:]
“Since I wrote last, my 2nd edit. has stared me in the face. […] I cannot help hoping that many will feel themselves obliged to buy it. I shall not mind imagining it a disagreeable duty to them, so as they do it.”     letter of November 6th 1813

“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.”     letter of June 15, 1808

[On buying a “sprig” for her sister’s hat:] “I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit. What do you think on that subject?”     letter of June 11 1799

“I learnt from Mrs. Tickars’s young lady, to my high amusement, that the stays [corsets] now are not made to force the bosom up at all; that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.”      letter of September 15 1813

“You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.”     letter December 24 1798

“I shall not tell you anything more of Wm. Digweed’s china, as your silence on the subject makes you unworthy of it.”     letter of December 27, 1808

“I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”      letter of May 31 1811

“Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end.”      letter of January 21 1801

cheryl_stjohn_logo.jpgNow, your letter certainly doesn’t have to compare to those of Jane Austin!  On the contrary. Your friend or doctor would wonder what had come over you.

Do you have someone in mind who deserves a note of thanks or appreciation?  Do you think you can pull yourself into the mood in time to mail your letter for Universal Letter Writing Week in a few days?  Someone will be glad you did.

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41 thoughts on “Letter Writing: The Lost Art”

  1. I didn’t know the second week of January was the Universal Letter Writing Week, but just the other day I was thinking that I might send a letter once a month to my best friend, who also wants to be a writer, to give her words of encouragement.

    She’s not at a point where she believes she has the “right” to pursue it. Needless to say, her husband’s not very supportive and after she opened the present I got her for Christmas(Bird by Bird and The Writer’s Little Book of Inspiration and Motivation) he commented that it was just one more thing to keep her attention away from him.

    I thought about making her cute little “notes” of quotes about writing and I think I WILL do so, starting now. I understand where she’s coming from- my husband wasn’t very supportive at first either a couple of years ago when I began my endeavor to pick my writing back up and though he didn’t act the way my friend’s husband acted, it still took a while for him to come around to seeing that it was really truly important to me and such a part of me, I felt I wasn’t living if I didn’t write the stories in my heart.

    I do have a trunk full of old cards and letters from friends and relatives. The most of them are from my best friend. We started writing to each other after we met in 1987, so there are a LOT of letters from her and I’m fairly sure she still has all the letters I wrote to her, too.

    Thanks for this wonderful reminder that a letter can be something that not only helps us communicate, but it’s also something that will add memories for our loved ones to look back on.

  2. Grrrr, Taryn, it really gets me riled to hear of husbands who are so threatened by a woman’s desire to do something for herself. He’s obviously insecure and selfish, which are unappealing traits in a man. Gee, I don’t have an opinion on the subject, do I? She needs to sit him down and explain that her dream to write is something she needs to do to fulfill herself as a person, and let him know she will be a better, less resentful wife, if he supports her.

    I can just picture your trunk full of letters!
    Have a great day!

  3. I didn’t know about the “Letter Writing Week” but I do know how valuable letters can be to the sentimental of us.

    My cousin and I grew up more like sisters. Although she had sisters, I din’t. We were 3 months apart in age, in the same classes at school, like the same boys (or brothers – LOL!) etc.

    When we wrote notes to each other, we signed them BFSCA (best friends sisters cousins always)

    She died in September and while going through her things her sister and I found a card I had sent to her after the birth of her son…signed B/F/S/C/A – I have it now.

    Wonderful, Interesting post.
    PamT

  4. Pam, I cried hearing about the loss of your cousin. What wonderful memories. My sympathies to you and your family. I’ve always been very close to my near-in-age girl cousins, although we don’t live close. I think a few letters are in order.

  5. Thanks Cheryl,

    As kids, we swore we’d always stay close but life has a way of ripping to shreds the promises of youth.

    She moved back to our hometown in June and died in September – just when we were getting reacquainted.

    Now I can only thank God we had the short time to renew our bond before her death.

    You just never know…. 🙂

    Pamtt

  6. I used to do so much better at writing letters. My MIL-who I see almost daily in the summer-lives in Texas in the winter and I very disciplinedly (no that is NOT a word) wrote to every Monday.

    And I have a niece in Iraq in the Army that I try to write too. I have slacked off on both lately. I do send little packages to Iraq still but even they contain almost no letters. Shame on me.

    I loved the Jane Austin quotes. Just love her.

