The Lost Art of Letter Writing


Letter writing seems like a pretty archaic activity nowadays. And it is, really. The process is long-winded and reeks of effort, which us Millennials are prone to avoid. I had a pen pal from between the ages of about 10 to 13. He lived in Buenos Aires and his name was Pedro. He was really religious and once sent me a fridge magnet of the Virgin Mary. I also used to write to my friend Charlotte who moved away, but my letters (apparently) mostly consisted of pages of spelling and grammar corrections from her last letter. I was a blast.

Since then, writing letters has all but disappeared from my life, and I'm not counting the things I've been forced to send to the utterly backwards Student Loan company.

BUT... Letter writing is back, baby! Well, maybe.

Brad and Angelina are doing it (they were both filming WWII movies and wanted to experience the romance of that era, apparently) and many bloggers have started sending each other letters and parcels in order to share products that they wouldn't normally be able to buy, and to provide each other with new things to write about.

I just did a similar thing myself, actually: A Snail Mail Swap organised by the previously mentioned Charlotte. I wrote a letter to Antonia and received a lovely one back from Beverley. It was really cool to get an actual handwritten letter in the post for the first time in years, and I'd love to keep doing it, but I have to admit that going through the motions of writing and posting my letter made it clear to me why no-one does it any more.

Like I said, it's a crap-ton of effort. Here's a run-down of the arduous steps you are required to endure in order to become a romantic letter-sender worthy of Brangelina's friendship:

1. Find paper, envelope and pen. 

Okay, this part is easy, as long as you have these things laying around. Do you, though? DO YOU HAVE AN ENVELOPE? No, you can't fold up that old takeaway menu and tape it down. You'll have to buy one. At the shops. Or I guess you could re-purpose an old one by covering your address and the postmarks by gluing down squares of white paper or sticking on those big address label stickers (you have those, right?). Then, of course, you'll have to tape the opening down, since you tore it open and now it's not sticky any more.

Yeah, just go buy one. At the shops. Which are far away. Which shops sell envelopes? Clue: None of the ones that would expect to. WHSmiths is a good bet though. They love selling antiquated crap like hardback books and Filofaxes and calculators. My local one even has a Post Office inside it.

2. Write a letter

Okay, be strong, you got this. Although, if you are somewhat younger than me you might have never learned how to actually write a proper letter at school. Or maybe - like me - you've forgotten.

I remember something about having to put your own address at the top, on the right. Or is it the left? Then the date underneath. Then "Dear Sir/Madam" on the left. At the end you finish with "Yours sincerely" or "faithfully", if you know their name. Or is it the other way around? Who cares? Ugh. It's all so Victorian.

Plus, being so out of practice now means your handwriting looks like the deranged scrawlings of an arthritic chimp.

Still, you can feel famous for all of half a second while you sign your name at the end, pretending it's an autograph for one of your adoring fans.

Finally, write the address on the front and don't forget to USE THE POSTCODE or the post-people will unleash a plague of hornets through your letter box. Except they won't, because how do they know who sent the letter? Unless they opened it, then you can get them fired, because that shit's illegal. Use the right postcode though. It's useful.

3. Buy a stamp

Ah, stamps. Those wonderful, tiny tokens of joy that allow our letters and parcels to travel thousands of miles across the country, in vans, on bikes, in those red trolleys the post-people push around... it's magical. Sometimes they have Santa on them, too. But they're, like, 62p each. That's a lot, isn't it? Old people complain about it all the time, don't they?

Yes, but old people are stupid and come from a time where a three-bedroom semi-detached house cost a thousand pounds. 62p is nothing.  You want to deliver it yourself? No? Didn't think so. So, pay the damn 62p you tight-arse.

Going to buy a stamp, though, is a pain. Going anywhere, to do anything which could easily be done by sitting at a computer is a pain. Maybe kill two birds with one stone and pick some up when you buy that envelope from the WHSmiths that's nowhere near your house?

4. Post letter

Once you've affixed your stamp to your correctly addressed and post-coded letter, you must find a mysterious red, metal street-bin-monster known as a "post-box". Or a post office, but then you'll have to queue and, like, talk to someone, probably. Surprisingly, post boxes are actually everywhere - there's three on my road alone - but, these days we generally ignore them until we need one. Kind of like old people.

Once you have found said box, insert your letter and be on your way. Unless it's five minutes after the last collection, then thump the cold cast-iron with your curled fist and curse the sky.

5. Wait

Sometimes, by some kind of divine miracle, letters arrive at their destination the next day. Sometimes they take a week. Sometimes they never arrive and, unless you took out a mortgage to pay for tracking, you will never know if it got there safely.

You could, of course, phone or email the recipient, but that defeats the purpose of writing them a letter, doesn't it? If they then reply to you via snail-mail, you're looking at a 1 week turnaround time, minimum. And that's if they actually reply and post the letter on the same day they received yours, which - let's face it - isn't going to happen.

All this said, though, the reward is totally worth it. Seeing the handwritten purple envelope sitting on my doormat covered in stickers brought a smile to my face, and the experience of sitting down with a cup of tea to read words which had travelled thousands of miles across land and sea is something that emails and text messages just cannot content with. On top of that, knowing that my letter might have done the same for someone else made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So, thank you Beverley for your lovely letter (I pinned the postcard on my pinboard, by the way) and Antonia, I hope you liked (and were able to read) mine. And if anyone else wants a letter or fancies writing to me, let me know!

(I promise I won't correct your grammar.)

ThoughtsKate4 Comments