The beauty of letter writing

letter writing

Jane Austen penned more than her best-selling, wonderful novels that blew open the world of women – she also wrote very long and detailed letters to her sister Cassandra. In these personal letters she would exposit her day-to-day life, moment by moment, emotion by emotion. Perhaps in an earlier version of Twitter, Ms Austen’s favourite complaint was of how expensive paper used to be – and in response to this she would fill out every  blank bit of her letters with writing, so as to use up as much space as she possibly could.

Abraham Lincoln also wrote letters in which he was less careful to hide his personality and his feelings. In his speeches, he was an enduring speaker, a brilliant leader, hardly showing any humanity or character. In his own hand, perhaps proving that writing letters can be more personal than most other means of communication, his personality showed through tiny crevasses – crevasses that would make him likeable and recognizable to generations to come. Although it is unlikely Lincoln could have predicted that his letter to break off an engagement would be posted on something called The Internet for millions of people to see, this is a remarkable example of how letters can  tell stories.

Much of history can be told by letters, and it is impossible not to wonder how future generations will see our versions of letters; Twitter, Facebook, blogs, tumblrs. Are these the writings that will tell our stories? Although they might hold more information than a piece of paper, albeit a lot of it irrelevant, the information is remarkably of the non-personal kind. It’s information overload.

Two of my favourite novels are written in letter-format. “The Colour Purple”, full of confessions to God himself, and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, a journey to self-discovery. Writing a letter is nothing short of mailing a part of yourself to another place in the world, hoping for an answer – and in today’s world of technology, receiving and writing letters is an extremely uncommon practice. Who can ever be bothered to write on paper any more? To address an envelope?

The closest we come to self-discovery through writing in today’s world is by writing a Facebook status – and this will never be the same as sitting down with a piece of paper and spilling out your thoughts to send to some one. “Liking” it will never be the same as reading a letter, seeing the loops, shapes and ties of handwriting, the mistakes crossed out, the writing without spell check. It’s a shame, we’re too open, less personal and more superficial on the computer screen than we have ever been before.

Not only a form of traditional art, letter writing can also be therapeutic. The best example I can come up with of this is PostSecret, which you probably already know about. If you don’t, Frank Warren receives thousands of secrets everyday, and he keeps them safe in his house, and posts some of them on his blog. The beauty of it is that a personal secret can apply to many people, but this is unknown until you see you secret posted up on that blog, in all its glory and truth. That’s a piece of some one else, but it’s also a piece of you. If you are unfamiliar with letter writing I recommend you start doing it now – I am adamant that it will not die, for as long as I can hold a pen in my hand.

Below are two of my favourite letters by famous people, and even though I have no photos of them, reading them tells me a lot about the people they were…

From Johnny Cash to his wife June

Hey June,

That’s really nice June. You’ve got a way with words and a way with me as well.

The fire and excitement may be gone now that we don’t go out there and sing them anymore, but the ring of fire still burns around you and I, keeping our love hotter than a pepper sprout.

Love John

From Roald Dahl to a little girl who sent him a description of her dream

Dear Amy,

I must write a special letter and thank you for the dream in the bottle. You are the first person in the world who has sent me one of these and it intrigued me very much. I also liked the dream. Tonight I shall go down to the village and blow it through the bedroom window of some sleeping child and see if it works.

With love from,
Roald Dahl


Do not leave your Facebook page as your only story-teller. Writing a letter is a unique experience and it cannot be mimicked by email or instant messaging. Don’t let your relationships be marked only by text messaging. Writing a letter can be done with a few simple tools and the desire to share yourself, and that’s why it’s so wonderfully simple.

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Photos and editing by Nicole Froio.


6 thoughts on “The beauty of letter writing”

  1. We had class back in 1976 of the types of letter and we had to practice writing them. I still remerber that the hand writing and the order of the address in the envelope were very important.
    I hope this piece you wrote contributes for us not to forget writing letters in thiscera of tecnhology.
    Loved the piece!

  2. I liked your post aligning twitter to Jane Austen. I agree. Austen wrote to her sister to keep their spirits up and have a laugh about their lives, the people in particular. They are such a delight. Imagine if they were lost because no one saved her letters digitally? What emails are being lost today?

  3. It was about two weeks ago I mad my new purchase: a typewriter… it’s still a secret, so please, let’s keep it here… I’m writing letters to many friends in the typewriter and hand-writing some postcarts do send together. It’s interesting… it’s different to write like this and to write in the computer, and this is not related to speed, because I can type fast in the typewriter too… I think the key point is: connection. The computer is online, the typewriter and the handwriting are not! So your only alternative is to connect to yourself… You become more introspective, more honest and elaborate when writing like this. Also, the impossibility of deleting and changing what was written forces you to have whole thoughts in your head before writing, you have to think harder on the overall flow of ideas you want to develop in your writing or else the whole work will be lost. I love the age we are living in many senses, it’s a time of miracles… but in some respects I think I was born just too late! 😉 Congratulations on your blog and the way you cover a large variety of topics!

  4. I usually do not write a bunch of responses, however i did some
    searching and wound up here The beauty of letter writing | Words by Nicole Froio..
    And I actually do have some questions for you if it’s allright.
    Is it simply me or does it give the impression like some of
    these responses come across as if they are left by brain dead visitors?
    😛 And, if you are writing at other places, I would like to keep up with everything new
    you have to post. Could you list of all of your
    shared pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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