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The Art of Letter Writing

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As far as I’m concerned, receiving mail of my own is one of the great privileges of being an adult. I love the feeling of going to the mailbox, hoping there is something worthwhile inside. When I see the script of a dear friend marking a lovingly handwritten letter, it always makes my day. And I know that, if I take the time to respond, I can show her how much I care about and appreciate her. That’s why letter writing is a wonderful art to share with the people you care about.

Why Should I Handwrite a Letter?

Handwritten letters have many advantages over e-mails:

  • They’re more personal. The monotony of a type face is nothing compared to the unique touch of a good friend’s own handwriting.
  • They’re tangible. It is a real treat to hold something lovingly sent to you by a friend of family member in your hand.
  • They promote thoughtfulness. It’s easy to dash off an e-mail, but letters encourage the letter-writer to sit and consider what she has to say.
  • They demonstrate time and effort invested into a friendship. For most people, it takes much longer to handwrite a letter than it does to type an e-mail. When you receive a hand-written note, you know that the sender thought you were well worth the effort.

The Features of a Well-Written Letter

It isn’t difficult to write a good letter, but a few basic elements will make your letters more enjoyable for your recipients–and more likely to elicit a response.

  1. A card or stationary set that reflects who you are or what message you’re trying to convey. The more you enjoy the materials on which you’re writing, the more likely you are to write more or more often.
  2. Your address at the top of the letter. By writing your address at the top of the page, you make it easier for your recipient to respond without having to take the time to look you up.
  3. The date.
  4. A salutation. “Dear _______,” normally works best here, but you can get creative with more intimate friends.
  5. A body. According to Emily Post, “The best letters will share news and information, mix good with bad news, respond to questions asked or news shared in a previous letter, and ask about the recipient.” It may feel awkward at first to write about yourself, but consider how excited you would be to hear about the goings on in the life of an absent friend. Try to avoid writing letters that are purely negative and share too much information about you or someone you know.
  6. A closing. End on a positive note, not just the classic, “Well, I guess you’re tired of reading this letter…)
  7. A valediction or complimentary close. Gone are the days when social etiquette demanded specific valedictions for specific people and occasions. You can be creative here, too, but consider, “Cordially,” “Affectionately,” “Best,” or “Love.”
  8. A signature. For friends and family members, sign your first name only. If you’re writing a letter from you and your partner, sign just your name to avoid confusion.

For a little extra old-fashioned pizazz, consider picking up a wax seal and sealing wax. To seal your envelope, light the wick on the end of the sealing wax. Hold the stick of sealing wax at a 45 degree angle and allow the dripping wax to puddle on the flap of the envelope. When you have enough, moisten your seal and press it into the wax for 30 seconds or so. Viola! Instant class.

Looking to Start a Correspondence of Your Own?

It is easier to respond to someone else’s letter than to begin an exchange of letters of your own. But that’s no reason to delay letter writing. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Write to a college friend about your personal and professional life. Ask how hers is going.
  • Send an absent friend a friendly description of your home and neighborhood, followed by an invitation for her to visit.
  • Describe your day-to-day life to an elderly relative. (Just be sure to write in clear, large handwriting.)
  • Thank a professor or mentor. Explain how you use the lessons she taught you in your every-day life.
  • Give a kindred spirit a review of a book you recently read. Explain why you enjoyed it and why you think she will, too. If possible, enclose the book.

Do you still write ink-and-paper letters? Let us know in the comments.

2 responses »

  1. Great advice, Alison! I love finding handwritten letters in my mailbox! I don’t write as much as I should, but when I do, I add my own flair – handmade cards. They’re always sure to elicit a smile from the recipient!

  2. I love writing letters! I have a lot of friends currently on service missions, so I write quite a few letters. It always makes my day to receive a handwritten letter in the mail!


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