Is Letter Writing a Lost Art?


From when we moved to Italy in June 1994 right up until a few months before my dear Mum died last December, I wrote her a letter every week. A handwritten letter with drawings, bits cut from magazines and pasted to the paper, sometimes with enclosures like photos, sometimes just plain letters. And she wrote back to me.

Every so often I read through the hundreds of letters she sent me. They make me laugh and yes, cry too, as her humour comes shining through the lines. I’m transported back to her house, her kitchen, her little dog, her daily life and the years melt away.

There’s something about a letter, a proper letter, that forever holds the energy of of the person who wrote it. It’s rather magical really.

Compulsory Letter Writing

And so I read with interest a Daily Mail report on the latest UK government plans for the 2014 curriculum. Key Stage 3 pupils (11-14) should be able to ‘write accurately, frequently and at length, with increasing fluency and sophistication’ through ‘personal and business letters using the correct form’ as well as other forms including stories, poems and essays.

Apparently the fear is that too much texting has caused kids to lose the ability to write a letter. Some teenagers can’t even do joined up handwriting apparently! (Actually I can well believe that as my own handwriting is much worse since I started doing almost all my writing on my computer or iPad.)

So writing a personal letter would kill two birds with one stone: kids can practise their handwriting while also learning things like salutations, dates and even how to spell sincerely correctly apparently.

I actually think this is a good thing. Using text, messaging or email feels different from writing with a pen. There are some novelists, more than you would think, who write in longhand first in a notebook or similar and then transcribe it later, and these include Stephen King and J.K.Rowling.

Handwriting Stimulates the Brain

They are not being old fashioned, as brain scans shows that handwriting uses more parts of the brain than typing does. It also helps us remember better and stimulates creativity.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Gwendolyn Bounds writes: “Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.”

So dust off your fountain pen and buy yourself some luscious handmade paper, open up your address book and send someone a handwritten letter. Not only will it make their day, it will make you – and your brain – feel good too.



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