Letter Writing: A Lost Art

“I wrote a delightful letter yesterday,” my neighbor told me. A retired teacher, she was writing to congratulate a former student on his appointment to a prestigious position.

With today’s written communication of emails and texts, letter writing is becoming a lost art. Words pop onto the screen and are deleted just as quickly. It feels so ephemeral. Less artful somehow.

I remember looking forward to letters from friends and relatives around the states. We caught up on one another’s lives, births, deaths, jobs, vacations. Across space and time, we cried on one another’s shoulders, celebrated accomplishments.

“I didn’t realize how important letters and cards were until I became ill,” a friend confessed. When her spirits got low she could revisit those tidings, a reminder of those who love and care for her.

When I was young, we were encouraged to have pen pals. My teacher provided the names of children overseas, and some of those pen pals became lifelong friends.

A letter is a legacy — a part of the writer exists within the words and sentences. If you and ten other people wrote about the same trip to the store, each person would write about it differently. Each person’s perspective of the trip, what was important to him or her at the time, will differ greatly. That is why sharing oneself with another in a letter is such an extraordinary and personal gift.

The icing on the cake? Writing is healthy for the writer. We exercise our brain when we focus on our subject, search for the right words, put concepts together, delve into memories. And if we pen the letter, we’re employing fine motor skills.

“I don’t have anything to say. My life is boring,” you might be thinking. It may be boring to you, but the receiver will be delighted to receive your missive, to glimpse a life different from his or her own.

“I don’t have anyone who cares.” Go to the library or onto the internet and research snail mail pen pals. There is a plethora of potential recipients from global pen pals to snail mail lovers to pen pals for seniors. Or go to a rehabilitation center or retirement home and find someone who has no family. Share with them a small piece of yourself.

My friend Clineene remembers what her mother called a “round robin letter,” which got passed from family group to family group, each family adding a bit of news before passing the letter along. Even though parents and siblings seldom saw one another, these letters helped them feel connected. And not only that, they had something tangible to hold in their hands and revisit, a legacy to hand down, one generation to another.


Frances S. Dayee has taught manuscript critique classes for more than 16 years. Her expertise has guided published writers of both fiction and nonfiction. She wrote a monthly game page for The Trumpet and was a stringer for several publications. Frances has published three books, a column called Love and Popcorn for a Canadian magazine, and numerous nonfiction articles. Contact Frances at fsdayee@yahoo.com.

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