Letter writing is becoming a lost art. It is simply a method of correspondence between two people. I think it also serves the purpose of “slowing down” to savor life the second time. To many people, snail mail letter writing is old-fashioned, slow, and unpromising. It rarely produces results. Writing a letter brings little immediate inspiration and gratification. The sentiment, especially in students, is often a negative one. I’d love to turn that around! Just like vigorous singing or cursive writing can be promoted and enhanced in school, so can letter writing.
The effectiveness in letter writing lies in creativity. Letter writing is an art that can be learned. A well-crafted letter shows that you are educated, interesting, and come from a place of excellence. Modern technology has replaced proper written communication in many ways. Our ability to creatively notice life’s details has quickly gone with it. With so few of the letters sent being inspiring, the decline of letter writing further hurries along.
Let’s peruse some letter writing etiquette ideas. (Introduce them to your students.)
· If someone writes you a letter, it is only polite to reply. So reply. Promptly. If you can’t, then at least acknowledge the letter in a text message, a phone call, or face to face. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If letters would be sent and responded to more quickly, this mode of communication would happen more frequently I am sure. It is devastating to pour into a letter and never receive a word in response.
· Snail mail letters and cards can be a way of thanking someone for something. Whether you are thanking a hostess for a good time you had, thanking a friend for a gift, thanking someone for taking time out for you, or thanking someone for a party they invited you to, you should show your gratefulness. It is only polite. We’ve lost our tasteful “thank you” correspondences. We need to return to them.
· Send fan mail. True, sincere fan mail. No flattery please. If someone wrote a good book and is still living, write them. If you like a certain magazine, art piece, talk, etc. let them know! Artists and creators need feedback. You will bless their day.
· If you are part of a circle letter, as soon as you receive it, write your letter and send it on its way. Letting it sit in your drawer for three months is distasteful and unmannerly.
· Be precise in your postage and addressing. Mail carriers are not overpaid. Make their job easy.
Tools for teaching letter writing.
As a teacher, you can introduce letter writing in a rather flamboyant way. Enamor your students by writing personal letters to them in the mail on lovely stationary. You could use a wax sealer to fasten the envelope, a fascinating stamp, and nice calligraphy for the address. The students will notice all the time and beauty you’ve poured into the letter that is “all their own now!” and it will inspire them to try it.
In class, show them all your supplies and let your enthusiasm radiate. Show them stationery, cards, pens, markers, stamps, wax seals, postcards, letter openers, stickers, address book, etc. Explain what each one is for. It does make letter writing more fun to have all these supplies. However, some of my best letters have been written on notebook papers and sent in plain envelopes sealed with my tongue. Remind students that the most important tool for letter writing is “curiosity”. Show students how to collect interesting, curious “data” that is letter worthy and how to put it into a letter form by reading excerpts from real life examples. Here are excerpts from an article I wrote that first appeared in Daughters of Promise magazine (Issue 25: Wonder)
Write about your experiences using fascinating words:
“My clove stick from the mercantile numbed my mouth with a perfectly pioneerish, spicey taste.”
“Warmth from the fire slipped out the doors as we went in and out.”
“And we walked away from the cozy village to the glamorous Inn and ate salad and granny cake.”
Inscribe something creative on the outside of the envelopes:
“Sorry if this felt like a wad of money: Just a wad of words.”
Write in a real and authentic way:
“It’s kind of fun being married to a race horse. I have, though, become more turtlely than ever. But the race horse has just gotten kinder at the same rate as I slowed. Praise the Lord.”
Write interesting details:
“I didn’t use the backsides (of the paper) because I knew I’d write uphill and downhill (in my nightgown to boot) and then I would feel miserable.”
Write about personal subjects and how they affect you:
“I’ve missed Tood, our big gray cat. I have pretty much adjusted to the ones we have now, but they are a great deal more fickle. And Alvin’s head was difficult for me, Tood’s was big and round and nice. Alvin’s was this little triangle on the end of his long neck…don’t tell anybody, but I pray for the cats when they are sick.”
“…if only you were here, right this moment, sharing a pumpkin hot cocoa. Mom didn’t like my latest creation. I’ll admit it could take a few changes. Like to puree the pumpkin, more cinnamon…and its strangely thick.
Another idea to introduce letter writing to your students is to read a boring letter, then an interesting one you’ve mocked up about current classroom events. Tell them that practice makes perfect.
Instead of writing in a school “journal”, use letter writing. Copy off the letters for a keepsake at the end of the school term. Perhaps your class could write daily or weekly letters to some shut-ins or elderly people that would actually write back. You could have students write to people they admire.
You will probably have to invest some money into the project. But if we influence young writers in school, just think of how many years they have time to develop this good habit. The world will be a better place.
Letter writing tips.
I contacted Sheila Petre, a well-known author who is also a notorious letter writer, for her letter writing tips. I have heard her say that letter writing is the highest form of writing. Sheila gives five pointers for letter writing. Here are her comments on these points in response to my letter.
1. Find a point of intersection with the person to whom you write. You did this, when you mentioned seeing me at the Kidron writer’s meeting. I wish I could remember you. Introduce yourself the next time. Tell me you’re the person who filled three pages of a Charlie Brown tablet which had the enigmatic pitcher’s mound scene on it.
2. Write about your passions. I loved to read about your creative writing curriculum.
3. Include parentheticals. (That’s where the fun stuff happens. Like your description of “Fanny.” Delightful. Caveat: sometimes one can forget one is in a parenthetical, and other times, it can be hard to get out of one if you stay in it too long. I’ve been in this position, and I hate it. I am not naturally claustrophobic, but this can be tough. Here goes…)…)…) There. Made it. Breath of relief. Now we can get on with the letter.
4. Relax and be yourself. I loved how naturally you wrote; I felt as though we’d been friends forever. You included little details as they occurred to you, and let the letter wander where it would.
5. Stay positive. (I don’t know how one goes about balancing this with the last point—if “yourself” is a pessimist, what to do? But most letter-writers are optimists, for the simple reason that those who reach out to other people are happy people.)
I like to challenge myself to write a letter a day in April, the national card and letter writing month. Thirty pieces of snail mail in thirty days. If you can only send out one envelope per week, that’s good too. Becoming a snail mail connoisseur takes much practice. Want to join me?
Lastly, we are thrilled to offer new card and stationery bundles to our customers! The bundles include 5 x 7 original watercolor prints by Jacinda Neuenschwander and our very own stationery. We like to support local artists and are happy that Jacinda has agreed to share her work with us. I hope you’ll browse the new products and enjoy them as much as we do.
Ps. Daughters of Promise is a women’s magazine and can be found here. Sheila Petre is an author, poet, editor, and like I mentioned, a snail mail connoisseur. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Many thanks to her contribution.