The Art of Letter Writing

This week I did something that took me back in time – way back.  I wrote a letter. I picked up a pen, put paper on my desk and composed a letter to send to a friend. No spell check, no back-spacing, no cutting and pasting.

My usual methods of correspondence include emails, texts, phone conversations, and sometimes even Skype. When needed, I send off handwritten thank you notes and at Christmas time I write a few sentences after the printed greeting on our cards. But this week, I wrote a letter.

Writing letters is not something I enjoy. But during the last two months I have received three letters from a friend I haven’t seen for many years and this friend doesn’t have internet and does not text. Seeing her letters on my desk day after day finally produced enough guilt to send me in search of pen and paper.

No problem with locating a pen! We have enough advertising pens in our house to start our own pen shop. Finding paper was more difficult. I could have used printer paper, but somehow that seemed a little tacky. So, I searched files and drawers until finally locating a writing tablet that still had the 58 cent price sticker on the front. Below the price was the name of a store I don’t even recall. If I were being prosecuted in court for “failure to write letters to friends and family,” this tablet could be Exhibit 1.

My letter is now headed via USPS toward Indianapolis, but this experience got me to thinking about the “good old days” when communicating with letters was such a big deal that formatting and composing letters were essential skills taught in school.

Instruction informed students that there was a correct form for each kind of letter. We wrote friendly letters, thank you notes, invitations, requests for information, and letters to the editor. Concurrently, we executed correct form, composed our letters, and practiced our best Palmer Method penmanship. Our teachers definitely understood the concept of multitasking.

Even as a child, I knew deep down that form and penmanship did not get to the heart of what letter writing was really about. I learned that from reading the weekly letters that arrived in our mailbox from my Grandma Morrell.

Grandma’s letters communicated multiple messages in addition to the ones she intended. Tiny writing going around the side of the page, filling up the margins, told us that she was a frugal person, not willing to use another sheet of paper for only a few additional sentences. The account of activities in her life told us that she had time to connect with those she loved, even though she kept a very busy schedule. The questions she asked about each person in our household told us that we held a place of importance in her life. The regularity of her letters told us that there was a niche carved out in her week on which our names were engraved. The sum total of her letter said, “I love you.”

Grandma was an artist. Her art was communication. Stationery was her canvas; a pen was her brush; and word choices created the beauty of her compositions with shades of meaning that evoked emotional responses of which she would never be aware. The sum total of her letters expressed the depth of family love.

As a child, I often wished we lived close to Grandma Morrell, and it was her letters that helped me to imagine just how special that would make my life.

Grandpa Samuel and Grandma Mary Morrell (1940's).


  1. A much forgotten art. If I had to do that today i would probably compose it on my laptop and then write it on the paper.

  2. I remember sitting at my mother's desk writing the alphabet over and over again to get my penmanship perfect. I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter by hand. I love spell-check too much!

    1. I have no idea why that posted as Merrill! I wasn't him!!!

  3. I love this post! (You may have to write me a letter-- my hard drive is fried, so I have to seek alternatives, which may not always be readily available.) :-(

    Nancy: "The two shall be one..." You are him.

  4. Don, I also prefer typing. I like the "do over" option that offers.

    Nancy (aka Merrill), many schools do not teach penmanship now and as a result many students print their assignments. That must add to homework time.

    David, thank you! I would be happy to prove that I actually can write a letter by writing to you. However, you move around so much while wintering down there in Texas that the letter would probably never find you.