The Lost Art of Letters and the Writer

Dangerous words, but I’ve been thinking. In school, I took an AP Literature class, which meant learning not only about their work, but the authors as well. Some of this was done through first hand accounts, usually their journals and letters. I hated the work, finding it tedious and boring, but it did help me understand their stories, novels, or poems.

Some writers still keep journals. I keep an art journal that is half-filled with words. Every once in a while I try to keep a written journal that I seem to inevitably get bored writing. Many others actually succeed at the task, though, and we’ll have that when their works become classics for future generations.

Even those who don’t keep journals often track their lives digitally. They have Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter and any number of other accounts. You can even see what they’ve eaten over the last week with their Instagram account. I don’t do many of those, but I have a sporadically used Twitter account, and fandom Tumblr. I also have these blogs.

But what about letters? What in our modern world is replacing the snail-mail letter?

I can’t be sure about that. There’s e-mail, but that’s not as easy of a transition as you may think. With all of the other forms of communication, we no longer have to tell our nearest and dearest about the latest goings-on; they can check Facebook for that. If they want to know what we feel about the latest in popular culture there’s our Tumblr account. Our Twitter will often let them know what we’re following in the news and how we feel about it.

We don’t quite have the same personal connection in writing anymore. The things that they used to write about in letters show up in our various forms of social media, or we can just call up our close family and friends to talk directly. It’s dangerous.

I like writing letters and e-mails. I don’t have a Facebook account, so I actually do have things to tell people when I e-mail them. However, I’ve noticed that not everyone is that great at writing back. Some people (often my creative friends) love the opportunity to write with someone. Others wonder aloud and often why I don’t just get a Facebook.

When they do write back, it can just be bad. The grammar is horrible and there isn’t much capitalization or punctuation. Even worse, some of them have used txt-speak outside of texting (where it doesn’t grate quite as much), and have quickly learned not to do so with me. It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

I could be stuck in a past that’s just not here anymore, but I think I have a point here. How much are we losing by not writing to each other? Writing privately to someone allows the ideas to form in a way that we often don’t get in the public forum. Is this a loss to us as writers (or creative people in general)? Is this a loss to the future generations or do Twitter and Facebook and everything else make up for it?

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4 comments on “The Lost Art of Letters and the Writer

  1. El Oh El (smiley face). Writing memos and business letters are bad enough for a lot of people, as I have discovered. Writing a snail-mail letter is practically non-existent. Despite that I still sent out snail-mail announcements for my upcoming college graduation and asked my friends for postal addresses. While I didn’t hand-write them all, I still did all the postage to friends and family. Maybe they’ll like getting something in their mailbox that’s not a bill or junk mail.

    • b.h.quinn says:

      Maybe it’s a Hawaii thing or a private-school thing, but the only kids I know who didn’t send out grad announcements are the ones who pretty much live with their entire family or they just didn’t have the money. My high school has standard graduation announcements that are really nice, but I signed my grad photo and addressed them. It’ll be one of the few times I use my Catholic-school handwriting.

      My family has a wall that’s almost entirely dedicated to announcements from that particular year. It’s a nice way to remind people you don’t see every day that you’ve grown up. (I didn’t send it to most of my friends, though, since I go to school with them and it seemed a bit silly to announce a graduation they were attending because they were also graduating.)

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      • I have family in Hawaii. They’re getting announcements for sure because I don’t see them very often. However I also sent some to my relatives that live close by and some of my college friends. Despite knowing that graduation is around the corner, lots of folks haven’t graduated yet and for whatever reason still think I’m a student. It’s probably because I do so much alumni stuff that I’m at the school quasi-regularly anyway.

  2. a.j.gryphons says:

    OI. I never got a signed grad photo. *sulk*

    On a more linear topic, yes, actual writing is phasing out of our society as a whole. However, a lot of people do it for nostalgia purposes, or special occasions. I’m always sending special letters for birthdays or Christmas and things like that. It’s a nice touch.

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