When I was a mere youngling, I wrote letters. My spelling was frequently off and my efforts could be optimistically termed as ‘mildly dismal’ but I knew all my pen-pals’ favourite colours and I enjoyed receiving the responses and writing mine after a long interval. (Procrastination has ever been a companion of mine.) (Unfortunately.)
I am now older, with grey hair and a back. (The grey hair was an expensive choice and the back is seeming to still function. I just wanted to mention that I had one. You probably have one too.) And in late-ish 2020, thanks to a friend who also thought it was a Good Idea, I plunged back into the world of letter writing.
My efforts could still improve, my spelling is as off as milk left in the Sahara desert for three months, and my handwriting takes inspiration from a beheaded and drunken chicken’s fevered scratchings.
(Sometimes it looks nice. Sometimes.)
And yet there’s nothing quite like receiving a letter in the mail – something that isn’t an advertisement, a bill, something from the bank, or a parcel that you paid for. No – this is for you. A piece of tangible snug cosiness formed of ink and paper, waiting for you to sit down with a cup of tea so that it can share its contents with you.
Here are some things that I’ve learned along the way:
MAKE A HABIT OF IT
My friend and I determined that for the month of December, we would write a letter a week to each other. And I really must say – making it a discipline to write regularly helped.
And it didn’t quite stop there. I realised that not only did I want to write to my friend, but I also wanted to write letters to other friends and family members. They have now been
inflicted gifted with many, many letters. (I haven’t sent one to the Queen just yet but I can feel one coming.) (I should clarify that I’m not related to her.) (That I know of.) (The chances are sub-zero.) (Yes, that is a thing.)
Writing letters is as little or as much as you make of it. The heart is always the actual letter. However, you can also do some lovely window dressing. I looked at Pinterest and my word! There’s an entire world of letter writing. There are YouTube channels dedicated to the art of the PenPal. They layer up paper and stickers and stamps and drawings like an English person does clothes in a Canadian winter.
I love it. It’s insane and I am bewildered by it all but I love it.
I’m not touching calligraphy (see aforementioned description of my handwriting) but I can buy stickers! I can buy washi tape (or as I incorrectly called it: wasabi tape. The two are not the same, fyi)! It’s been a slow descent into madness but I have a basket of supplies. It’s enormous fun and quite relaxing to let my dubious creativity loose on paper and envelope. And then I seal it with a wax seal and oh my gosh in that moment I’m either a) Roman emperor completing a death warrant or b) an Austen heroine there is no in-between.
Writing letters is a way to time travel (a letter! sent last week! A voice from the past!) – in our world of instant instantness (just bear with me here) it’s delightful to send and receive something that isn’t saved on a cloud somewhere, but something that you can take out, hold and reread. (Or, for those receiving a letter from me: squint at my handwriting and ask ‘is that an ‘a’ or an ‘e’, why is that ‘i’ there and what on earth is she saying?) It’s a lovely way of connection – especially now, when it’s so difficult and many of us cannot meet with the ones we love.
It might be difficult, when faced with a blank page, to work out what to write. But have no fear! You can fill it with so many things:
- interesting questions (contingency plans if zombies should attack … ohhh I haven’t used that one yet!)
- descriptions of books you’re reading/media you’ve enjoyed
- adventures you have had/would like to have
- what you ate for breakfast
- opinions on the weather (… it’s practically a law, I think)
- mutual interests/memories
- quotes/interesting snatchings of poetry
- music suggestions
- etc etc etc
So, if you are pondering letter writing – enjoy it! Go for it! Take the plunge! Find someone to exchange letters with. (And be bitter with me about the way that there isn’t spellcheck for writing letters by hand.) (And lament when the Royal Mail somehow mislays a letter EVEN WHEN IT’S ONLY GOING TO A CITY FORTY-FIVE MINUES.) (I love them really. Also: what a shame, I’ll just have to write another letter.)
By the by, what is your favourite colour? And have I overused brackets in this post? (No.) (If anything I underused them.)