Those of you who know me, or who have been following the random comments that make up my Penny Drops, will know I am a sucker for snail mail. I love the postman, anticipate the parcel lady’s arrival and drool over note-cards and paper sets in my favourite store. I’ve even found a blog/store called the Letter Writers’ Alliance and am wondering if Australia Post would be able to handle their Pigeon Post option. I love it!
But seriously, letter writing – that ancient art of pen and paper in a literal envelope, decorated by a stamp and carried by a number of vehicles over a period of days or weeks to its destination – is the very essence of what it means to write. Writers write to be read; one person to another. And this is exactly what letter writing is: raw, relationship driven communication.
Some people may draft their letters to friends. I don’t. And here is an interesting fact I learned recently: a letter’s copyright belongs not to the writer but the recipient. This highlights the trust implicit in letter writing, a trust not so present in the world of social media.
Despite the many relational opportunities offered by email, facebook, twitter or texting, there is something about the act of writing by hand that makes a letter more of a gift than plain communication. Perhaps it is the slowness of it for those accustomed to high speed typing, or the thoughtful recipient driven approach to word formation. When I write a letter, the person I am writing to is in my thoughts from the moment I write (okay, scrawl) Dear... to the time I drop the letter in the post box and count the days till the letter may be received. Perhaps I approach the process slightly religiously, but this is the luxury of friendship at snail mail pace.
And it’s this same thought and time that allows the letter to be a powerful tool for approaching politicians. Emails just don’t carry the weight that a physical letter does. One initiative our family has been involved with is the Micah Challenge Offering of Letters. It is a beautiful thing to read the letters written by my children asking their nation's leaders to make decisions considering the poor.
Historically speaking, the letter has always been used to carry important messages. The majority of the Bible’s New Testament was written as a letter. Its personal form is perfectly suited to carrying the enormous, life changing news about Jesus as seen and experienced in the writers’ lives. I’ll admit my letters are not divinely inspired as those in the Bible are, but they do give me the opportunity to share my faith and encourage those I love.
Letter writing also reminds me (as one who considers herself a writer by vocation) that I don’t just write for myself, for publication, for approval, for blog comments or facebook likes. I can and will put pen to paper just for one person.
And, if I ever needed more justification than that, I’ve always got a Jane Austen quote to back me up: “A person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill” (Jane Austen via Miss Bingley in pride and Prejudice. )
So, fellow writers, share a story about a letter that meant a lot to you. But here’s the catch; you are not allowed to comment until you write a piece of snail mail first. Happy letter writing!
Penny Reeve is a children’s author currently living with her family in Western Sydney. This week she hopes to weed the front garden, read something other than the big truck book to her toddler and write a decent letter to an overseas friend!