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Hand Written Letters Are Better Letters

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In this age of instant messaging, email, and cell phones, we often think of communication as an immediate priority. We lose some of the finesse of the writers of years gone by. Messages tend to be choppy, full of acronyms and misspellings. There is no grace to our correspondence anymore.

After my divorce, my children wound up two-thousand miles away. Too young for email and cell phones, I began learning the art of letter writing. In my town, and I would hope most others, there is a shop specializing in all things writing related. There I found the book Writing Letters with Pen & Ink.

The book is filled with wonderful tips and history. It is not a long book, by any stretch of the imagination, at only 29 pages. The pages are packed with artwork, memorable quotes from famous writers, but most important of all, inspiration to put away that keyboard and let the words flow from your hand to ink.

A typed letter can never provide the entire picture. Each letter, a laser copy of each other letter, so perfect in form, can not convey the emotional warmth that comes from imperfect handwriting, where a difference in style could signal uplifting feeling, or deepest despair.

This book inspired me to write, but there was another problem. I have never had the best of handwriting, and I was recently diagnosed with the neurological disorder essential tremor. This causes a person’s extremities to shake, in my case making my handwriting all that much worse.

Another book, Write Now came to my aid.

This book is filled with everything you need to learn to write in italic, a simple, yet elegant and legible writing style. There are exercises that run you through each letter, both capital and lowercase, organized in such a way that you are learning similar shapes and motions.

Italic puts an emphasis on least number of strokes per letter. The result is a system that lets you write neat, clean letters quickly. While I can not claim that italic cursive is the easiest thing to learn, it does look very nice.

Within a few days, I noticed that my writing was much more legible. The book is not a miracle worker, you do need to practice to get better. For me, that practice is a weekly letter to my children, even if absolutely nothing is happening. They know I love them, and like to let them knowing what is going on in my life.

So get out there and write someone. Everyone loves finding a letter from a friend or loved one amidst the stack of bills.

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  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Very true – the pleasure, now lost, of a handwritten letter is far different from any electronic similacrum. The words are the same, yet the emotion somewhat different.

    Yet, verbal expression seems to have exploded, a la Kundera’s graphomania, since electronic communication took over as a major form of communication for those on the ‘right’ side of the digital divide.

    Medium versus content – a truly Hamletian question.

  • SFC SKI

    The Internet and IM are a two-edged sword, on one hand distorting English into chat-speak, at the same time getting more to write to express themselves rather than speak.
    My handwriting is terrible, so friends and family consider a handwritten letter from me a mixed blessing, but I find that the slow process of handwriting actually aids me in expressing myself, to take my time and examine my thoughts and opinions and find the best way to express them to others. By contrast, in typing an electronically, I am trying to make a statement and hit the “send” button, or in this forum, the post button, there is less time to reflect and examine (and proofread) what I have written.. Did I get my point across? Did I mean to use that word or tone? who cares, “Send”

    Great little article.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    I went for blank holiday cards this year so that I could hand write my own personal message to each person. I definitely got a better response than I would normally get out of pre-printed Christmas cards (which is to say, none). It was worth the effort.

    It was a heck of a lot of effort, though. I can can type 15 messages in the time it takes to hand write one. I’ll reserve this effort for friends.

  • http://www.midnitcafe.blogspot.com Mat

    A good ten years ago I used to write all the time. I sent at least 3 letters a day. It was a joy to receive a letter in the mail each day as well. It’s such a shame that all I get in the mail these days are bills and magazines. Maybe I’ll go write a real letter right now.

  • http://www.eclecticlibrarian.net/blog/ Anna

    Hmm… I used to write so many letters that my parents made me pay my own postage. Now I will sporatically write an email or two, but very few real letters. I am borrowing a copy of Write Now in hopes that it will help improve my penmanship and allow me to write faster.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i still have a pile of the letters i received from friends back in my college days.

    today of course i use email. it really isn’t the same.

    favorite letter i ever wrote: once in college a good friend of mine took time off and stayed with his sister out in seattle. me & my girlfriend wrote him a letter in which we switched the writer on every word. that is, i wrote one word, she wrote the next….

    IMing is a weird phenomenon as it seems to have shrunk up attention spans even more. i know kids who don’t answer email because it’s “too much of a pain”.

  • Eric Olsen

    very thoughtful post – thanks Roger! As Aaman said the Internet is very much a mixed blessing (as all technological changes are), increasing writing in general but also devaluing it at the same time. I have seen many a boo reviewer say something along the lines of “this collection of letters by … to his wife/friend/mother/etc from the 18th century documents …’s virtually every move and thought – so sad that future historieans will not have this bounty from our era.”

