Eleven Benefits Of Writing Personal Letters
Over two decades have passed since I started writing letters to my best friend’s older sister. This sister was moving away to college, and this seemed reason enough to send her letters.
My early letters contained countless typos, misspelled words, and silly observations. They would surely make me groan and laugh out loud if I read any of them today. Nonetheless, this was an auspicious beginning to a practice I have continued, in some form or fashion, ever since. Even while hiking the Appalachian Trail, I managed to write a few letters while sitting in my tent after a long day of hiking. During more “normal” circumstances I often write a dozen or more letters a week.
In years past I spent more time and money at stores such as Hallmark buying adorable cards with pictures of puppies and kittens to send to my nearest and dearest. Currently I’m much more likely to type a letter on my computer—partly because I type MUCH faster than I write longhand—than I am to write a personal note. However, I virtually always sign my letters longhand in order to add a personal touch.
How often do you write personal letters?
I cannot imagine my life without the opportunity and the urge to write letters. While my life circumstances could alter so significantly—I could, for instance, get married and have triplets—and consequently prevent me from continuing this practice, I hope this will never be the case.
By writing as many personal letters as I do—especially while simultaneously using faster communication options such as email and text messaging—I’m aware of the benefits from this practice. This list is a personal—and therefore inevitably biased—one, and it’s therefore possible you wouldn’t experience every benefit listed if you start writing personal letters. However, I believe that this is a valuable practice; therefore it will be worthwhile if you are willing to put in the effort while having a generous and grateful attitude.
The first benefit is I’m able to communicate with my family and friends using another medium. I find email and text messaging useful and often necessary; however, these options cannot take the place of a personal letter. Depending on my life circumstances and the relationship in question, writing a personal letter may be more appropriate than sending a text message or email. This I find most true when I have significant news to share—such as getting a better job or unexpectedly finding love. In these circumstances the ability to write at length helps me better explain these changes than I could in a standard text message or email.
The opportunity to write at length is another benefit of writing personal letters. I’m much more comfortable explaining myself in writing than I am in a phone conversation, and for this reason and others I consider writing letters a luxury. While it’s possible to be interrupted while writing a letter—by a phone call or a significant other who needs something—this format offers the freedom to delve into topics and ideas more thoroughly than one can during a phone conversation.
Because letters require more time than a quick text message or email, this means they require more thought. Most of my letters are at least 600 words, and this means they include information beyond brief comments about the weather, my book club’s latest selection, and so forth. My personal letters often contain such workaday details, but they are also long enough I can and often explore more esoteric topics.
Which of these topics would you enjoy exploring in a personal letter?
A fourth benefit of writing letters is this is one way I help people know who I am. In person I’m not always able to share my opinions and feelings, yet on the page there is much greater freedom to do so. Also, especially with friends and family who live far away, one of the best way to offer them information is by writing a letter.
Still another benefit of writing letters is this allows me to participate in a long-established tradition. Despite not being an overly traditional person in other areas of my life, I’m reassured by the knowledge that writing personal letters was a common practice for hundreds of years. The fact it has become less common in the 21st century saddens me since I believe the benefits of writing letters far outweighs any costs.
A sixth benefit of writing letters is the joy I experience when I hear—often months, sometimes years later—how a certain letter or even the presence of letters have touched a friend’s life. Through frequent personal letters I’ve tried to offer comfort to friends who have been widowed unexpectedly, as well as those in the midst of a messy divorce. Also, I’ve been able to encourage friends who are in graduate school, or struggling with parenting challenges, and beyond by writing them letters.
Writing personal letters is one way I am able to express my care and concern for those in my life. In person I’m not the most effusive individual—unless, of course, a puppy or baby is involved—and therefore it’s necessary for me to offer words of reassurance and loyalty in written form.
Curiously, writing personal letters is one way I learn more about myself. This may seem like a surprising reason, yet I’ve repeatedly experienced this phenomenon. Often while writing a letter I’ll start discussing a subject only to realize I had much stronger opinions about a subject than initially realized. Also, I’ve noticed I can more easily funnel intensity into subjects on the page compared to becoming excited about these subjects in spoken conversation.
A ninth benefit of writing personal letters is the possibility of leaving a legacy. A personal letter—whether handwritten or typed—is much more likely to be saved for a longer period of time than an email or text message. Also, since personal letters promote the sharing of more intimate and revealing information, what these letters contain is often more valuable. Furthermore, a personal letter is one way for those you leave behind to remember you. My Grandma Glenna will turn 87 later this year. This means, of course, she won’t be with us for too many more years. Consequently, I recognize one way I’m likely to remember her after she dies is by rereading the many personal letters she has written me. While it’s also possible I’ll remember our phone conversations—and feisty card games—these letters will endure in a way these memories are less likely to.
If you write enough personal letters, it’s possible you will receive a few replies. This is, in my opinion, one of the most delightful benefits of writing letters. While writing a letter it is easy to be tickled by the possibility of an eventual response. After all, since sending traditional mail is much slower—especially if your letters are sent overseas—than sending email or calling someone, it’s impossible to know when—or even if—a response will come. I’ve been known to answer letters almost immediately after I receive them, or else it may take months. Yet the slow exchange is part of the sweetness of writing personal letters. A word of caution: It’s inadvisable to write personal letters under the presumption everyone—or even most people—will write back. In other words, it’s helpful to regard every letter you write and receive as a gift. It can be stressful and discouraging to believe you “owe” anyone a letter, or that they “owe” you a response. Since I don’t believe those I write to “owe” me a response, I’m extra delighted when I receive one.
The final benefit from writing letters is this connects me to the postal employees in my town. One of the women I purchase stamps from also writes letters, and she is often delighted when I step up to her counter with a stack of letters I need to purchase stamps for. Since the act of writing is generally a solitary practice, such moments of connect and camaraderie are invaluable. Since writing letters appears to be a dying art, I greatly appreciate any kindred spirits who, like me, refuse to abandon this practice.