Back to the pen: Writing letters by hand

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Posted on 
September 14, 2020

A few months ago, I received an unexpected card in the mail from a dear family friend in Ontario. Since our plans of meeting each other in late March 2020 were thwarted, in timeless fashion, she mailed me a see-you-soon "rain check" card instead. No text, phone call or email (she doesn’t use two out of the three to begin with): instead, she invested time in finding a fitting card, writing a sweet note and stopping by the mailbox. Touched by her sweet words and her gesture, I reflected on when I last sat to write a card of my own. Unable to remember, however, I questioned whether basic skills such as putting pen to paper are being left behind and if writing letters by hand is merely a thing of the past.

The digital era has gifted us with plenty of advantages, and social connectivity is one of them. While it allows us to stay close and connected with one another 24/7, worldwide, it also takes away the sentimental value that handwritten letters bring to our lives. The tone and language used in handwritten letters tends to be more personal, heartfelt and, I would argue, formal. Not to mention, our personal handwriting style adds just that extra touch of character and personality to our message. Sometimes, writing by hand comes with a lot of responsibility (think of doctors, who still sometimes write prescriptions by hand), but for most of us, any mistakes we make won’t have serious consequences. Perhaps we may have to invest a little extra time in reading if the writing is unclear or … in cursive. Regardless, the thoughtfulness of writing by hand is a detail that does not go unnoticed, believe me.

Another factor that makes handwritten letters so special is the period of waiting for their arrival, a time filled with longing and anticipation. In the past, letters took weeks if not months to reach their destination, if they made it at all. But with modern tools like instant messaging and email at our disposal, messages between sender and recipient are delivered within seconds. While these tools are beyond practical and convenient, the sense of connection is not always the same, for we’re missing the sense of touch. What’s more, we potentially miss out on the smell letters may carry inside of them: spraying them with our signature scent can add just that extra dash of warmth and intimacy. And what about signing off romantic letters with a lipstick kiss?

You see, there’s so much to be appreciated in handwritten letters, and it’s because of all the effort and detail that goes into them. They allow us to feel closer to the sender, whose presence is felt in all the thoughtfulness of the action, as well as in the time invested in writing them. We even feel the sender’s presence in the simple fact that the letter was traced with their own hands. So why don’t we embrace a slower pace of life? Let’s bring back the art of letter-writing and confirm that waiting is well worthwhile.

I’m happy to share that while writing this post, I’ve mailed three cards to date: a reply to my dear friend in Campbellford, Ontario, and two additional letters, which are travelling to Italy and England.

And you? Where will your next handwritten letter be sent to?

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The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

About the author

Lina Peralta

Lina Peralta

Lina was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and has called Montreal home for 20 years. With a background in modern languages and over 10 years of experience in the air travel industry, she has been able to pursue her passions for travel, language and food. In addition to English and French, Lina is fluent in Spanish and Italian. A lover of language with a knack for writing, she is delighted to contribute to the Language Portal of Canada.

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I send one or two handwritten cards and letters each month. I used to send more but I'm too busy to do that now. I really like the quiet hour or so I spend writing a letter to someone. It's a nice timeout from the busy world. And I know how lovely it is to find a card or letter in my mailbox, so it's nice to give that joy to someone else.

My handwriting has really deteriorated over the past 15 years, though, as I write less and less by hand.

I feel writing by hand, card or no card, is still adding that extra touch to let someone know they matter to you. I still send birthday, anniversary, get well or Christmas cards and always try to add a short note on the side or back. I remember how special it felt when I got mail like this instead of bills and junk mail and how good it felt for days. Sometimes when feeling down, I would read the letter or card again and feel my spirits lift. (Yes, emails are handy and can do the same thing.) Phone calls are special, but time zones, costs and timing do not always make this work. And at least it encourages me to make an effort on my penmanship! I enjoyed your well written article and message. Thank you.

I was trying to recall when last I sent or received a letter (that wasn’t from the bank) and I can’t even remember. Therefore, it is time to send a couple. I have many friends abroad that I just keep in touch with through social media, but I think it would be a nice surprise to send them a letter in the mail. Thank you for the reminder and the inspiration to do so. Such a simple and yet beautiful gesture.

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