The Surprising Power of a Handwritten Letter

A few weeks ago, I reached into our mailbox and found a surprise: a square blue envelope with the return address of a former teammate. I opened it right away, because I was quite curious about why she was reaching out; we don’t see each other very often, and I’d recently stopped by for a visit so I figured we were all caught up. 

Turns out, she was writing just to say how much that visit meant—which, in turn, reminded me how special our hour together had been.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of letters, because they play a role in my WIP. While trying to determine whether those fictional epistles will survive the final edits, I’ve realized that the most touching letters are a unique combination of content and presentation—which is actually true of all thoughtful writing.

So, before I added this new addition to my memento drawer, I took a few minutes to admire and read through some of the other cards I’ve received. Here are a few highlights: a note that arrived just after the COVID lockdown, when we were all so desperate for any “normal” communication. The passing of a good friend’s father. And what might be my favorite of all time: an unexpected thank you note from an “insta-like” connection. That one brought back our single chance meeting so perfectly, it was hard to be believe ten years had already rushed by. 

Then there’s the friend who sends a hand-drawn card each and every Christmas, always with a thoughtful note of explanation about what inspired the drawing; I’ve saved every single one.

My favorite epistolary novel is The Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potato Pie Society, and I’ve always wanted to write a book that tells a story entirely through letters. But I’ve never figured out how to keep that story moving forward inside a “letter-y” voice. And now that emails have taken over as my primary form of communication, that approach only seems less and less possible. 

I am also absolutely sure that emails won’t ever have the same impact as the mystery and appeal of a handwritten envelope. 

Reaching out by actual mail always seems like such a small thing when I’m the sender, but as the recipient I consider it a very special token of friendship and remembrance. So thanks to my former teammate for sparking this post—and to all of those other thoughtful friends and family members who’ve taken the time to dash off a few thoughts, address an envelope, adhere a stamp, and send a small envelope winging off to me so I can ponder for a quick moment what might be sealed inside.

What about you, do you save cards received from friends? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send me an…. email. I read every single one—even though they’re not handwritten!

11 Replies to “The Surprising Power of a Handwritten Letter”

  1. I love hand-written notes and letters! Far more meaningful than any other form of written communication. I keep favorites received in what I call my “Glory File”… occasionally going back to read a random selection; an act that permanently restores my faith in humanity! Great post, and another lovely example of our like-mindedness 😍

  2. Where would we be without the letters of earlier generations and the revelations they contain about daily life or major events. Now that we all communicate electronically on formats designed to disappear, will our observations about life and reports on it disappear too? I, too, treasure handwritten notes, which are as uncommon now as hen’s teeth.

    1. I’m sure our descendants will treasure our electronic comms, just in a different way. After all, they represent the same thing; an unexpected outreach to say “I’m thinking of you.” But there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, like a handwritten note…

  3. Hand written cards/notes from friends, and family fill my walls in my office. I am not one for email, and not at all for social media. Face to face conversation, and hand written letters touch me in a very different way. It is always the small things in life that matter.

    My sister was a master at it. Every family member received a birthday card, and cards throughout the year. Each one special. She was a great artist and knew where to find the special cards.

    Thanks Carol for this excellent post and all the great memories it brings back.

  4. Not only does my Mother-in-Law write wonderful handwritten notes, but she also writes the address in her best calligraphy pen. Her penmanship and skill with forming the actual letters make each envelope address special. I save all sorts of written notes and each one brings back some connection to the writer. Thanks for this post, Carol.

  5. Rarely do we receive handwritten notes but who can forget those yearly short stories from relatives reviewing their families lives. The handwritten note is indeed a forgotten art. Being a lefty with poor penmanship (I can barely understand my own scrawl) I’m thankful for email. Thank you for this thoughtful reminder.

    1. Steve, my scrawl is barely legible (even to me) as well, so I too am thankful for email’s every day readability. Thanks for the comment!

Comments are closed.