Let us pause in our collective texting, emailing, tweeting, Facebooking, what-have-you-ing, and take a moment to appreciate the letter. I am a fan of all forms of communication, though I am a more enthusiastic fan of some forms than others. It won’t surprise many of my acquaintances to learn that I’m the greatest fan of the letter.
Except for a brief resurgence in 2008, when I pledged to write one letter per day for the entire year (and mostly met my goal) my era of letters came to a close at the end of the last century, when email accounts became ubiquitous and communication became instant. Here’s what happened. My letter writing
dropped off tremendously. Friends from high school and college who were regular correspondents of the page became correspondents of the email. At first,
letter-like emails were exchanged. Eventually that correspondence faded as email’s true nature came to light: a quick way to arrange details. An unfit way, really, when you get right down to it, to exchange the longer narrative form that is the letter.
And I’m here to say I want the letter back. I want regular correspondences with
people. And I propose the following guidelines to encourage correspondence.
1. Your letter is interesting. Whatever you write about in a letter? It’s pretty interesting. This is the magic of the letter. When someone has taken the time to transcribe something on paper, find an envelope, address and stamp the envelope, and get the whole thing in the mailbox, the contents of the letter automatically become more interesting than if we were chatting or emailing. So you could only think to describe your errand-running for the day? In letter
form this is fascinating, I kid you not. Don’t wait around to write a letter because nothing is going on. Are you reading a book? Have you seen a movie lately? Are you excited about a TV show? Put it in the letter. Your life is happening all the time, so why not share it in letter form?
2. Make them short. I myself am guilty of going on and on in letters because I tend to blather about whatever quite easily (see point number one), but I have decided to turn over a new leaf because short letters are easier to respond to. If you have a collection of notecards Great Aunt Ethel gave you, get out one of those
and start writing. When you’ve filled up the notecard, you are done. Although if
you are really going strong, I say you can add one more sheet of paper. But not much more than that. Aim for some general chit-chat (again, see point number one) and one or two questions for the recipient and call it a day. Or, see if your letter friends want to exchange postcards. Those are even shorter, and cost less to mail.
3. Respond quickly. See how point three builds on point two? If you are just dashing off a quick note (which will be interesting to the recipient—remember point number one) you have many more opportunities to dash off that letter than you will if you plan to write something much longer. And when you respond quickly (and with a short letter) it’s more likely that your letter companion will also respond in kind. I would say try and respond within a week of receiving the letter, though sooner is even better.
4. Have a letter system worked out. When I wrote a letter per day I had a letter box which held my main correspondents’ addresses, as well as notecards, postcards, stamps, a favorite pen and some return address labels. That way the “hardest” thing I had to do was find a mailbox when I was done writing. When you have to find the pen and find the notecards and turn on the computer for the address and go to the store for a stamp and an envelope it’s likely that you will not get that letter out the door very quickly. Spend a few minutes organizing yourself and your correspondence will be much easier. Also try to automate the most odious task of letter-writing. For me that’s writing return addresses, so I have pre-printed labels to stick on. Maybe you hate addressing envelopes? You might try what Matt’s mom does. She runs full pages of labels with Matt’s address information and sticks them on the many letters and postcards she mails him.
Are you excited to reclaim the letter from the detritus of the twentieth century? Great! Get out your pens (or computers. I’m not opposed to receiving letters written on computers and then printed and mailed if that’s what works for you) and write.
If you would like to engage in regular letter correspondence with me, write a comment of how to get a hold of you and we can work out details. Note also that I’m not opposed to an in-town correspondence. It’s so nineteenth century, it’s cool!