When’s the last time you scrolled back to your oldest text messages with a close friend? How about a saved IM? Maybe you recorded a phone conversation and played it back? Does all of this sound downright weird and unnatural?
For me, letter writing has been as second nature as sending a text to check in on a friend or forwarding a meme on Instagram. Growing up, my mom impressed on me the importance of sending a hand-written, well-thought-out thank you card for every gift I ever received, and made sure I wrote a few words—not just my signature—on any card we sent to friends and family.
That tradition continued into my adulthood; my mom sends me a handwritten card for every holiday they make a card for (yes, even Halloween). When my best friend moved away in third grade, we sent letters monthly to update each other on what makeup we’d tried, what boy we had a crush on, and what was going on at our schools (using at least four colors of milky pen and multiple doodles, of course). I even dated a guy that lived in Michigan from the end of high school to my first year of college, and letter-writing was our primary means of communication, even though we had texting, IM, and phones then.
There’s just something more personal and deep about a letter—the amount of reflection and time poured into writing a letter hits differently than a haphazard text or phone call. Instead of being put on the spot or being caught in a bad moment, you have time to think through every word and physically pen it down. Words have more meaning, and the person receiving it can feel that. I can’t remember my IM conversations or texts with my best friend, but I’ve saved every single letter and can open them up, look back, and remember all the deep feelings we shared.
If you’re like most people, you haven’t written a letter since you still believed in Santa, or perhaps a novelty postcard home from study abroad. And in a world of instant connection, how can we slow down and switch gears to send something that won’t arrive any faster than your next Amazon order?
Don’t worry if you’re out of practice—here’s exactly how to write a letter of appreciation or just a note to say hi to a loved one.
What you need to write a letter
An envelope, pen and paper, and one stamp. That’s it! If it’s been a while since you purchased stamps-you can easily buy them online at USPS.
Time to break out your old address book
How many physical addresses do you have memorized? It’s almost like asking how many phone numbers you remember, and no, your childhood house phone number doesn’t count.
If you’re planning on sending a letter to a friend and don’t know their address-ask! Honestly, the excitement and anticipation that comes from receiving this text : “Hey, what’s your address?” will only amplify the mystery and pure magic of receiving mail.
Your handwriting is FINE
The first thing that people resist about letter-writing is about their handwriting. There are digital options to send a letter; however there is something incredibly personal about a handwritten note that blows typed text out of the water. How legible or illegible your handwriting is truly, 100 percent, doesn’t matter. This is an artifact of you that your loved one will be happy to receive, and everything from your handwriting to the contents of the letter are part of that special signature that makes you, you. The time you put into a letter is it’s magic.
Have you ever sent out a text and instantly regretted it? A huge part of the power of letter-writing is that it is a slow activity. To write a letter is, in a way, a mini-meditation.
So find a comfy corner, think about the person you’re writing to, how they must be feeling, what you want to ask or tell them, and how much they mean to you. Then write. There’s no pressure, no need to text back, no read receipts, and you can physically review your letter before you send, so no sender’s remorse!
Capture a memory
Something our digital platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok just can’t do is to capture a memory in the exact way you remember it. Even if you have a video of exactly what happened, you still play it back in your own head differently, and so will the people you were with. Your words have the power to capture that feeling. Put that inside joke or doodle on paper, and it’s now a tangible thing you couldn’t forget if you tried.
Writing a letter to get information about somebody is a thing of the past. With social media constantly updating you on how everybody’s day-to-day is going, we typically know where people are, what they’re doing, and what’s going on in their area already. Take this as an opportunity to go a little deeper. This is where you share something that you might not post for everybody to see, or something that is special to you and the person you’re writing to. My favorite way to dive deep is to replay a memory on paper.
The rules are…there are no rules
Write a letter in your own voice. There’s no spell check or autocorrect, this isn’t a graded assignment. There need not be a well defined beginning, middle, or end. If you are EXCITED, write in caps! Use hand drawn emojis, a million exclamation points, five different colors of pen, doodle in the margins, inside jokes, nicknames-whatever!
My favorite letters to my best friend when we were younger were a complete stream of consciousness, whatever fit on one (or two, or three…) sheets of paper, and there were crossed out words, mistakes, even a spill where an arrow pointed to murky Crayola writing: “Sorry! I spilled my Gatorade!”
Now here’s the magical part—you send it off into the world! In a few days, it will appear in your loved one’s mailbox. In a world of instant gratification, it’s almost soothing to not have a tracking notification pop up each time your letter hits a new city, or is out for delivery. You don’t even have to tell your loved one when you send your letter. It’s a surprise on both ends, and the crazy thing is-when you receive a letter, you get gifted a mini-meditation as well.
Just like composing them, reading a letter is a slow process. Memories bubble up, you might laugh at a joke or two, and you have a moment to just be in the present moment. Not only that, you have a physical artifact-a piece of your loved one right there with you to pin on the fridge, tuck into a memory box, or keep in your desk to re-read on a rainy day.
Kick your snail-mail game up a notch
If you want to go above and beyond your typical snail mail options, check out these companies creating customizable experiences to send to your friend’s mailbox. Touchnote, Greetabl, and Packed Party all offer fun, personalized twists on standard pen-and-paper letters.
Remember – it’s the thought that counts
No matter your choice in snail mail, the time, effort, and care put into a hand-written or personalized message makes a world of difference in our fast-paced, digital world. Would you rather look back on screenshots of text messages you and your romantic interest exchanged, or, like my own parents, a box of letters they sent to each other when they were apart? There’s just something about a physical object you can pick up and read that transports you to a different headspace (I know my print over digital book fans hear me), and I hope you find the same joy in writing as you do in receiving your response.