Relationships are everything, and who you spend your time with is the only important thing in the world. But corresponding with people is oftentimes distracting and half-hearted.
Today’s relationships are built around convenience. We speak with people in person and turn to our phones, we write messages to one another on social media and only talk about ourselves. We seldom sit down and engage with our friends for extended periods.
But building good relationships is only one argument in favour of taking the time to manually write letters. Here are a few others…
It helps you practice your craft
Correspondence writing is a tough nut to crack. We’re no longer just writing for ourselves but with a reader in mind, a very specific reader.
But it’s a challenging thing to express yourself in tangible words, only to have someone who’s opinion matters to you read it. Often, the words we say go unforgotten, too. If we’re speaking with someone and we say something stupid, we can ask to forget it. Letters don’t have that luxury. Words can’t be misconstrued and tone is interpreted, more so than when we speak. Written correspondence has a huge impact on people.
What this means is that every word counts. Especially if you don’t intend to edit your letter before you send it. But that’s no bad thing. That means that we must make sure our sentences are coherent and well structured, that our points are coming across as we intended.
Letter writing lets us work on many areas of writing. Grammar, style, structure, but most importantly, confidence. Since we’re playing with people’s feelings and emotions (like in a spoken conversation) we must consider someone else’s feelings as if they’re our own. We must be considerate and respectful to the reader. There is no room for false interpretation when it comes to a real relationship.
Letter writing, like free writing, is just good practice.
It helps you be authentic
Hemingway famously said
The only kind of writing is rewriting
Sure, if you want to filter what you have to say to someone, you can edit your letter. But communicating in a relationship is about being authentic and ‘real’. It’s not about self-editing yourself but about showing that person your weaknesses.
In a conversation with someone, we would usually only say something to someone if we’re sure we want to say it. Otherwise it stays with us in our heads. Only on the off occasion do we ‘take our words back’.
Letter writing should be treated the same. It’s difficult to take our words back if they’re on paper. We must be sure that we’re honest when we write. We must portray exactly what we want to without the chance for our opinions or arguments to be misconstrued.
It keeps you writing by hand
Ask yourself: How often do you handwrite something today? Perhaps you write the occasional thank you note to a relative or an entry in a diary? Handwriting is arduous work today, but process is progress.
Typing on a keyboard is quick work. It’s instantly gratifying because we can keep up with our train of thought and publish something immediately. Handwriting a letter, is not.
It’s slow and painful. It’s permanent, but it’s good practice. Handwriting is conscious writing, and conscious writing is good practice. Not only does writing something by hand make us more conscious, but it makes us more attentive, too. It engrosses you in the singular task. Try and write a letter with Instagram loaded on your phone next to you and see what happens. Handwriting is one of the few things today that is difficult to do with distraction. It requires our attention.
It improves your relationships
I write at least a letter a week to someone. My nana, my friends overseas, my brother… Whoever it is, these are people I rarely see, but they’re relationships that mean a lot to me. Taking up my time to write a letter to a friend, then, is never time wasted, even if it takes me twice as long as writing a message on social media.
Process, patience, persistence… these are words lost today. Letter writing is one of the few crafts where we can actively develop these skills in ourselves. The same goes for phones, televisions and laptops. We’re in a distracted world, and relationships are taken for granted. Letter writing helps us prioritise what actually matters in life: Who we spend it with.