I wrote a letter to a friend last night, and before sending it off, I re-read it all. Mainly because my memory is shockingly bad and I’m likely to forget everything I wrote once it disappears into a letterbox, but also to make sure it sounded OK.
And I discovered an intriguing thing.
I discovered that as well as the words in the letter – i.e. the physical letters making up what I wanted to say, I could actually read my tone of voice. It read like me. Like I sound when I’m talking.
And when I re-read my friend’s letter to me, I could see the same thing there. I could hear her tone of voice.
When you write an email, text, or DM, all the recipient has to go on is the actual words you use. There’s no nuance whatsoever. Literally there are ONLY the words. (Which is why you should always write carefully when sending an email – your words have to express exactly what you want because the words are the only thing the recipient has to go on.)
But when you write something by hand, just because you are writing it by hand, you are giving the reader a huge wealth of extra information.
Why letter writing is making a comeback.
There is your actual handwriting for starters.
As soon as the reader picks up your hand-written letter, there is (hopefully!) a reassuring ‘Ah! A letter from John!’. Without them having to read beyond the address, they know who the letter is from, because they recognise your handwriting.
Then there is the quality of your writing – the actual content.
Writing a letter by hand is quite a bit slower than typing with a keyboard, but it is this very slowness that makes for improved quality of thinking as you write. Because you are writing your letter at human speed (in the same way that walking is a human-speed activity, as opposed to driving down a motorway – see my last blog post), it’s easier to be yourself. You are more likely to take a funny digression or go off on an amusing tangent, rather than just sticking to the point to get your message across, as we often do in an email or text.
Which brings me to my third and final reason why writing by hand is better…
Yes, you heard me – mistakes.
Have you ever come across anyone who can write an important message in one go, and get it spot-on? They might do it in the movies (dictated to an underling), but I’ve never met one in real life. When I write an important email I go back through it and move sentences around, change words, correct spelling – basically crafting it till it says exactly what I want, how I want.
But you can’t do this with a letter. It’s much more like speech – you launch off with what you want to say, and then stumble over the words, get sidetracked, argue with yourself, and finally get to the point (or not).
And reading all that, the experience your friend has is almost like you being there in the room with them – because your writing is imperfect and human – just like you!
And way, way richer for it.
Long live pen and paper! Long live the hand-written letter!