  7. Cheryl what a great thing to do you are right most people don’t sit down and write letters the original way. I do have a counsin that I used to write to real often but as live goes it seems like we never write anymore not even email I miss her sooooo much. I did write her the last three letters and she didn’t write back so I took that as she really didn’t want to talk anymore or maybe she is just to lazy(she did say that one time) but I would at least like to know she recieved the letters…
    I will try again, and you are right we don’t tell people that we like what they are doing for people in the world or just one person we need to tell people more. I will work on that one.
    I will set a little goal to write two letters a week in the month of January and see if I can still do it I used to write letters all the time and wait to see who would mail me one back.
    I do write things to my new grandbaby that turned 3 months yesterday where has time gone??

  8. Loved the Jane Austin comments, Cheryl. What a wit! Too bad email and texting have replaced good letters (Can you imagine a book called “Emails of John and Abigal Adams”?
    I’ve saved the letters my ex husband wrote to me, much as I was tempted to throw them out or burn them, because someday some descendant in the family might find them worthwhile. Hoping that’s the case. Thanks for a lovely blog.

  9. I know, Cheryl. It gets under my skin. I feel for my friend and am constantly encouraging her that he doesn’t have the right to make her feel guilty for writing and that he doesn’t have the right to take that dream away from her because she’ll come to resent him for it. She knows that, but sometimes I think she resigns to the idea that it’s not nearly as important to her as we both know it is.

    All I can really do is keep encouraging her. In a way, my gift to her was my “hopeful” way of making him see that I know how much writing means to her. She even told him “Look- this is just what I need- inspiration and motivation.” (That’s when he made his smarmy remark- If I wasn’t such a lady, why I would’ve went off on him right there and then! LOL)

  10. I’ve got a stack of letters on my desk from my (let’s see if I get this right) GREAT grandfather, to his then fiance, my GREAT grandmother–my mother’s, mother’s parents.

    I love them but I find them slow going as to reading them. Very mundane, but within that mundanity(I know…not a real word) are bits and pieces of real info from 1865. Renting three rooms in a house, in Grand Island, NE cost $10. A WHOLE house cost $15, and those extra $5 were a deal breaker for my grandfather at the time. He advised them take the three rooms.

    But I suppose, inflation considered, $5 back then might be $100 or $250 now and that would be a factor when you were trying to rent an apartment.

    Anyway, just interesting facts but not that interesting of letters, you know? So the letters lay there and shame me because I haven’t read them all.

  11. I love writing letters. I have had many pen pals over the years–mostly in the UK. But of course, emails have supplanted them, mostly. I still write cursive, sometime, but I am so used to typing that my fingers don’t want to do right. I have letters from my Grandfather who didn’t write to me until he was in his late 80’s and early 90’s. I have one letter that I framed (with the envelope) from my Great Grandmother to her father in Baltimore. She was attending school and couldn’t come home for a visit. I looked at a map to see just how far it was that she couldn’t come home. It was maybe 60 miles. However, the year was in the 1820’s. These are all in storage at the moment, so I don’t have the exact date. I will always treasure all things written. Even scraps of notes. They are prescious.

  12. Cheryl, wonderful blog!! And, for me, a much needed one. I used to be a great letter writer running through stamps like water. But with work and computers, all that fell by the way side.
    I truly miss it.

    I’m going to write to both my sons who are away, and some others too. I’ll make the second week of January a real letter writing festival…..

    Thank you!

  13. Hi Cheryl,

    Gosh, I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve written a letter. Little notes, yes. I used to have a soldier pen pal years ago, but we lost touch. And I used to write to my cousins in New York. I guess you can say, our emails are like letters now. I do write to my friends I don’t see and send longer sentiments to catch up on our families and things, but I do miss putting pen to paper like we once did.

    It’s funny, our generation has accepted emails as a way of life and our kids have accepted text messaging (which I will never do) as their way of life. Wonder what will come next?

    Great blog and lovely and funny quotes!!

  14. Charlene, I know what comes next…..

    THIS IS ME PREDICTING, SEND MONEY WHEN I’M RIGHT….

    Implanted cell phones with internet capacity, voice activated. All you’ll need to do is tap a spot on your….oh, let’s make it abdomen, to turn the implanted blackberry on, then you’ll voice activate the whole thing, check your email, google, Jane Austen, cut and paste, send it to all the people who’ve activated their own implanted blackberries to receive the Petticoats and Pistols blog everyday.

    I think the technology already exists. My father had a morphene pump in his abdomen when he was dying of cancer. Cell phones keep getting smaller and can do more and are already voice activated. Why not.
    Talk about Hands Free……..
    I wonder how they’d repossess it if you didn’t pay your bill……….that could be the stuff of a horror novel…….The Cancellation.

