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The Lost Art of Letter Writing, and How to Write a Letter

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Many years ago most personal letters, after an extremely formal salutation, began "I take my pen in hand." We do not see that at all nowadays, but the spirit of that saying still lingers. Pick up the average letter and you cannot fail to notice that the writer has grimly taken his pen in hand and, filled with one thought, has attacked the paper. That one thought is to get the letter writing over with.

And perhaps this attitude of getting the writing over with at all costs is not so bad after all. There are those who grieve over the passing of the formal and dignified letter and others who regret that the "literary" letter - the kind of letter that can be published - is no longer with us. But the old letter of ceremony is not really more useful than a powdered wig to a modern man, and as for the sort of letter that delights the heart and lightens the work of the writer - well, that is still being written by the kind of person who can write it. It is better that a letter should be written because the writer has something to say than as a token of culture.

THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER

No one can go far wrong in writing any sort of letter if first the care is taken to set out the exact object and desire of the letter. A letter always has an object - otherwise why write it? But somehow, and particularly in the dictated letter, the object frequently gets lost in the words. A handwritten letter is not suitable to be too wordy - it would take too much time and trouble to write. But someone dictating may, especially if interrupted by telephone calls, ramble on about what they want to say and in the end have used two pages for what should have been said in three lines. On the other hand, letters may be so brief as to produce an impression of abrupt rudeness. It is a rare writer who can say all that need be said in one line and not seem rude. But it can be done.

The single purpose of a letter is to convey thought. That thought may have to do with facts, and the further purpose may be to have the thought to produce action. But plainly the action depends solely upon how well the thought is transferred or conveyed in the letter. Words are used in a letter as a vehicles for thought, but every single word is not a vehicle for thought, because it may not be the kind of word that goes to the place where you want your thought to go; or, to put it another way, there is a wide variation in the understanding of words. Where an exactly phrased letter might completely convey an exact thought to a person of education, that same letter might be meaningless to a person with less understanding of complex words. Therefore, it is unwise in general letter writing to resort to using unusual words.

There is something of a feeling that letters should be elegant, that if you wanted to express yourself simply and clearly, it is because of some lack of sophistication, and that true sophistication breaks out in long, deep words and complicated constructions. There could be no greater mistake. A person who really knows the language will write simply. A person who does not know the language too well, and is affecting something, which he thinks is culture, has what might be called a sense of linguistic insecurity, which is similar to the sense of social insecurity. Now and again you meet a person who is afraid of making a social error. He is afraid of picking up the wrong fork in a restaurant, or of doing something else that is not done in polite society. They have an uncomfortable time of it, but any one used to social etiquette takes it for granted. It is the same with the writing of a letter.

There is no reason for writing a letter unless the objective is clearly defined. Writing a letter is like shooting at a target. The target may be hit by accident, but it is more likely to be hit if a careful aim has been taken.

CHILDREN AND LETTER WRITING

In this modern age of email and text messages, the act of sitting down and writing a letter by hand is quite a dying art. It’s a shame to think that the current generation of young children may grow up never having to write a letter by hand, so why not encourage them to sit and write to grandparents and family members who may not possess a computer, or even know how to send a text message. These letters will be received with great pleasure and affection, and will often become treasured possessions.

Before you know it, even writing a letter to Santa will be done on a word processor. How much more fun is writing a letter to Santa when you can get creative with paper, pen and colourful crayons.

The World Wide Web is a great resource for informationScience Articles, so why not research some pen pal sites that encourage communication between children in different countries using the traditional pen and paper. What can be better than that sense of anticipation awaiting the next letter full of thoughtful and personal messages from a friend in another country?