A couple of my friends recently announced – completely independently of one another – that they’d like to revive the art of letter writing. One of them wrote me a fantastic, interesting and highly entertaining letter to tell me so, but spent half of it apologising for the quality of her scribblings.
It got me thinking: there’s a surprisingly profound difference between the art of writing by hand and the process of writing via a keyboard. If, like my friends and I, you’ve spent decades tapping away in front of computers, you might have lost the knack, too.
How to resurrect your letter writing mojo
It looks like writing old-school letters by hand might be making a comeback, very like baking, knitting and colouring in. Here’s some insight into what makes typing and writing by hand so different, and how you can bring your letter writing mojo back to sparkling life.
Writing by hand with a pen – Think first, write second
Traditional letter writing demands concentration up front. You can rub out and re-write but it’s messy, and part of the pleasure lies in making your letter look beautiful. Using pen and paper means you have to spend time thinking about what to say before saying it, which makes the whole thing a lot more leisurely than frantically typing, abbreviating wherever possible and using emojis instead of describing how you feel.
Writing is also a lot slower than typing. I find I can type at roughly the same rate as I think, which is useful for work. But when I hand-write my thoughts steam ahead, disappearing into the far distance. I struggle to keep up, and my once-lovely handwriting turns into a straggly, rushed mess.
Typing on a keyboard – Write first, think second
When you’re typing you race along, getting your thoughts down fast without thinking too much. Once you’ve got all the information safely expressed on screen you can sit back, go through it carefully, and do your thinking and editing.
I reckon this is why my friend found it so unexpectedly tricky to write a letter using pen and paper. She was doing it with her typing head on, using the ‘think second’ method many of us tend to use, and getting in a bit of a mess as a result.
8 tips for improving your traditional letter writing skills
Would you like to experience the thrill of getting lovely, fat, handwritten personal letters through your letterbox, packed with news, views and excitement? Here’s how to get those rusty letter writing skills back in good shape.
- Pick one or two people – friends or family – to exchange letters with and make them great people, folk you’ll genuinely adore writing to and who will love to hear from you
- Decide how frequently you’ll exchange letters so you don’t end up being deluged, feeling guilty because you don’t write as often as your friends
- Decide to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, savouring the fact that handwriting is a lot slower than typing, much more leisurely
- Treat yourself to beautiful, thick, creamy paper, posh envelopes and a really good pen
- If you’ve lost the art of beautiful handwriting through years of typing, practice on scrap paper first until you’ve got it back in shape
- For the first few letters, jot down a draft as a guide. You could list the subjects you want to write about, subdivide them, then draft a paragraph or make a bullet list of points to make under each subject. This makes it easier to get things right first time, but if you don’t manage perfection first off you can always copy it out neat once you’re 100% happy
- Pick one to three subjects to discuss in depth and stick to them, rather than trying to say a zillion things at once
- Have fun with words. Grab a thesaurus and enjoy the process of choosing the exact right word to express yourself. Our language is jam packed with weird and wonderful words, and a handwritten letter is the perfect place to showcase some of them
Remember that getting a real letter in the post is a huge treat for most of us. Don’t worry too much about how it looks or sounds. In the case of letters, it really is the thought that counts.