The Writer's Life

Letter Writing: The Writer’s Lost Art & Secret Weapon To Develop Writing Skills

Written by Kim Knight


Do you like receiving mail? Not bills or past due payment notices. Happy mail, real mail, personal handwritten mail from family and friends? For hundreds of years letters have been in circulation. It all started in ancient India, China, Egypt, Rome and Greece. From the seventeenth and eighteenth century, letters have been used as a practical way to communicate. Right up until the present day, letters sent with the purpose of personal communication are still in circulation, however they are on the decline.

The decline is clearly on the rise since as a society we have moved forward with technology, and no longer need to wait for mail to arrive. E-mail is now the “in thing” as a way to communicate. It could be argued that e-mail is over used, over rated and takes away the personal touch. You’re amazed how such a statement can be made? E-mail is a life saver you say. Hmm, maybe in the business world where business is carried out on an international level, it would be impossible to carry out efficient business across the ocean via just letter. In this case, e-mail is a life saver as well as the Internet. That said, handwritten letters can serve many self developmental purposes for us all, especially as a professional writer.

The Universal Post Union (UPU), was founded in 1874, with 192 countries. It sets the rules and regulations regarding international mail. The word mail comes from the word male. It referred to the actual transport of mail itself. During the seventieth century, the spelling mail started to appear and has been adapted ever since.

A Few Mail Facts:

1497: A postal service was introduced in the Roman Empire.

1635: Charles I made Royal Mail (UK) available to the public, with postage paid by users.

1660:  A general post office was established in the United Kingdom by Charles II.

1663:  In the colony of Barbados in the Caribbean a post office was established.

1847: The USA issued its first ever set of stamps.

1849: France issued its first ever set of stamps.

1858:  London is divided up into postcode districts for mail delivery.

1860: Jamaica issued its first ever set of stamps.

The timeline and history of the postal service is extensive! And interesting. More details on the full timeline of events can be found here.

With The Advance In Technology, Do People Still Communicate Via Snail Mail?

Of course, millions if not billions of letters are still sent worldwide as well as locally, despite the rise of e-mail. It would be hard to put an actual figure on how many, also it would be hard to separate which correspondence is personal or business. However, The Telegraph Newspaper  reported in 2016 in the United Kingdom a decline in mail sent, had been at its lowest in fifteen years. Royal Mail experienced a loss in profits, in the first six months of the year. Letters sent via mail may be on the decline, but as a writer you should not be part of the demographic of those who are not writing and sending personal handwritten letters.

The Writer’s Life & Letter Writing:

As a writer that’s what we do, write. Because we love it, fiction, plays, poems, novels whatever as long as it’s pen and paper… wait wait no as long as it’s a Word.doc and keyboard. Does that sound more like you writer? Do you even send personal letters?  When was the last time you sent a personal handwritten piece of mail? That long huh? It’s time to get back in the habit, or make it a habit and keep this art form alive as an avid writer. Here are some top reasons why every writer should find a penfriend, write to a family member or friend abroad or in another city rather than e-mail them.

  1. Handwritten letters or even a handwritten short story will help improve your writing. It won’t make you a better storyteller, that’s down to your creativity. But it will help improve things like spelling, grammar and punctuation. This is because you’re not relying on Word’s autocorrect and spell checker. If you speak a foreign language, a penfriend who is a native of that language can really help your fluency. If you write in your second language.
  2. When you write a personal letter to someone else, you naturally think about what to write before you write it. This could be a mental thing, as with emails or a Word.doc there’s always the delete key. You can erase what you don’t want very easily and there will be no evidence of this. With a handwritten letter, unless you want a letter full of Tipex corrections, or crossing out then you’ll think before you write.
  3. It’s just so much more pleasing to maintain a distance friendship. Phone, Skype, e-mail are instant gratification, and fantastic as it’s nice to see your friends and loved ones instantly. However, on the other hand, the anticipation of when you’ll hear news from overseas, or another city from your penfriend or family member is quite a pleasant feeling. It’s exciting.
  4. Some of the closest and special relationships can be made via letter. If you do take the plunge and join a letter writing community, you might be lucky and bond with one, two or even more other writers and letter writing lovers. It’s possible, they become a real friend and often can get to know you on a more deeper level, than your actual friends you see day to day. It’s not so nerve racking to tell all and rant to a distant person. Especially if you’ve not swapped pictures in a way you are anonymous. If you have swapped pictures it’s still amazing.
  5. Slowing down a little, to think about life, reflect and put it into words to your penfriend can be very therapeutic. This does not mean you must use your penfriend as your personal shrink far from it! However, the time you take to write a letter to let your penfriend know how you’ve been over the last few weeks, or months since you last wrote allows you to reflect, think, and feel. It’s good for the soul.
  6. You’ll learn about distance places, new cultures and ways of life. In a way, you become a more rounded tolerant person. Especially if your pal sits on the other side of the world or in a completely different environment you. They may live in the countryside and you live in the city. There will be different customs, norms and a totally different society to learn about. It’s fun to have a penfriend very opposite to yourself in terms of environment, and background.


Interested In Exchanging Personal Mail?:

How do you go about finding a fellow letter writing lover? That is the easy part! There are forms and actual organised groups everywhere. Some are free and some are paid. Here are a few top ones:

The Letter Writer’s Alliance: For a small fee (I think I paid $5.00 years ago) you have lifetime membership! You complete a short form with a bit about you, the pal you’d like and you’re matched personally by the founders. Unlimited as well you can have as many pals as you want.

League of Extortionary Pen Pals: You can send in an advert for a pal for free. Or if you want jump right in join the paid service which is so cheap, just a few dollars. You’ll have access to a database with hundreds of pals all around the world to reach out to via letter, you’ll also be in this database  too for others to reach. It’s very popular. They also do a writing paper subscription service, if you like pretty paper to write with. A monthly membership letter is sent out with all kinds of cool letter writing swaps.

 International Geek Girl (and guy) Pen pals Club: A unique system where people around the world sign up each month, you put in your interests and email address, pal you’d like in terms of age and gender, even decide whether you want an international pal or not. Then you are matched personally with another pal.  Once matched, you’re then emailed your match’s email address, you’re free to decide if you click when you contact them via mail and then let the letter writing begin, friendship and bond begin. It’s all free! A fantastic place.

Maaten’s Snail Mail Online:  Over 3,000 members available. A free service you can browse for pals via country or age. Some people have their address online for you to contact them straight away, others you send an email to make contact at first. A wonderful place also.

There are many more places online to find other letter writing enthusiasts. Remember you need to be safe, never swap addresses with anyone you’re not sure about, be sensible don’t leave your address online unless you use a mail box address. To be extra safe if you’re serious about penfriends set up a cheap mail box address where they can reach you at. Check your local post office for this service or look online.  So, what are you waiting for writer!? Increase your written use of English or language of preference, learn about a new culture, and keep this dying writer’s art form alive… and the mail service in business. Friendships can last for years if you click with another letter writing lover.

About the author

Kim Knight

Kim is born in 1983, and from London in the UK. She’s a mother to a beautiful toddler, a proud award- winning author (awarded Best Romance Novel 2017 for the novel A Stranger In France), and the editor of Conscious Talk Magazine. As a writer Kim enjoys creating stories with a diverse and multi-cultural line up, within the romance, romantic suspense and general thriller and crime genres. When she’s not reading, or writing stories of her own her other passions include practising her French, learning about society, history and culture, fashion, drawing, make-up artistry, spending time at her sewing machine dressmaking, watching make–up and beauty tutorials on YouTube, letter writing and being a mum.