Thursday, May 30, 2013

10 Things I Learned From Composing Handwritten Notes - Entry #37

A byproduct of The Writing Project was developing what I’ll call “Ten Things I Learned From Composing Handwritten Notes.”  There are no great epiphanies or surprising revelations within the list.  They do, however, present my attempt to sum up my year-long experiences and thoughts.  So, in no particular order, my Top Ten.
1.    People really, really appreciate a handwritten card or letter.  I have received dozens of thank yous over the past twelve months for the notes I have mailed to individuals.  The key word is "mailed," as opposed to hand-delivered or sent via a campus mail system.  There is something extra special about finding a personalized card mixed in within all the junk mail and circulars that arrive at home.  The responses have been truly heartfelt and sincere.  I quickly realized that my thesis was indeed true—very few of us compose handwritten missives anymore and receiving one is highly prized.
2.    There does not have to be a specific reason to write to someone.  Sometimes I laughed when a friend would ask why I sent them a letter.  Did they do something wrong?  Did they forget an important date or event?  No, I would respond.  I just wanted to send you a note.  I think the biggest reaction from people came when they were least expecting to have a handwritten card from me arrive in their mailbox. 
3.    Don’t expect a response.  Yes, it was nice to have the tables turned and I would become the recipient of a piece of correspondence, but that was not why I began this journey.  However, while I was not flooded with cards, many people genuinely acknowledged my notes when we would meet face-to-face.
4.    Cards are kept as keepsakes.  I have been stunned at the number of individuals that have told me the note I sent them is sitting on their desk.  It instantly became a beloved possession to be cherished and treasured.  I have been humbled every time a person related this story to me.
5.    Handwriting a note does not take much time.  The hardest part of  composing some form of correspondence is forcing yourself to sit down to write.  Once I actually seated myself at a table, pen in hand the words flowed effortlessly.  It was just dragging myself to that darn desk.
6.    Think of pre-writing your cards.  Sometimes my words just cascaded off the tip of my fountain pen.  Other times I felt the need to write a draft or two before committing my words to paper.  This allowed for more reflection, when necessary, on my part.
7.    You don’t have to write a tome.  Very few of my cards were of great length.  As I ‘ve told students taking essay exams—it’s not the quantity, but the quality of the writing that counts.
8.    Be open and honest in your thoughts.  It is effortless to mechanically write a note with no heart or feeling.  That is the easy way out when composing a piece of correspondence.  However, while surely appreciated, the overall impact will fall flat.  Take the time and energy to impart your true sentiments.  In an earlier post I wrote, “a thoughtful notecard truly demonstrates the worth and value we place on someone.”  How true.
9.    A handwritten card is a chance to rekindle relationships.  My Writing Project has given me the excuse to reconnect with friends, relatives, and professional colleagues I have lost touch with over the years.  While we are not all-of-a-sudden on-going pen pals the renewed association has allowed us to forge a bond that had become tenuous.
10.                  A handwritten note has recuperative powers.  I was astonished by the number of people that were so deeply affected and gratified upon receiving one of my cards.  I heard such comments as “You don’t know how much your card meant to me.” or “Your card came at a very difficult time for me.  Thank you.”  Bottom line—you never, never know the magnitude a handwritten note will have on someone.

As I type these final words I have become somewhat melancholy and wistful.  This is it.  No more daily writing.  No further sharing of thoughts and feelings via this blog.  I will be continuing to write notes and letters, just not at the pace I pursued this past year.  That will be the legacy of The Writing Project—to keep the lost art of handwritten correspondence alive and well, at least in my own little corner.


  1. This is something that I have tried to make a habit of doing over the last few years. Another benefit to this is that it also forces you to find something to be grateful for every day, which is a very good thing. It gives time for reflection and also makes you more aware of all the great things people have done for you over the last day (or longer). Wonderful blog and great practise!

  2. As a person who has been handwriting thank you notes for most of my life (thanks, mom!), I found "A Simple Act of Gratitude" to be truly inspirational. The author spoke about how writing thank you notes helped him move outside of himself and connect more with those around him. Thanks for this blog post -- and for your column in the NASPA Region 6 newsletter! A great reminder of a powerful tool to stay connected with others.

  3. Here's the blog I wrote after reading the book: