How to write a letter

Hello! Today we are talking about how to write a letter. Yes, a letter! It’s time to practice an art which, in this age of instant messaging, is quickly falling by the wayside.

Do you remember how it feels to open y our mailbox (the kind that dispenses actual paper mail) and see a letter from a dear friend or a favorite relative? Well, today is the day we do that for someone we know, and we’ll take you through the steps.

Letter writing is an art, restorative for both the writer and the reader. It requires a different kind of mental process, believe it or not, than composing an email or an IM — the act of putting pen to paper and writing your thoughts engages different parts of your brain!

Let’s get started…

  1. Make certain you have set aside enough time to give your letter proper attention! Make a time when you are not distracted by the pressure of an upcoming appointment, and find a time when you can focus your attention without being pulled away by a child, a spouse or other urgencies. You need continuity to compose a good letter.
  2. Be comfortable — find an uncluttered space with comfortable seating, allowing you to relax. Set the mood: light a candle, have music playing if it helps, and be sure you have adequate lighting!
  3. Gather your writing materials. Over the years, I have collected papers and cards so that when I feel the urge to write a letter, it will be on something a little finer than lined notebook paper, or paper I steal from my printer.
    Next, the writing instrument: find a pen that writes smoothly and has plenty of ink. Do you like colored ink? Pick your favorite, but make certain it can be read on your chosen paper. If Aunt Tillie’s eyesight is not so good, consider choosing an ink that stands out clearly.
  4. Now, what is your subject? Are you writing to cover something specific, or will this just be chatty news? Will you have pictures to include, or references to something you’ve read? Bring them along so you can refer to them.
  5. Make sure you have your recipient’s address! It’s a little difficult to send a letter without one; also make sure you have proper postage.
    Do you use return address labels? Have those on hand as well.

Now we’re ready to start writing.

Write today’s date in the upper right corner of your first page.

Choose a greeting: “Dear Aunt Tillie,” “My very dear Michael,” or just “Howdy!”

Now when you start the body of the letter, here’s a hint: don’tstart with the work “I” or “my” — this letter is for your reader, not for you, so engage the reader right away: ask how he or she is, or start right in on your story…

Dear Aunt Tillie,

While listening to this week’s broadcast of the Seattle Symphony, you came to my mind — do you remember when we attended the Mahler Festival together? It has been nearly a decade, can you believe it?…

You get the idea.

As you write your letter, it’s good to be able to refer to book passages, photos and the like, so feel free to stop and reflect when the occasion calls for it.

If your letter is longer than a single page, it’s good to number the pages and include a shortened version of the date, for example:

As you wrap up your letter, be sure to engage your reader in the future somehow — “I look forward to seeing you in May,” or “When are you coming back out this way?”

Close your letter sincerely and genuinely: “With fondest regards,” “With love,” “With respect,” “Be well,” “Peace” or other such good wishes.

Sign your name using your signature or your initials, depending on the tone of the letter. I also like to add my own personal mark, which is a feather.

Address the envelope, place your letter in the envelope along with photos or other items you wish to send, but don’t enclose cash — it may not make it to your recipient!

Seal the envelope, place a stamp in the upper right corner, and take it to the mailbox to be picked up.

ImageThat’s it — the contents of the letter are up to you, of course, but let’s not forget this gentle art form.

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