    No, how about Over Due
    no, that sounds like a pregnancy novel.

    DisConnected
    Wireless
    Wired to Death.

    And you KNOW terrorist would get a hold of it and force us to DO STUFF……Not to mention steal our credit card numbers.

    Okay, even better book.

  15. Mary, leave it to you to keep us laughing. I’ll take a switch behind my ear, thanks.

    Brenda, it’s lovely that you write notes to your granddaughter. She’ll treasure them one day.

    Thanks for stopping in Elizabeth.

  16. Hi Cheryl,

    Great topic! I love letter-writing but don’t do near enough anymore. I’ve gotten lazy. I like to imagine myself in the old west and having a letter arrive by stage. That was an important thing to settlers. They waited months and months to hear from loved ones and then read the letters again and again until the paper was thin as tissue. Letters were so valued.

    I think computers have spoiled us. It seems a bit odd to sit down and pen a letter when it’s far easier to email and have it get there in a second or two.

    Mary, you’re hilarious with your implanted phones and mouses that have to be plugged in!! Sure had me laughing.

    Interesting post, Cheryl.

  17. Cheryl, what a thoughtful idea. I love getting letters, too, but these days all I get are bills. I guess I have to send some to get some!

    Pam T–hugs on your cousin. That’s a very touching story.

    At least with email, kids are communicating with each other. And cell phone texting, etc, on the most part, is a wonderful thing. My daughter and her cousin text/talk all the time and keep close that way. I’m really happy for them!

    Thanks for the great post!

  18. I forgot to say that I have some letters I saved that my husband wrote me years ago. I treasure each word and wouldn’t part with them for the world. When I read them it seems like he’s right here with me.

  19. I didn’t know that there was a celebration of letter-writing! Great idea, Cheryl–I do have letters I still treasure, and do think sending a letter is a bit of a gift 🙂

  20. I love writing letters! In fact I just mailed one this morning to my best friends son who is living far away from home for the first time. He loves hearing from those at home. He is my son Alex’s best friend since kindergarten and he’s used to my ramblings. He kids me that my letters are just like I’m talking to him. They sometimes don’t make alot of sense!

    I try to write a letter to someone at least once a week but I don’t always get it done. This post will encourage me to keep it up. Handwriting is usually very important to the recipient. It shows that you took the time to actually write it since most of us type much faster than actual handwriting.

    I’ve been writing letters since I was in 1st grade, first to my brother who was in the navy at the time and then to my wonderful grandma until her death when I was 19. She taught me so much in her letters. My husband & I wrote to each other every day until we were married since he was in the Air Force and stationed far away. If I missed getting a letter for a couple of days, I could count on getting 3 or 4 the next day. I would line them up by postmark and…oh the anticipation!

    Thanks for the encouragement to continue Cheryl.

  21. What a wonderful post, Cheryl, and you are so right. I haven’t written a letter since my husband served as an NATO investigator in Bosnia back in ’94.

    Actually, hubby was overseas for 6 months and must’ve sent at least one letter a week back home to us. To save money, he used the blue, white and red airmail envelopes that you write on the inside and stamp and address the outside. He really squeezed in the words, too.

    Because he told me what the war zone over there was like, I don’t take them out too much at this time. He wrote of being shot at by snipers, bldgs exploding around him, and horrific atrocities by the civilians. Those words are not meant for my young kids ears.

    But, last year, hubby was sent over to the Hague to testify at the War Crimes Tribunal. The kids saw their dad on the ‘net and on the news giving his testimony. We even taped it when we could. As the kids grow older, I’ll let them see the letters. Right now they know their dad’s a hero, but later on, they’ll actually read what he had to go through and what a miracle it was for him to come home alive and whole.

  22. What a fantastic post, Cheryl. Oh I had a pen pal when I was a little girl. We had the same birthday, she lived in Minnesota (might as well have been the moon) and we found each other on the pen pal list in a Sunday School leaflet. Thanks for the great memory.

    My mom and gramma saved all the letters I sent them during the four years I was in college…and when I moved into my first apartment, I threw them all away. Boo.

    I found tons of old letters while cleaning out mom’s old house, but most of them are written in German!!! Any translators out there LOL?

    When our daughter joined her sorority in college, the first thing they had to do as pledges was write and mail their parents a thank-you letter. Oh, my. We’ll save it forever.

