Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
placeholder article
placeholder article

Why We Need to Revive the Lost Art of Letter Writing

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Gustavus chapter.

In an increasingly tech-savvy age, sometimes we end up taking the little things for granted.

Advancements in technology have forged connections across our globe that tie us closer together than ever before, revolutionizing what it means to communicate. We can call our loved ones from a thousand miles away. We can FaceTime and Skype. We can text. We can communicate with each other at the push of a button — and often, we don’t even think twice about it. However, while these advancements have undoubtedly improved our lives in many ways, they’ve also overshadowed what I believe is an extremely important form of correspondence — letters. Handwritten, paper letters. Cards. Notes. Snail Mail.

Of course, many would call letter writing terribly old-fashioned, but since starting my first semester as a first-year, I’ve realized that one of my favorite things about college is getting mail. Actual, stamped, paper mail. Little packages. Handwritten letters. Greeting cards. Anything. I’ve gotten into the habit of walking past my mailbox every single day — sometimes more than once a day, if I’m honest — to check to see if it’s full. Most of the time it’s empty, but on those rare occasions when it’s not, my heart leaps up into my chest, and I start fumbling around with the impossibly complicated lock, eager to get at whatever’s inside. That level of enthusiasm might sound a bit silly, but honestly, there are few things these days that make me happier than getting something in the mail.

And as someone who adores writing and receiving letters, this got me thinking about how sad it is that so few people give letter writing a fair chance. Once, back in high school, I told a very good friend of mine that I intended to write to him when we went off to college, and when I asked if he’d write back, he said that it wasn’t 1642 — and besides, stamps were expensive.

That answer, while not intended to hurt me, wounded my feelings a little — and remembering that conversation has inspired me to make a point of writing thoughtful letters to the people I care about, especially now that I’m on my own here at college.

So here are 4 reasons why I believe we should all write and send letters more often, even though it isn’t 1642:

1. They’re Sentimental, Rare, and Romantic

I’ve always been a romantic at heart, and handwritten letters have a wonderful degree of sentimentality. In stories, letters can be so powerful that they alter entire plot lines. Some of the world’s most powerful novels were written in epistolary form — check out the beginning of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, or Dracula by Bram Stoker. And remember how excited Harry was when he finally got his hands on that Hogwarts letter? Didn’t we all wish one would come for us, too?

Truth is, there’s nothing quite like deciphering spidery handwriting, receiving a mysterious cream-colored envelope you weren’t expecting, or laughing out loud at messages from family, friends, or sweethearts far away. There’s a lot of love in a letter — there’s personality, depth, detail, intimacy. This is exactly why just texting or calling doesn’t feel as special as letter writing — it’s less personal and more rushed, leading to shortened phrases and emoticons all for the sake of swiftness. But handwritten letters, however old-fashioned they may be, convey such warmth and meaning exactly because of the detail put into them — it’s almost as if seeing someone’s handwriting brings you closer to their presence, and makes you appreciate that person more in the process. Even the mere act of sitting down and composing a letter allows you to express to someone how much you truly care about them or miss them — and that’s something I don’t think we can afford to lose.

So let yourself revel in the rarity of receiving a letter. Write to your friends — my best friend and I have been writing back and forth to each other ever since we left for college, and it’s been a great way to keep our friendship strong. Write a note to your mother and tell her how you’re doing. Or even send a love letter to someone you care about — after all, love letters aren’t just for stories, you know.

2. They Show Effort — and Often Make Someone’s Day

In our modern age of technology, we’re often focused on getting things done in the quickest, most efficient way possible — and this can sometimes make us forget to stop and smell the roses. Part of what makes receiving a letter so special is the fact that someone took the time to actually sit down and write you a message — out of all the things they needed to do, all the limited time they had, they made writing to you a priority. That feels good, knowing someone cared enough about you to put effort into writing to you.

And this is why it’s so incredibly lovely to receive a letter in the mail, even if it’s just a note of thanks or a brief hello. My grandmother wrote to me recently, and reading her little note made my entire day better. Getting a letter communicates to us that we are loved, remembered, acknowledged, missed. It makes us feel valued. And isn’t it amazing that we can make someone we care about feel that way too, just by taking the time to write them a letter? Now, I know we all have busy schedules — I know that time might seem hard to come by. But I believe that it’s a matter of making time, not finding time. And if you really care about someone, it shouldn’t matter how much stamps cost.

3. Writing Letters is Therapeutic

While receiving a letter has the power to make us feel happy, we can also greatly benefit from just sitting down and writing a letter. When we sit down to compose a message to someone, we actually allow ourselves to take a break from the hectic world around us — the demands and stress of our lives are placed on the back burner while we focus on whatever we’re writing. This sense of escape and quiet reflection makes it possible to be alone with your thoughts for a while, which in turn means that it’s easier to focus on what you’re actually saying in your letter.

And when you’re more aware of what you’re writing, when you’re fully immersed in the task at hand, your words end up meaning more because you’re choosing them carefully instead of mindlessly fumbling off a “K” or “OMG” on a tiny touchscreen keyboard. It’s easy to see, then, how a letter can end up feeling more expressive and genuine to its recipient than a text message might, and how being able to sort out our thoughts and convey our meaning so clearly allows us, as writers, to feel more relaxed and content after we finish writing.

4. Letters Are Historical Artifacts

These days, so many different things happen on a screen — emails fly in and pile up, texts come and go, information crisscrosses its way all over — and often, it’s easy and even normal for these things to get lost or deleted. The bulk of correspondence is forgotten, which just goes to show how all of these technological “advancements” have weakened communication as much as they’ve strengthened it.

But when we write and receive letters, we actually get to hold on to those words — we have a tangible paper copy, a record, proof. Unlike texts or calls, paper letters are so wonderful because you can always go back and reread them, which often feels like living the entire message all over again. And personally, I think there’s something really profound about being able to reread a letter someone sent you, just to hear their voice in the words again, and imagine how they’d say each of the phrases.

In this sense, letters are like historical artifacts — when we save them and treasure them, we preserve a part of that person, their words, and their relationship to us. And there’s something really beautiful about that. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to several museums that display handwritten letters as some of the most celebrated artifacts in their collections — history lives on through those letters, and the ones we write are the same. Can’t you see yourself rereading a letter someone wrote to you, after that person is gone? Can’t you see yourself smiling? Anything that can inspire those kinds of feelings is worthwhile — and that is precisely what a simple little letter can do.

So go out and get yourself some fabulous stationery. Write someone a sonnet. Tell your mother all about your crazy week at school. Let your friends know how much you miss them.

Roll up your sleeves, pick up your pen, and write the day away.

Let’s bring back the lost art of letter writing.