Saturday, 28 October 2017

Letter writing

Dear Sir or Madam
It’s often said to be a lost art. Which is understandable. As a means of communication there are now many alternatives which didn’t exist when Cicero was writing to his daughter, or Daudet from his windmill. For immediate conversation we are more likely to telephone or video call. We use email, text and messaging apps.

A letter on the other hand is entrusted to a third party for delivery. One of the most inefficient methods is ‘pupil post’. A cousin of mine managed to convince her parents that her school didn’t produce reports at the end of term, meaning they never found out about her school day misdemeanours or dismal exam results.

Soldier Boy
I had an article published sometime ago by The People’s Friend focusing on the First World War postcards in my late father’s collection - a few words of news and love from home to a loved one.

My husband and I sent a postcard to ourselves from each place we visited as a pictorial journal of where we had been and what we had seen. Those two very full albums are a great joy, each card triggering happy memories of our life together.

For sale, unwanted gift 
I’m glad that magazines and newspapers still publish letters from readers - particularly when they pay the writer or send out a gift! It’s a good exercise in the general skills of writing - choosing a topic, using prose which fits the magazine’s style, starting with a good hook, engaging the reader, a pithy ending. And writing to a specific word count.

Brief is not always easy. The French philosopher Pascal said, “I have made this (letter) longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” It does indeed demand effort to concentrate one’s thoughts into a few words.

My creative writing muse is currently silent, probably the result of a difficult month. And so over the next few days I intend to write letters to various sources to exercise my writing muscle and force myself into the practice of writing regularly. And, hopefully, writing well.


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  2. What a great quote from Pascal. I always urge students, aspiring journalists or beginner writers to write letters to newspapers and magazines. They are a terrific exercise in tight writing, and give you an outlet to share an opinion. Too often beginners write full articles on their personal views - but the place to do it - and briefly - is the letters' page. It's going to become a rare skill, if we don't practise it ...
    Alex Gazzola

    1. Thanks for commenting, Alex. Yes, a strict word count is particularly useful in opinion based pieces, as we’re inclined to hold forth at length on issues we feel strongly about, often boring the reader.

  3. An email just isn't the same as a proper letter, is it?

    1. So true, Patsy. I much prefer the rattle of the letterbox and the thrill of a handwritten envelope on the doorstep more than the electronic ‘ding’ heralding the arrival of an email.