    The quotes and suggestions today are keepers, Cheryl. I will check back to this post often!

    Hugs….

  23. Forgot this. When I was born, my great-grandfather wrote me a letter! He died when I was two so I never knew him. I was given the letter when I was sixteen or so. My full maiden name is very Russian so he told me I needed to grow up to be a ballerina or a composer to fit the name.

    Too funny. But a lovely keepsake. When I did my photography blog here at the Junction last year, he was the tintype I featured. Cute guy LOL.

  24. Forgot this. When I was born, my great-grandfather wrote me a letter! He died when I was two so I never knew him. I was given the letter when I was sixteen or so. My full maiden name is very Russian so he told me I needed to grow up to be a ballerina or a composer to fit the name.

    Too funny. But a lovely keepsake. When I did my photography blog here at the Junction last year, he was the tintype I featured. Cute guy LOL.

  25. I don’t know about the handwritten part. I write all my letters on the computer. My handwriting is so HEINOUS.

    If I’d have sent my books in to editors in long hand they’d have hunted me down and beaten me with the manuscript. And no court would have convicted them.

    Seriously, think about that a while. Jane Austen, James Fenimore Cooper, Charlotte Bronte, they wrote those long, long books with a pen and paper, then ONE COPY. God forbid the wind blows or a rain storm catches you outside.
    Nightmare.

  26. I’m supposed to be having a grandbaby any day. My first YAY! 😀
    I oughta write her a letter.

    Think of the stress of trying to come up with something worthy!

    I’m already stressed out. Now I’m on deadline. Due date Jan. 14. Or is the due date the day she learns to read>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  27. Great Post! And it reminded me to wrtie a Thank You to friends who hosted a small gathering after church last Sunday. So easy to get busy and forget to due those nice things!! I actually have some old love letters and cards. Never showed those to DH I don’t think. LOL But I was never a great letter writer though I used to be better at sending cards. It is true that e-mail has taken over…even in my business I do more e-mail than regular letters!
    I love the history that can be gleaned from old letters! Think what we would all be missing if we didn’t have that link to history!

  28. Cheryl, How interesting and perhaps just the push I need to write a letter.
    I have a small letter that my mother and father-in-laws wrote while on their honeymoon to his parents. It is only about the size of a notecard and is folded in half. The envelope was barely big enough to hold the address.It cost them a penny to mail this letter. In this letter they told that they were sending something home for the dog. Yes, I said the dog. They were married in 1940 so had just lived through the depression. They were in Yellowstone and had stopped for lunch at a little stand and she couldn’t eat all of her lunch so they mailed the rest of her hot dog home to the dog. This package cost them another 3 cents. Isn’t that just too dear!

  29. Linda, I can only imagine how special those letters from your husband are to you. You must feel fortunate to have them.

    Hi Fedora!

    Betsy, you are indeed impressive with your letter writing! Good for you. I know your young friend enjoys those letters.

    Anita, I would love to hear all about your husband’s experiences one of these days!

    I wish I spoke German, Tanya. My husband tells me his grandparents spoke it to each other. I’m currently writing a story with a Bavarian family and enjoyed different research than when I wrote Heaven Can Wait. This one is called Her Make-Believe Husband and my heroine has a supervisory job at her family’s brewery. Boy, am I having fun.

  30. Love the Jane Austen quotes! We have a copy of a letter written by Honey’s grandfather to his wife,
    whom we all knew as Nana. It was written from Galveston, Texas describing how he and fellow
    workers struggled to stay alive during the massive
    1900 Hurricane.

    Pat Cochran

  31. Over the holidays my son’s were home to visit. One day the youngest was alone with me and we were cleaning my office. I keep my birth mothers jewelry in there. Nothing worth anything just bead that I always liked as a child. As we were going through the box we found a letter I had written to my father on father’s day.
    My son asked what it was. I explained that I had written the letter. My Father had later put the pictures inside of it. When he died two years later my step mom gave it back to me.

    I had forgotten.

    Now my son wants it when i pass.

    Memories.

  32. Sorry I’m late…

    That’s a great memory Bern.

    I keep my favorite letters in my lockbox. I have letters written to me in bootcamp. Those were like gold! I even have a few love letters from old boyfriends just for kicks.

  33. Wow, I am thrilled to have stumbled in here! So many letter writers all in one place!

    I maintain a letter writing web site and it’s devoted to trying to keep the art alive. It heartens me to see so many people still interested in it.

    Cheryl, thanks for writing about letters and encouraging people to keep writing!

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