How I came to Write a Book About Handwritten Letters

My hair stylist said to me recently:

“I’m taking a calligraphy class this summer because there is just no joy in my mailbox! All I ever get are bills and advertisements!  I am so tired of it! I am going to begin by writing letters to my nieces and nephews. It’s a place to start.”

I knew exactly what she meant.

Today, it is a rare event indeed when someone receives a good old-fashioned handwritten letter in their mailbox. And this saddens me because, over my lifetime, I have found such joy, meaning and depth in exchanging letters with people. It has been one of my happiest hobbies and greatest joys. I don’t know which has been better– the sending or the receiving of handwritten letters. I think it is the reciprocal giving and receiving, and the connection made with someone on a very personal level that encourages me to continue to write them.

Sure, we all love our smart phones for lots of reasons, but at the same time, people love receiving tangible, tactile, handwritten letters even more. When we receive a handwritten letter, we all know that there is something special in our hands—something that someone took their time to write and mail, just for us. Perhaps this is why it is easier to delete an email than to throw a letter in the trash.

There seems to be a growing movement to bring back “snail mail” in certain quarters. And this is music to my ears because I hope to encourage more people to eschew the “smart phone” now and then, and to write something unique and personal to someone they know. As I joined Instagram, I was happy to find many like-minded spirits out there, joyfully sharing their latest calligraphy, stationery, stamps, and wax seals. Let’s keep that enthusiasm going. The ripple effects of a letter can be enormous!

During the time I wrote my book about handwritten letters, Please Write, I often found myself in conversation with people who were seriously nostalgic for slower and more authentic kinds of human connection. Many of them left letter writing behind when desk-top computers and smart phones took over their lives. Yet, is seems that now, many are becoming nostalgic for old-fashioned paper communications, something that reflects the personality of the sender. Many people seem reluctant to admit this, for fear of seeming out-of-step with technology or too “old.” Yet, when I asked them directly whether they missed receiving letters in the mail, they all responded in the affirmative.

I spent the last several years doing research into the world of letter writing, and I must tell you, I love them now more than I ever have. Their impact is so much greater and profound than I realized. In fact, they were the undergirding of human civilization for centuries, often the only connection people had who lived apart from the people they loved, one of the only real ways to spread ideas, conduct commerce, share human experiences, and express creativity across space and time. As civilizations grew and developed and sending letters became more commonplace among the masses, they became even more meaningful—they allowed for the deeper expressions of people’s souls and/or their cheeky or brilliant minds. Letters have allowed millions of people to express their creativity, make art, provide support, express love and gratitude, and spread delight. Letters are as fascinating and diverse in their impact as the humans that write them.

Every letter is a story. We all need ways to express our true selves. Letters allow us to do that with more depth and meaning than most electronic forms of communication usually do. The astrophysicist, Carl Sagan once said of the act of writing:

“Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs.”

This is one of the things that make letters so utterly unique as a form of expression. They allow people to be inside our heads for a moment in an intimate and poignant way. Letters then, become one of the most interesting legacies we can leave behind for future generations.  

We don’t need to discard our computers to love letter writing. They can exist happily, side-by-side in the modern world. One tool allows for speed and convenience, and the other, for authentically crafted and savored messages.    

Be a letter writer!  Have some fun! Spread some love! Change a life!