The Lost Art of Letter-writing

I confess I get a little suspicious whenever anyone entitles something “The Lost Art of…”. There’s a degree of presumptuousness in declaring something a lost art. And so I will begin by asserting only that the art of letter-writing has been lost (for a while) to me. Although perhaps also to those who would once have written me letters, as I haven’t received any for some time.

Today I decided to write a letter for the first time in the longest time. Immediately I began, I was struck by a few things.

  • You think through your sentences more, because you can’t just backspace your way out of trouble.
  • If you do commit yourself to a word that you then regret, even in the most innocuous way, you have a decision to make. Either you can re-craft the sentence around the word, adapting on the fly. Or you can score the word out. However, you know that the reader – unless you score it out so thoroughly and heavily that it leaves a shiny black dent in the page – will read your wrong word and try to work out what you were going to say. And why you changed your mind. 
  • Even if you make the shiny black dent the reader is going to wonder what on earth you wrote that you now so desperately don’t want them to read. And there’s still a possibility that the word can be read by turning the page over and holding it up to the light.
  • In such a way was my prepubescent crush on Lynda McCann in P7 discovered. I sent her a Christmas card, along with a cuddly toy gift, with the intention of being a mysterious anonymous sender (plus I was scared). Sadly, however, I forgot to NOT WRITE my name in it, as I was on a Christmas-card-writing roll at the time, working my way through all my Christmas cards to all my friends, most of whom I had no desire to conceal my identity from. Hence I resorted to the classy approach of Tippexing my name out. Which didn’t really work when the reverse-and-hold-up-to-the-light tactic was employed. In front of the whole class, if I remember correctly. For such moments were counselling sessions created.
  • If you get creative, and make up a whole new word, an angry red dashed line doesn’t appear underneath it. Nor does the system automatically change it into another word that you didn’t remotely want to say. Because there is no system. There is only you, some paper, and a pen. 

The letter I wrote was to my 12 year old niece. I expect it to take her by surprise. I began the letter by explaining what a letter was, which may have been mildly condescending, but I suspect it was needed.

The whole experience was quite rewarding, and brought back some long-forgotten memories. Like Basildon Bond writing paper. I am fairly convinced that I (on at least one occasion) received some Basildon Bond writing paper as a Christmas present. Possibly a pack of envelopes too.

My niece, I’m afraid, received no such luxury – I wrote to her on a piece of lined paper torn from a student’s notebook. I should point out that it was a student’s notebook that I had just purchased – I didn’t tear a page from the book of a nearby student.

I addressed the letter, put a stamp on it, and posted it in a red pillar box. I felt like a relic from a bygone era. It was great.

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