A Different Kind of Connection

Author Mary Robinette Kowal has issued a letter-writing challenge for the month of February. She suggests that you mail one thing through the post each day it runs over the course of the month — a total of 24 items, when you take out Sundays and the holiday (in the US). They can be letters, postcards, newspaper clippings, photos — whatever strikes your fancy. Typed or handwritten. To friends, family, acquaintances. You can read all the details of her challenge, including her reasoning for it, over at her blog.

I’m a huge fan of letter writing. I periodically bemoan the almost-universal shift to e-mail and Facebook messaging and texts. I miss getting things in my mail box that don’t demand that I send money off to someone. I subscribe to far too many magazines, just so that I’m excited to get the mail. I still have boxes of stationery in the cupboard; note cards, writing paper, pretty postcards. Yes. I’m one of those people.

But let’s face it. Who doesn’t like getting something fun in the mail? A birthday or holiday card? A postcard from someone on vacation? It takes more time and effort than shooting off an e-mail or text message. It says someone’s thinking about you long enough to write out the message, find a stamp, go off and mail it. It’s like a little bit of love coming your way.

In college, back when long-distance phone calls incurred long-distance charges, my roommate and I would write long letters back and forth over summer break. We’d complain about our summer jobs, update each other on our families, and generally discuss whatever books we were reading. I still have those letters, boxed up somewhere at my parents’ house. They’re a fun read, even now. I like trying to remember what I wrote — what my half of those conversations looked like.

But correspondence doesn’t have to be a conversation. It can be sending positive vibes out into the world. Author Carolyn See, in her wonderful book MAKING A LITERARY LIFE: ADVICE FOR WRITERS AND OTHER DREAMERS, suggests that aspiring writers drop notes in the mail to their favorite authors. Not to network or to ask for advice or with any expectation of a response, but just to let someone know that you admire their work. She believes in writing what she refers to as “charming notes,” five days a week, every week, as a component of building a literary life. You might find this an extreme practice, but I would suggest one of these a week — to a writer you admire, to an editor who’s responsible for your favorite read last year, to some industry person who gave you good advice — might appeal if you’re interested in getting back to writing letters.

I feel sorry for biographers fifty years from now. Letters and journals used to be such a wonderful resource for anyone researching a person’s life, particularly a subject who was a writer by trade. But the shift to electronic formats, and the tendency to delete much of the contents of our computers — or lose it to faulty backup habits — means that much of this type of material won’t exist for the next generation. I love the idea of bringing at least a bit of this old fashioned form of communication back into practice. At the very least, you never know what gem might show up in your own mail box as a result.