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To Write a Letter

Fr. Kyle Sanders


Seeing posts or books about 'The Art of Letter Writing' makes correspondence feel like it's only for the qualified. The artist is trained and understands well his craft. 'The Art of Letter Writing' creates the mystique that letter writing is only for the initiated, the one who has put in the hours and does the work to home her skill. It creates this idea, even if only subconscious, that only the 'elite' write letters. It sets up a false dichotomy and an unnecessary barrier between the newbie and his first letter, sort of like giving an untrained person a sheet of music and asking her to sing the notes on the page to a song she's never heard. 

Certainly there is a certain skill at writing a letter but lack of that skill doesn't prohibit one from writing. At some point, all letter writers were inexperienced and unfamiliar with composing a missive to another person. Each person had to hone and figure out their particular style. 

For the post-modern person, the form of letter writing is foreign, indeed it's almost completely contrary to our normal communication, which is instant, moving through ext, tweet, or email. I can finalize a cross-continental transaction for a Visconti in minutes. So we think and communicate with immediacy in mind. "I need to get this out." "I want to share this now," and all my Instagram followers can see what I'm looking at right now. They can share my joy or my sorrow, express disdain or support while I'm in the state I was in at posting. The immediacy of sharing of emotion is core to the social media drive. 

A letter is different. It's like a photograph that captures a moment in time, but the receiver doesn't experience it till a few days and even weeks later. The writer will be in a different state when the receiver reads his letter. And so back and forth.

What a letter does is it solidifies and encapsulates that moment in time, it memorializes it and for one person only. It's very personal and intimate. It gives those events and topics a feeling of greater importance, because they are right before the writer and reader, on things they can touch and smell and feel. It must be important if I'm taking the time to write it down and share it with you, making life and its daily passing less trivial and more meaningful. 

Or maybe this is too heavy for you. At the same time, a letter can be something almost mundane in its ordinariness. It can be a place to share idea communicated through the mediation of a pen or pencil (or typewriter) which reveals more about the sender than the Arial font on a screen. It can reveal a person's enjoyment of detail or their grand personalities with each stroke of the instrument. I would go so far as to say it's more real than digitally mediated communication because there's nothing to hide behind but your handwriting. Sure, some letters are well made up and are beautifully and artfully written, and so appreciated, but most letters, from my experience, are more akin to friend's catching up over coffee or a beer, an ordinary but important space for human interaction.


What I've tried to do, so far, and I may have failed, is to convince the person wary of walking down this road to take that first step. This month of February is a good place to start. People all around the world are writing letters from INCOWRIMO (International Correspondence Writing Month). There is a large community of people taking time of of their busy days to send a correspondence each of the 28 days of the month. Even if you only write one letter, I would say it would be worth it.

If I still haven't convinced you or my prose style has turned you off (thank you for graciously reading this far) here are a list of other reasons.

  1. For pen people - it's another excuse to use your pens
  2. Responses to your letters means you'll get more than bills and junk in the mail
  3. It's an opportunity to meet someone you'll never have the opportunity to meet.
  4. For procrastinators - write a letter instead of trying to beat you Angry Bird high score, fun and productive, and you're still not doing what you're supposed to
  5. a blank page and tumbler of whiskey is a glorious thing, one gets emptied, the other fills up
  6. For the introvert - it's an opportunity to communicate what you're thinking but without the added pressure of people looking at you. I find I write with a clearer head than when I speak.

If I've convinced you and you're wondering where to go from here. Pull out the family address book and send a letter to a cousin or an aunt you haven't seen in awhile (preferably one you like). If you have a hobby group online ask for a few address of people you communicate with already, continue the conversation on paper. If you feel comfortable cold writing a random person you can find addresses of willing recipients at, there's a section of a short list of people who are randomly selected from the master list. These are people who would love to correspond enough to freely post their addresses online. You'll be sure to get a reply back. If you're part of the fountain pen community or pencil community, you can easily ask and find willing people on the various forums, groups, and chatrooms you frequent. 

I hope you will take advantage of the unique joy of writing and receiving a letter.