The Lost Art of Writing Letters

Since I was little my Granny Una has written me and my sisters letters to congratulate us at different stages of our lives; birthdays, communions, graduations, new houses. I've kept most of these cards over the years because not only has she always something incredibly witty to say but because reading these handwritten words of encouragement from someone you love can be so much more enduring than hearing them. Unfortunately Una has a knack for not realising the impact or severity of her words at times and some of us can become victims of the infamous 'Una/Granny burn'. Her hints to change can be as subtle as a brick. Like the time she gently suggested that my cousin Pete might like to start going to the gym. Or telling my mother that she's 'quite a bundle'. Oh Una we love you. Recently I was in hospital and she sent me a letter and although her writing is becoming more scrawled and less legible, those obscure pieces of advice are still there and she still has the ability to make me laugh. Reading her card made me think of how rare it is to receive anything in the mail other than what deals are on in Eurospar. Everything is communicated on Facebook - no one would dream of sending a birthday card when you can just type a quick message in 5 seconds. No letters to say well done on getting the new job, new house or new baby. How about we spend that extra few minutes actually writing down how happy we are for someone instead of our message becoming lost in a sea of others? I have been trying to write more letters recently when I think it might brighten someone's day and I thought I'd share a few ideas on how you can do this too. Nobody has time for anything these days which is why it feels even more special to receive a handwritten note, especially one with a stamp on it. I'm not saying we have to get an inkwell and write by candlelight but just letting someone you love know that you do - simples. Here are a few times when you could write a little note... When you know someone is looking for a job We've all been there. Completing a million applications, hearing nothing back and thinking you will be forever searching for that job that will make you happy. This is an exhausting and wearisome time especially when we're at the beginning of our careers and have no idea what direction we should be going in. If you know someone is trying to put themselves out there but getting little back, write a short note to them with a few words of encouragement and a few reasons why they should keep going. Maybe a quote is all they need or recalling a time they personally impressed you. Not only will it surely pick them up but it will also remind them of what they are capable of too. When you know someone is grieving Unfortunately, all of us will encounter moments of grief in our lives where we feel lost and alone. The days following the loss will be full of people and sandwiches but it's the months after when you're still learning to cope that can be the loneliest. In my last year of university in Edinburgh, I lost my sister Amy and it was the letters I received from family and friends that enabled me to dig deep and find the determination to finish my degree. Grief is complicated in that there are times when we are absolutely fine and then all of a sudden we are dragged under. Knowing that there is someone willing to bring you back up to surface, no matter how long it’s been since your loss, is a wonderful feeling. When you want to share something beautiful Sometimes the best time to write a note is when there is no real reason to except to share a little beauty. Maybe you've seen a pretty handmade card, read a moving article in a magazine or taken a photograph you're dying to share with them via something other than Instagram. Posting a little memento in an envelope that you think might make someone smile is one of the best reasons to share something beautiful. When you’re on holiday Remember postcards? Usually sent by family friends and mostly talking about how many days it rained and who got the worst burns. Sometimes though they give a real insight in to an unknown country and allow us to imagine where the person was when they were writing it. My Granny, of course, loves them so I always try to send them to her. Even when I’m only away a week and I’ll probably see her before she gets it. When I write them now I describe where I’m sitting, the views I have in front of me and how I feel so the receiver can really picture the scene. I find these notes are a lot better at capturing moments than uploading a picture on Facebook intended for no one in particular. Maybe even write one to yourself so you can remember that time when you look back years later! When you thought of a friend who lives overseas I made some incredible friends while living in Australia but the likelihood of getting to see them again is quite small and so I made a decision to keep in touch through letters as much as I can. Pen pals were boring in school, it’s hard to develop a relationship with a French student when you can’t go beyond ‘My name is Alex’ and ‘I like to play tennis’ but nowadays we live in a global community where friendships can be made in the far corners of the world. It's great to keep in touch online but letters are a great way to take a trip down memory lane and keep these memories forever. When you are grateful for help you’ve been given A thank you note is such a simple touch but it’s a great way to show appreciation to someone who has helped you in a time of need. Maybe your friend helped you prep for an interview, your dad gave you a hand moving house or your partner gave the house a clean when you were feeling low; these are all times we should be thankful. Communicate that to them personally to remind them how lucky you are to have them. I’m going to practice what I preach now and write a few letters to those that might need a few thoughtful words and maybe I might get some back! Happy Sunday folks!!
About Author

I'm Alex, the writer, photographer and creator of The Full Shilling. I started writing as a way to share all my favourite places in Ireland and the list just keeps growing! My aim is that you'll find somewhere new to explore and you'll make some great memories along the way. Happy reading!


  • Alex Donnelly
    5 years ago

    Oh thanks Alix! I know, I love keeping old letters as well from family and friends too - they're so great to read back on years later! Looking forward to reading your blog soon!

  • Alix
    5 years ago

    Love this post! I love writing letters/notes/cards to people! We travel often and its such a good way to keep in touch (especially with our older relatives) and brighten someone's day. I also use the app Postagram to send photos to those same older relatives and our young nieces and nephews.

  • Alex Donnelly
    5 years ago

    Thanks for the wee comment love! She's a quare woman alright xx

  • Caoimhe Murtagh
    5 years ago

    This is beautiful :) well done Una she set a lovely legacy xx

Leave a Reply