How to Write a Letter

Letter-writing at the library is coming up soon. We hope we’ll see lots of you (ages 13+) in the Robbins Library Community Room on Monday, May 5. Drop in anytime between 4:00-6:30pm.

You may already be devoted to written correspondence, but just in case you’re not (just in case you haven’t written a letter since that thank-you note to Grandma for the box of crayons or the necklace) we’ve got some tips for you!

emilypostletterThe Emily Post Institute has advice for all kinds of letters: thank-you notes, formal business letters, holiday cards, personal letters, and more.  Here is some of their advice for writing personal letters:

  • “The best letters will share news and information, mix good with bad news, respond to the questions asked or news shared in a previous letter, and ask about the recipient.  Include only information you would be happy for others to see.  It is more likely that a mailed letter will stay private; e-mailed ones can easily be forwarded inadvertently or intentionally.”
  • End a letter with something positive and if you can, wind up the letter with something your correspondent can relate to.”

wonderlandstampcaseLewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, wrote a pamphlet called “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing.” Published in 1890, his wisdom holds up remarkably well. You can read the whole thing for free through the Gutenberg Project, but here are a few gems (paraphrased):

  • Address and stamp the envelope before writing the letter, to avoid being rushed for time and making mistakes later.
  • If your letter is in reply to someone else’s, re-read that letter first.
  • Date your letter in full (day, month, year).
  • Write legibly!
  • If your letter is a reply, make sure to answer any questions posed to you in the last letter you received.
  • If you are planning to enclose anything else with your letter, put it in the envelope as soon as you mention it in the letter – otherwise you’re likely to seal it up and forget. (This goes for e-mails too – how often have you sent an e-mail and forgotten an attachment?)
  • When signing off, use a phrase “at least as friendly” as your fellow letter-writer: “Yours,” “Yours sincerely,” “All best wishes,” etc.
  • When bringing your letter to mail, carry it in your hand! Otherwise you’re likely to return home with the letter still in your bag.

zoranealehurstonFinally, of course, the library has many books on the topic of letter-writing. We’ve got “how-to” books for writing cover letters and business letters, historical instruction manuals for polite letters, histories of letters (I’m partial to Simon Garfield’s To the Letter), and nostalgic books about the joy and magic of letters (e.g. Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Nina Sankovitch). There are also novels-in-letters and collections of the letters of writers or other well-known people; search the library catalog for “collected letters” and you’ll turn up George Orwell, Zora Neale Hurston, and more (you can also browse the biography section on the third floor, where most collections of letters are located).

I hope this has given you some ideas and that you’ll join us on Monday, May 5. We’ve got assorted stationery and writing utensils, and a supply of stamps (even some Harry Potter stamps). If you don’t feel like writing to a friend or relative – or any of the other potential recipients suggested in the previous post – why not write a fan letter to your favorite author?

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