The Handbook
The Handbook

Letter writing seemed to be a big part of my childhood. Endless thank you notes to grandparents for Christmas presents and distant aunts who’d kindly nestled a fiver into a card, dedicated correspondence my friends and I would write one other as teens despite the fact that we saw each other every day and pen friends I found through a school charity scheme that brought me these delightful notes from countries as far flung as Bosnia and St Lucia. But in adulthood, most of the letters I receive are bills and the ones I send myself, well other than birthday cards and the like, are few and far between.

The Coronavirus has brought the nation an endless list of worries and hard situations, but there’s no denying lockdown has brought with it a whole lot of love. From people talking to their neighbours to community spirit and a weekly clap that’s got us all in tears on our doorsteps, there will be some glimmers of hope and joy to have come out of this mess. And it’s those simple things that money can’t buy that we will remember, which got me thinking about the lost art of letter writing.

There’s a true magic of taking pen to paper, it can be cathartic, romantic, deeply personal and there’s nothing quite like receiving an unexpected but utterly welcomed note from a loved one. I’ve made a vowel to myself to make the effort and send those we haven’t been able to see for months a letter. Not a card or a bottle of wine, but a simple letter. Here are the reasons why…

 

They’re deeply personal

You can’t replicate the magic of a letter sent from on to another. From the handwriting to the choice of paper or card, there’s something deeply personal about it.

Unlike an email or a text message, you can’t write someone else’s letter and it’s perhaps that that allows people to dig deep with the words and write something heartfelt and honest.  And when you read a letter from a loved one, you read it slowly, hearing their voice in your head, which can be so comforting. You can picture memories or places they mention – a special holiday or silly anecdote – it can be marvellously healing.

It also takes effort, it’s not a quick text that’s been autocorrected for you and spelt out with emojis. It takes time to write a letter and the recipient will know that.

They’re tactile even when we can’t be

Lockdown has been tough on us all but no more so than those who are isolating alone. Even when we can’t physically be tactile, receiving a letter can mean the world. It’s a hug made of words that won’t get lost in the abyss of WhatsApp messages and old emails.

It’s a lovely surprise

Unless it’s a letter from HMRC, opening a letter is nothing but lovely. Receiving a letter from a loved one, now more than ever, can make someone’s day, week even. Even if it’s just a short note to say you’re thinking of them.

Writing is good for the brain

Writing a letter can not only be a cathartic and calming experience but it can get the creative juices flowing. A study by the Indiana University found that taking pen to paper can increase neural activity in certain parts of the brain – a little like meditation can. And, that sequential hand movements used when writing activate parts of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing and working memory.

They bring out your inner romantic

Do you think Lord Byron’s letters to countless lovers or Napoleon’s post to Josephine would have quite the same effect typed up on a MacBook Pro? Granted, it wasn’t really an option but there is something hugely romantic about a love letter, penned by the one you’re pinning for.

It’s bare, it’s honest and vulnerable, but it also takes time. You can’t rush into a letter – it takes time to receive and reply – so you choose your words wisely and base a relationship on the important things.

They can be treasured forever

Folded up and kept in a wallet or squirrelled away in a memory box, there’s something heart-warming about knowing someone has treasured your letter.

Even if it’s an old flame or a loved one that’s past, re reading an old letter is like looking at a snapshot in time.

Do you think Lord Byron’s letters to countless lovers or Napoleon’s post to Josephine would have quite the same effect typed up on a MacBook Pro?

If a letter is reassuring or funny, it’s also lovely to look back on when you need a little boost.

There’s no word limit

Letters know no boundaries and as long as you have the time and the patience (and hopefully a way with words) they can go on and on – an email or a text doesn’t quite have the same effect.

They only cost the price of a stamp

A letter is practically free, well, 76p to be exact. During these strange times I bet many would prefer to receive a handwritten, heartfelt letter penned by a loved one than a bottle of wine or some chocolates. Yes, it’s important to pick up the phone or pay a social distanced visit if you can, but consider penning a note to someone special.