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Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Lost Art of Letter Writing


Letter being posted  I'll admit it - as much as I love email, FaceTime, Skype and the like, there is nothing as precious to me as sitting down and writing a letter. As old fashioned as it may be, I have a couple of old friends with whom I only converse by letter - not because there is no other way, but because it has always been that way, and we treasure the now somewhat antiquated method of putting pen to paper. We have been writing letters for twenty years now, and these surrogate mums of mine offer as much wisdom now as they did during my tumultuous university years. 

I asked a friend of mine what she thought about letter writing. She said, 'Stick to tweeting. That way if you're totally boring people at least it's over in 140 characters.' Accurate maybe, but slightly sad. Maybe the problem is that we try to be a little bit interested in a lot of people instead of authentically interested in just a few. There is something special about knowing a friend finds me interesting enough to read my letters and take the time to write back. It adds value to a relationship in a way that a tweet never can.

As an example, I found out the other day that one of my wonderful 'mums', who sadly died ten years ago, had kept a letter I'd written to her years ago. Her daughter had found it tucked in the front of a copy of my book (which I had no idea she'd even read), and had forgotten about it until spotting it again recently. I have no idea what it says, but the fact that she kept it gave me a feeling of warmth, that I was remembered even though I'd moved far away.

Val isn't the only one who kept letters. I have a pile of them in a box in my loft, letters from the past that encouraged me to keep going, congratulated me on successes, and listened via envelope and stamp during my stay in a mental health hospital, when life seemed unbearable and there was nothing to do but write. I learnt to recognise the envelopes - the slanted cursive of Jayne's multiple page missives, the chunkier envelopes of Anne's that included funsize sweet bags.

I'm not knocking the new way of doing things. Email is a wonderful thing, and has changed the way we communicate in both business and pleasure - including eliminating the requirement to send hundred page manuscripts on paper with a three inch floppy! Facebook keeps us in contact with people we might otherwise have left behind, and gives us a chance to share our writing with more people than ever before. Twitter bleeps to let me know cricket scores that I'd otherwise have to wait til the highlights to know! 

But there is nothing like coming downstairs at the sound of the postbox, finding a familiar looking envelope, and curling up to read a letter with a cup of tea and a Bourbon biscuit. 



Abbie Robson
Abbie has been writing every since she could hold a pencil - her first self-published work was a short story about a magic key, which was displayed on the fridge. After struggling with self harm and eating disorders for a number of years she went on to write a memoir ‘Secret Scars’ published by Authentic in 2007, and later ‘Insight Into Self-Harm’ published by CWR in 2014. In 2007 she launched Adullam Ministries, an information and support website and forum on self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland, tweets as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm, and is currently working on a book about mental health and the church. She lives in Rugby with husband John, two demanding children, and two even more demanding cats.



    Cover of book: Secret Scars by Abbie RobsonBook cover: Insight into Self-Harm by Helena Wilkinson and Abbie Robson

7 comments:

  1. Lovely post, Abbie. I used to be a letter writer, but now I seem to be limited to the odd note on a card for a particular need. (I also do the dreaded "round robin" Christmas letter.)
    It is interesting what people keep and what they throw out. Some people keep cards and throw letters out. One of the things on my to-do list is sorting out cards and passing them to some ladies, who "up-cycle" them for charity. Sue

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  2. Such a lovely thought provoking post - I still write to my aunt and just love getting post - it's so rare that something good comes through the mail!

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  3. I'm the same as you - I write to a few friends - mostly older people, and I love doing it, even just the whole writing process with paper and pen. And getting a letter through the post with actual handwriting on the envelope! Love it.

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  4. A lovely post, Abbie, I look forward to reading more in the future!

    Especially at difficult times in our lives, letters that we can physically hold seem to offer a lot more comfort than an email. Or at joyful times too. The fact that someone took the time to find a card or paper and write, address the envelope, stamp and post it, does add another layer of meaning, compared to firing off a quick Tweet or PM.
    Not that I'm against those, the immediacy is wonderful. But I hope letter writing isn't lost.

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  6. Re-writing (I deleted this only because there was a mistake in it, 'not unacceptable' I wrote by mistake - so have edited and now put the reply back!!) I also love writing and receiving proper letters. One friend who moved away on her husband's retirement now writes letters and it was lovely to come home from a weekend away, today, and find one waiting here! On a much sadder note, another, old Uni, friend, and I wrote for about 40 years - and then, and I really do not understand why, she found some kind of fault with me and abruptly decided that what she then called 'a paper relationship' was not acceptable, and has stopped writing. Very, very odd. And so sad! My Mum and one of her earliest friends from teaching wrote until the friend died, by which time they were both in their early 80s.

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  7. I also write to a few people and I always do my 'thank you' letters the traditional way. If all nowadays is digital by Facebook, Twitter or email then what records will survive from this generation? I think I also write better when I use words on paper.

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