Letter-writing during challenging times

My mailbox doesn’t have the mystery it did years ago.  Bills and generic advertising fill it instead of newsy notes and interesting exchanges.  But letter-writing enthusiast continue to write, and recipients still get excited when they receive letters addressed especially to them.   

A letter expresses more than just words. You can’t hide from a letter as easily as email, text, Twitter, Facebook and others.

A letter takes time to compose, write and mail and attempts to tell the truth from the writer’s point of view.  Some letters are saved over years, decades and even centuries.  Often, we get to know our ancestors as well as public figures throughout time by reading their correspondence.

My longtime friend, Joy Goodwin, shared her creative idea to keep in touch weekly with her grandchildren thanks to the US Postal Service during this pandemic shutdown.

“My letter campaign with the grandchildren has been wildly successful!  They are all writing back and reporting on some funny and interesting things. Each child’s personality really comes across in their letters. I highly recommend this to all isolated grandparents!”

  • Miles, Joy’s college-age grandson majoring in ornithology likes to get articles about birds and YouTube recommendations for classical music that he is learning to play.
  • Margot, a truly kind child and voracious reader, writes Joy about the books she is reading and makes recommendations.
  • John, a typical 15-year-old grandson described as “Mr. Sociable”, writes about missing his friends and activities.

Meanwhile, 11-year-old Emerson Weber, another inspiring young person living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, thought about her mailman who picks up and delivers the colorful letters she mails to all of her friends.  Although Emerson didn’t know his name, she wrote:

“To Mr. Mailman. This letter is for you! 

Thank you for taking my letters and delivering them.  You are very important to me.”

Word spread throughout the postal service and by Monday, two boxes full of letters addressed to Emerson written by postal workers from around the country, arrived on her doorstep.   One recipient even asked Emerson to please write to her son in Kuwait.

One-hundred and thirty years ago in 1890, Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice and Wonderland”, published his essay, “Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing,” now freely available as an EBook online at www.gutenberg .net.

Here is a very abbreviated list of his Nine Rules for Letter-Writing

  1. Write legibly.
  2. Don’t’ fill more than a page and a half with apologies for not having written sooner! The best subject… is your friends’ last letter.
  3. Don’t repeat yourself.
  4. When you have written a letter that you feel may possibly irritate your friend… put it aside till the next day.  Then read it over again, and fancy it addressed to yourself.
  5. If your friend makes a severe remark, leave it unnoticed, or make your reply less severe: and if he makes a friendly remark…. let your reply be distinctly more friendly.
  6. Don’t try to have the last word!
  7. If you should ever write jestingly, exaggerate enough to make the jesting obvious.
  8. When you say, “I enclose (anything), go and get (it) – and put it in the envelope.
  9. When you get to the end and find you have more to say, take another sheet or scrap…. But whatever you do, don’t cross! (This refers to an old form of writing diagonally across the top of previously written words to save paper.)

Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal, an innovative note taking system for pen and paper said:

“There’s something incredibly powerful about making your mark on paper.  It’s the moment when an idea leaves your mind and looks back at you for the first time.  I’ve never been able to replicate that experience digitally.  It’s not unlike Skyping with a close friend verses having them over for dinner.” 

Multiple award-winning Puerto Rican poet and children’s book author, Willie Perdomo, explains on PBS News Hour May 21, 2019, why he still writes letters:


Susan Hendricks leads personal writing groups and workshops approved for CEU credits by the SC Social Work Examiners Board and is an instructor for the Therapeutic Writing Institute online. Read all of her Columbia Star columns at: www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.

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