    Unless you find their hard drive

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Thought provoking post, Roger. There is a different feeling to writing in longhand as opposed to the keys, too. A sense of personal connection to the person you’re writing. I imagine the reader reading each word as I write it — it’s more personal, as you’ve said.

    Eric – I archive many e-mails that state anything of interest or note, and copy them to a huge correspondence file. Over the years, it’s really become a diary of my life and times.

    This book review has been selected for Advance.net. You’ll be able to find this and other Blog Critics reviews at such places at Cleveland.com’s Book Reviews column.

  • Mick Davies

    I have kept a handwritten journal for over twenty years, while in boot camp I wrote regularly to my then fiancé, and as a child the handwritten postcards (there was no other kind then) that my Nana received from her lifelong friends were a fascination. Only recently have I attempted to share my own private practice and revive it among my close friends whom all, save one, live on the other side of the country. A set of picture postcards of personal photographs on archival paper sent to all as holiday gifts will hopefully be the means for them to begin a return to the carefully considered handwritten word. Even as I was preparing to send the postcard set out for the holidays one dear friend e-mailed me to say she missed old-fashioned letter writing and wished to continue to stay in touch “by hand”.

    As children grow up with computers in schools, at home, in libraries, and elsewhere it is up to those of use who remember a time before word processors and e-mail to hand down a tradition that is being taken for granted and silently dying. The last generations to be born before the personal computer were not prepared to face the possible demise of handwritten correspondence because such a possibility is only now being recognized; perhaps too late but hopefully not. The handwritten word is not something any society can afford to lose. It is the lowest common denominator for any civilization. Even as we surrounded ourselves with technology it is our ability to communicate with the written word, not typed or processed, but written that insures our ability to do more than simply survive. When all else has faded, decayed, or been destroyed it will be civilization’s ability to communicate with the written word that will insure its ability to thrive.

    It is nothing short of magic that with only ink, paper, and able mind we can create something out of nothing; and in our ability to create we glimpse the power of our Gods in ourselves. For now, we need only instill in our young charges a desire to see their words flow from their impressionable minds onto paper using their only their hands, a pen, and an inkwell.

  • S.S.S

    I read some of this, sadly I haven’t the time to read all of it, sorry. But I found what I read somewhat interesting. (This is me not being sure if I should use the word interesting or not.) I don’t write letters myself, but I do write books, unlike most people though, I handwrite them out in pencil or type them up on a typewriter. I find that it actually increases my flow of thought and allows me to better understand what I am reading or writing – reading when I’m doing research on a subject.

    So, I actually urge you all to write a letter at one point in the day, maybe something to remind yourself of when you get home from work, or really just about anything. It doesn’t have to be sent, but I find that it helps you concentrate almost the whole day if you do in the morning.

  • manjunath

    Truly inspiring. I never thought about this dimension of letter writing. These days using e-mail has gone so deep in to our system that we tend to think that is the nicest thing on earth. In fact, I now realise that human touch, emotions, thoughful expression of hand written words have the desired and lasting effect on the reader. Also it is time tested and proven way of connecting with people. Not just for the sake of communicating. It goes far beyond and is remembered for a long long time. It is such a pleasurable thing. You do not want to destry that but you cherish reading it repeatedly at different times of one’s life. Great article. Keep it up.

  • courtney

    i like to hand write my things but i would like to back and write neatly

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    Recent comments led me to this old post. My wife hand-writes many letters each week, and quite enjoys it. I stick with email for now.

  • Ken Wilson

    I am 60 years old, and can still remember my days in Primary School, as we call it in Australia.
    It was 1960, I was in Grade 5, the days when you dared not speak in class, and the teachers would prowl the room looking over your shoulder.
    I can still hear our teachers voice during writing lessons. Slope to the right, heavy on the down stroke, lighter on the up stroke, cross your tees and dot your eyes as you go.
    Although that was nearly 50 years ago, I still love to hand write letters and cards.
    This computer and email stuff is fast and convenient, but a hand written letter still beats all.
    Keep up the Pen-man-ship.
    Ken, in Melbourne, Australia

  • http://handwrittenletters.com letters

    Hand Written Letters Are Better Letters how very much we agree. Our website handwrittenletters.com celebrates the pleasure of writing, sending and especially receiving hand written letters. If you would care to share your letters online we have an upload option where you can send us photos of your letters, we would be pleased to hear from you.

  • JenM

    I love writing and receiving letters. I love reading ABOUT letters. I love looking lustfully at pens and paper. I, too, have a neurological disorder that makes my handwriting sloppy, but my friends and family do appreciate that personal touch, more so as it becomes more and more rare.

  • shannnon mccarthy

    crap