The Power of Personal Letters

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“As I learn the advantages and value of e-mail, I cherish some of the old-fashioned ways more and more. When I get a real letter now from a real friend written with a real pen and ink, I read it real slow – several times – and file it away for safe-keeping.” (Linton Weeks)

That quote is a good resume of the premise of the book, Always First Class: The Power of Personal Letters by Lois Barry. Yes, we know that email communication can be more efficient, but there’s something about an actual letter that is special. Worthwhile. Useful in its own right.

Ms. Barry has filled this book with quotes about the benefits and complexities of letter writing. Many of those quoted are famous literary figures, past and present. The chapters are short with intriguing titles such as Of course I saved your letters, Looking forward to your voice on the page, and But wait! There’s more.

I agree with a quote attributed to Goethe: Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind.

Keep calm and write on!

Penpal Tip: Hazel says...

[Note: I will sometimes post tips I have received on penpalling from penpals to whom I am currently writing. This is the first such post.]

Here I have some tips from Hazel in New York. We have been pals since June 2016. She is a faithful penpal and often writes even more than once a month.


Hazel says: I think someone who is beginning to penpal, they have to love writing, people, learning about different cultures etc and have an adventurous mind.

I totally agree with Hazel. If you don’t love to write, after the first few letters, you’ll probably stop writing or you will be slower to respond. If you don’t love people and learning about different places, if a penpal writes something that you find strange or something you are opposed to (whether philosophically or morally), you might offend them with your response. Remember, if we are all alike, then some of us are unnecessary. As cliché as it sounds, variety really is the spice of life.

So spice up your life with people from different places and expand your mind...and your writing skills.

Keep calm and write on!


Penpal Tip: Include a Return Address

I have been penpalling for decades. Although I learned the proper way to write a letter in grade school, until recently, I never included a return address on my letter. I thought it was a bit too much, given that I’m quite religious about always including the return address on the envelope. I figured, My new penpal doesn’t need it in both places.

But experience has taught me what logic did not. Including your return address inside the envelope is insurance. If something happens and your envelope is mangled or doesn’t arrive in the pristine conditions in which you sent it, the return address on the letter will insure that the penpal can write you back.

There have been times when I could not read the return address on the envelope, because the post office has put their mark at just that point. And then I am stuck. I have a lovely letter from a potential new penpal but I cannot respond to it. Not a good way to win friends and influence people.

I encourage you to put a return address on your letter, as well as on the envelope. (The latter is more for you – in case your letter doesn’t reach your intended recipient, it will come back to you.) I would even encourage you to include your return address in each letter. Doing so makes it easier for the penpal, rather than having to look up your address when they reply. The easier it is for someone to respond, the more likely they will do so in a timely manner.

Keep calm and write on!