Picking Up Old Habits

The last time I wrote a handwritten letter was to an old friend for Christmas. Two stationary sheets, front and back, and the only reason it wasn’t any longer was because I felt as if I’d been rambling on and “hogging” the conversation. Which is funny, considering how letter writing has always felt to me like more of an exchange of monologues, rather than a dialog. My hand had cramped painfully – I was out of practice holding a pen, and I’ve always had a problem with writing fast enough to keep up with my thoughts while still keeping my penmanship legible (unfortunately I seem to take after my father the doctor, with his near illegible scrawling style, more than my mother’s controlled whorls and looping script).

There is, however, an undeniable pleasure that comes from putting your thoughts to physical paper by hand. When typing, I can go through a dozen attempts at the same sentence. My emails go through multiple rounds of editing before being sent. Much of the time, many of the thoughts and words I type never actually make it to their intended recipient, blinking out of existence with a “highlight” and “delete” about as quickly as they appeared. Physically writing a letter however, I have no choice but to pause and consider before committing my thoughts to the page. I have to force my thoughts to slow from a sprint to a slow walk, and if I’m honest, it often irritates the hell out of me to do so. I have other things to write, chores to do, places to go, and just maybe I can squeeze in that 30 minutes at the gym – I don’t have time to slow down! Typing is so much faster and more efficient (and anyway, a script font is just as good as real handwriting, right?). But that slowing down also forces me to stop and think: Is this really what I want to say? Are these details really necessary? Just what kind of “tone” am I going for here (and am I actually succeeding)? Physical penmanship forces me to actually say what I mean, and do it with brevity – a 2000 word email won’t cost me a dime, but long letters can mean more postage and stamps aren’t as cheap as they used to be.

I used to be really good at this. When I moved from my home in Chicago after my parents died to live with some relatives, I wrote nearly half a dozen letters to friends back home every couple of weeks. A sizable chunk of my allowance was set aside to buy stationary, pens and stamps, all of which I went through at a considerable clip. Some friends and I would write back and forth to each other several times a month. But between the ease (and cheap cost) of email and how temporary mailing addresses became during the college years, I just fell out of the habit. But I still have all of them, every single letter I’ve ever received since high school, kept in a stack of shoeboxes in the bedroom closet. And because I never really stopped being something of a stationary hoarder, I still have several boxes of quality paper, cards and matching envelopes (and stickers!) that most of my friends would immediately recognize as from me.

I suppose it’d be a shame to let all that go to waste.

21 thoughts on “[Wayback Repost] Why do letters seem more daunting than email?”

  1. Having been a letter writer for several years now, I don’t particularly find this challenge all that difficult, other than remembering to do it every day instead of when the whim takes me to write. And since I may not have a penpal’s letter to answer, then I need to think outside my normal circle of penpals and write to others. I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with a few old penpals that had lapsed, family members that live outside of the city, friends I haven’t seen in a while, and strangers or persons of stature. I think it’s a great challenge and maybe it will even boost the joy of those who process all this mail and deliver it to us. 🙂

      1. Yesterday the commenting seemed broken. I was commenting on the printable cards to slip into letters explaining LetterMo, but this WayBack showed up at the bottom of every post I opened. Sorry about that~

  2. I love your post. And I totally agree.

    Email, tweets n twitters, FB comments all have their place and moment in time where they are the appropriate way to respond.

    However, sending a letter, postcard, or notecard is the only way to connect with someone on a more personal, even intimate, level.

    The act of sending a missive does take time, but more importantly it takes thought. What paper will I use? What will I add (stickers, washi, etc.)? What will I say? Combined these choices will be a bright spot in someone’s day. Added bonus? It was created specifically for them.

  3. Great article on postcard apps but you should also take a look at Postsnap’s easy to use postcard app.
    The app offers a number of unique features compared to the other apps reviewed including:
    – Guest checkout with Apple Pay
    – Extensive personalization options including collage layouts, stylish borders which can be adjusted in size with a slider and the option to add editable text in a variety of font types and colors and position it anywhere on the cards
    – iPhone and iPad support
    – Apple Pencil support
    – Facebook and Instagram integration
    – US postal address verification and UK postcode lookup
    Cards are printed and posted in our facilities in the UK, USA and Australia on the same or next working day and so cards typically arrive quickly. Enjoy!
    Stephen Homer

  4. I love Tomoe River paper for letter writing. I buy 100 sheets at a time and print my own mermaid stationery. I found an envelope that I like and ordered a mermaid address stamp and finish it off with mermaid washi tape.

  5. I too love journals to pull apart for writing. For me the most important aspect of the paper is the pattern. I love to have some colour and some design on the paper. I’ve managed to find a number of nice colours and designs at one of my local “Home Sense” discount stores in the book section. Most of the small journals are a perfect size to fit in the envelopes I use. If not I just give one edge a bit of a trim (but sometimes I really like the ripped edge look too!) ;P

  6. Hi, Christmas cards & more recently a letter (a bill) from the UK to Australia have taken 3 weeks to arrive. The exterior of these envelopes were stamped with a mark such as this from the latest envelope:
    DLC 992-4
    The example quoted arrived at the Australian address on 28/07/2017, unfortunately it contained a bill dated 06/07/2017 which had to be paid within 14 days, by 20/07/2017.
    Why is the post so slow? What does the DLC 992-4 stamp signify? Would appreciate your feedback.

  7. My letter that I wrote was in September. The person who it was for still hasn’t gotten it and it’s now November….
    I don’t understand why it’s taking this long. I live in AZ and he lives in NY. I want answers.

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