02 Feb How to Write a Letter
Letters are amongst the most significant memorial a person can leave behind themJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Letter writing may seem a lost art in the era of digital communication, when texts, emails, and social media messages are just one click away. The evolution of technology made communication so much faster and more accessible, but it also caused the loss of the special touch it used to have in other eras. Still, even if you wish to write an e-letter to someone (formal or informal), you need to know a few basic letter-writing tips to help you put down your thoughts in the correct format.
In our ”Letter to the Future” introductory story, we journeyed quickly into the past to find out that letters have been invented before paper. Depending on their geographic location and the level of development achieved by their societies, people used various supports to express themselves: clay or wax tablets, papyrus, animal skins or palm leaves. As humanity evolved, so did the letter industry. Letter writing techniques and instruments have been created and passed on to future generations, while calligraphy became an art and writing letters transformed into a fascinating literary genre.
“How to write a letter” became a field of study which was taught in schools by specialized teachers. Experts created books about the various techniques of writing letters. There were many different rules and styles – no wonder the art of writing a letter had to be studied in academic institutions! Ancient Greece knew at least 41 types of letters: private documents, literary writings, poetic, love letters, imitations, and novel-letters, to name a few.
While digital communication, no matter how compelling, is volatile and unsubstantial, letters are the tangible evidence of one’s mind put into writing. To send a letter involved an entire complex process which started with the writing part and continued with getting the envelope, putting down the right address, buying the stamp and mailing it. It took time, but it showed interest and care.
Carrying your emotions into the future
If you never wrote a letter or never even came across an old letter, don’t feel bad about it! Maybe you’re part of the generation that grew up with the internet, maybe you never had to write one – or maybe you had, but it’s been a long time since then. So how about giving it a try now? It is a unique experience, and you only need to follow a few elementary rules. The first thing you need to know is that there are two major types of letters: formal and informal.
Formal letters respect specific protocols according to their purpose – business letters, congratulations letters, sympathy letters, letters of intent, academic letters, etc. Informal letters, on the other hand, are all about feelings, confessions and bonding people even over time. At “Gifts to the Future,” we are interested in caring all your messages, your emotions, your legacy and your love to the future, regardless of the written form you choose for them. But you may probably be glad to find out that writing letters in the informal style has significantly fewer rules to abide 😉
Bear in mind your relationship with the person to whom you’re addressing the letter. The tone of your writing will depend on that. For instance, if you wish to write to a distant relative or a social acquaintance, you would embrace a semi-formal style. But if the recipient is someone dear and close to you or a member of your family (even a future member who may not be born yet), feel free to express your feelings and write as if you would be talking face to face with that person.
The informal letter heading should be simple: some people place the date there, while others opt for both the date and the place of the letter-writing. If a formal letter is what might interest you though, the basic rules for writing such a document require more rigorous identification data. But for the friendly letter writing, the date and the place would be just fine in the upper right corner of your blank page.
The salutation is essential, and it depends, yet again, on your relationship with the recipient of the letter. “Dear” and “Hello” are always good to use, but there are several different choices which show more emotion and help the reader connect with your message:
My dearest son,
My sweet love,
My loving daughter,
My one, my all, my everything,
Sweet, dearest husband,
My loving, faithful wife,
Sweet grandchild of mine,
Or you can always stick with “Dear” followed by the name of the recipient.
Leave one blank line and then start writing your letter. If you feel that inspiration has trouble finding you, use a traditional opening line, such as:
I hope my letter finds you safe and sound
I hope my message finds you well and healthy
How is it going?
I count on my letter finding you well and happy
I wish I could be there and see your beautiful face when receiving my letter
Just imagine that the person to whom you’re writing is standing in front of you and address them as you would do it in person!
Looking back at letters through time, we found an exquisite example showing how important it was for people in earlier centuries to have writing skills and knowledge. It is called the “Manual of Correspondence, showing the correct structure, composition, punctuation, formalities, and uses of the various kinds of Letters, Notes and Cards,” written in 1876 by J. Willis Westlake, who was an English Literature professor at the State Normal School in Millersville, Pennsylvania, USA. The book stands as a fantastic guide to writing letters and also as testimony for the role of letters in the 19th century (and not solely then). Here’s an overview of it.
Write what you wish to say to the person who will receive your letter. You can write about your feelings, your wishes for that person or you can let them know about your life. Write a vital secret you need to pass on or a happy memory. Write sincerely, from the heart. The one who will read those lines will feel your emotions.
Check your letter writing. It is essential to make sure that you used the right words and the correct grammar – the person who will read your letter will not only enjoy it, but they will also respect you for taking the time to write correctly.
End the letter. Leave a blank line before your ending phrase. Choose the words carefully, as they will be forever crucial. You can go for the custom “Affectionately,” “Fondly,” “Love,” “Sincerely,” “Warmest regards” or create something or your own, such as:
With all my love and devotion
Loving you forever
I will always be your guardian angel
You are in my heart forever
My good thoughts and wishes will always accompany you
In earlier times, one very popular way to end a letter, formal or informal, was to write merely this: “I remain, as ever, your devoted servant.”
Any ending you might choose, make sure the last word you put on the paper is your name, after the closing phrase. If there still is something you wish to say, but you forgot to put it in the letter, just make a short PostScript (“after the writing”) paragraph: put the note P.S. at the beginning of a new line, below the ending and add whatever you felt like writing on the spur of the moment.
When handwriting the letter, you have the liberty of personalizing your lines by outlining certain words or phrases. Some people even do funny little drawings ☺! But if you’re using a digital letter-writing program, you should know there are no protocols regarding the formatting of the informal letter – and no restrictions when it comes to the style. You can be either concise or wordy. You can choose any font you like and break the text in as many paragraphs as you wish (it’s best to split the content to make it easier to read; usually, any new idea should generate a new section).
In the end, to send your letter to the future, you need to give the complete name and address of the recipient, and we’ll make sure that the information will be typed correctly on the envelope.
That was easy!
Your letter is ready to become part of your legacy. If you enjoyed writing it, don’t stop at one! There are at least seven types of letters anyone should write before turning 70 years old, according to this author. Amongst those seven there are the following: a letter to your father, a love letter and a letter to your future self.
Entrust Gifts to the Future with your letter and send it to the future so that it would transform into a fantastic surprise-present for its intended recipient. We are your own, personal time-capsule for emotions. The future is looking forward to uncovering them!