Monday, March 07, 2011

On Letter Writing

I have a good friend that I met online. Walt is part of the Catholic Writers' Guild, and was president for a while, and he and I have critiqued each other's works. He's very funny, and as a parent of grown kids helped me get through some tough times with my son last year. We e-mailed just about every day. This year, however, changes in his life have meant he's gone offline. However, that doesn't mean our friendship has ended. Walt is a letter writer.

Remember letters? Not those year-in-reviews people send out each December, but actual off-the-cuff newsy handwritten letters? I used to write letters all the time, until the Internet and online friendships made e-mail, IM and chats the communication mediums of choice. Now, I try to send my godkids a postcard or short letter once a month, but that's about it.

This month, however, I've had to rediscover the art of letter writing. I thought I'd share with you some of the things I think makes a great letter, and how to write them.

1. Take your time. Unlike e-mail or IM, you can stop and think, put the letter aside and pick it up at the end of the day. Just be sure to get it in the mailbox eventually.

2. Respond to the other person's letters in your own words. Unlike e-mail, where you can paste a direct quote from their e-mail and then your thought, you have to compose your thoughts with theirs in mind. This can mean a little extra work, but it also requires a little more thought. It becomes conversation instead of parroting.

3. IM is good for the minutiae of life, but in letters, go beyond that. Your reactions, your ideas, your gripes--share yourself not just your to-do list. If you have business, talk business, but if this is a letter to a friend as well, tell them a little about your day, the kids, whatever.

4. Have fun. Write the kind of letter you want to read, too!

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