The Art of Letter Writing

We keep a book on the kitchen table. It’s a homemade job with thick blank pages.

It’s where we jot our thoughts. We think of it as a letter to the next generation… or perhaps a letter to no one.

It’d be a shame if nobody read it. But that’d be fine. It’s the craft we care about – the dying art of putting ink to the page.

Few folks these days appreciate it. Even fewer participate. But done well, it’s an art that will build stronger relationships, reduce stress, help us communicate better and – yes – even make us more attractive. (We’ll explain.)

Everyone should know how to write a good letter… a real letter, on real paper.

A Cherished Art

The art of letter writing was born of necessity but quickly came with a tinge of luxury.

As nations expanded, the men who made it happen needed a way to communicate with leaders and loved ones back home. Many wars, treaties and relationships were built upon the careful stroke of a quill.

Ink is a powerful beast.

In colonial America, perhaps no one wrote more elegantly and prolifically than John Adams. His countless letters to his wife Abigail speak deeply of love, loneliness, hope and despair.

Even with the threat of his letters putting him in the gallows, Adams dipped his pen not only in ink, but in his soul.

With just a short study of his work, it’s easy to see Adams wasn’t writing only to communicate. It was his therapy. It played a leading role in making him a great man.

There are many benefits of letter writing – especially in our modern age.

Good letters are often cathartic to write. They please the recipient almost as much as they please the writer.

There truly is no magic formula for writing a good letter. If your mind is open, your pen will do its job.

But before you can ever put pen to paper, you must have an idea. The “invention” of the idea is equally important to its expression.

Each letter should have its purpose… it must have its glue that binds the words together.

Everything John Adams wrote had its purpose. He’d write on the lazy ways of Paris-bound colleague Benjamin Franklin. He’d write of his latest negotiations with the British. Or he’d write of his musings on the idea of liberty. But never did he not know his full intent before picking up the quill.

We must do the same.

Simple Words, Big Ideas

We never write – or do much else, for that matter – until we have our idea… beginning, middle and end.

Once we’ve got it, the letter will grow under its own power.

In the art of letter writing, there is such a thing as perpetual motion. It’s up to the writer to know when to stop it.

It’s easy for a critic to simply say “write like you speak.” We see it often. But what’s easy is rarely right.

In this case, it’s lousy advice. The intent is good, but the idea is lazy.

Instead, just write simply.

Don’t stretch for big words when small ones will do. Don’t inflate your ideas when they’re really not all that grand. And don’t meander after you get where you’re going.

Keep it simple.

The reader will thank you.

But that’s not to say your letter shouldn’t be elegant. No, simple and elegant love to walk hand in hand.

It was perhaps Abigail Adams’ letters back to her husband working in Europe that were most elegant. Clearly a smart, level-headed woman, Abigail filled her letters with rich ideas and well-chosen lines from her favorite poets.

But her picturesque words weren’t mere fluff. Each poetic line provided graceful evidence that helped build a picture in the reader’s mind.

Here’s a line from a letter she wrote to John just before Christmas in 1782:

… should I draw you the picture of my heart it would be what I hope you would still love though it contained nothing new. The early possession you obtained there, and the absolute power you have obtained over it, leaves not the smallest space unoccupied.

Nothing complex… but the idea.

Abigail always knew what she wanted to say and said it well. Her letters carried the weight of a passionate marriage far across the ocean.

Her ink was mighty. Yours can be, too.

Try putting your thoughts on the page and sharing them with your significant other. Even the simplest words – if they’re honest – can stoke the fire of romance.

Sadly, I’ve heard that email is the new love letter.

It’s hogwash.

If you want to build great relationships, personal or business, spill some ink. Pick up a pen and write a real letter.


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