April is National Card and Letter Writing Month. It’s fun to receive a letter, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to write a letter.
Receiving a letter is fun because it’s rare these days to see something handwritten and personal in the mail. Handwriting adds meaning to the simplest of letters–it’s not uniform like a typed font is, it has variations in shape, darkness and lightness, and direction. (My aunt’s handwriting sloped extreme left, for example.) And the writing changes where the writer rushes or pauses to think. Like a fingerprint, a handwritten letter conveys the writer’s individual personality.
Writing a letter, however, holds just as much magic. I write letters to friends and family, but also to people I do not know and will never meet. I sell Customized Letter subscriptions in my Etsy shop. They are most often purchased as a gift. The buyer tells me a few things about the recipient, and I write and illustrate five letters just for that person and mail them over the course of a few months.
I’ve found I can connect with just about anyone because I get curious about their interests and look at my own life differently. One of my favorite letters ended up being about a mysterious rock I found at the Oregon coast. I was pondering what to write in my 12th letter to a long-time subscriber when I found the rock. I got curious and consulted two self-proclaimed “rock experts” which led to a bit of a spat! When I returned to my letter, I saw on the recipient’s list of interests “rocks and minerals”!! I spun the experience into an adventurous tale. Until that letter, I’d never thought I had any interest in rocks at all.
Unlike a text or email, a handwritten letter has a limited space, a few pages that fit into an envelope that a 55-cent stamp can deliver. The slower pace of handwriting and the limited space crystalizes what you want to say, brings you to simple basics and essentials. A letter also has a finish line–after an hour, maybe, you’re done. You fold it and mail it, it has a place to go, a home to reside in, it’s “published” so to speak.
The USPS started the national month of letter writing in 2001 because “card and letter writing is timeless, personal, and immediately tangible.” I think the tactile quality of a handwritten letter is irreplaceable–it’s bulk and texture so different from mass-printed junk mail.
While there’s nothing wrong with email messages, and text messages have arrived from friends in the exact-right-moment to save my sanity more than once, it’s also nice NOT to get an immediate response. You write your letter, mail it off, and then…who knows? Maybe your person will reply. Maybe not. Maybe it will be six months later and all the more surprising. Handwritten letters are kind of selfless. They’re created for the recipient as a neat little gift in the mail. A letter can be savored and left out to admire or provide some cheer during busy days.
I know sometimes people worry about what to write about in a letter. The truth is, so much is conveyed in your handwriting and the look of the letter, that you don’t have to say anything profound to make it a great letter. Tell the person you’re writing to about your day or week–what keeps you busy? Describe your breakfast that morning, or describe your whole morning. Trust that whatever little snippet you have to share about your day-to-day life will be interesting to the person receiving your letter.
If you want help getting started, please check out my letter-writing booklet. I include prompts to help you start your letters as well as ideas for making your own letter-writing supplies.
Take some time this April to write a few letters and see how it feels. Try two letters a week. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, write one letter every day. Friends and family are good people to start with, but you can write to strangers too. I mailed a letter to a house I pass by regularly that always has flowers blooming in the yard, even in January. So, I wrote them a thank you letter, to let them know their yard cheers me up.
Once you get started, the magic and satisfaction of letter writing will keep you inspired, and your list of people to write to will continue to grow.
Happy letter writing!!