Guest Bloggers

What’s in a letter?

Guest Blogger Emily-Jane Hills Orford writes:

No, I’m not talking about the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. And I’m not talking about emails, text messages, private messages and whatever electronic form of letters and messages are out there on any current platform. I’m talking about the REAL letter: the one you write in longhand (you know cursive writing, the secret code of a previous generation), fold carefully, tuck into an envelope, seal it, address it, place a postage stamp on its corner and drop it in the nearest mailbox (the snail mailbox variety, varies in color depending on what country you live in).

Letters have long been the most poignant written form of communication in any language: a means to share stories, convey important (or unimportant) messages, or, basically, just to connect. Have you written one lately? Or, perhaps you are the lucky recipient of a letter in your mailbox.

I remember, as a child, being fascinated with the pile of mail dropped through the front door slot on a daily basis (well, weekdays, that is). Mom always set aside unwanted flyers, calling them ‘Emily mail.’ I had fun opening the envelopes and pulling out the stuffing, reading the literature of countless items I would never understand let alone be interested in, and then filing them in what we used as a recycle bin in the 1960s: the fireplace. Once it was clear that I enjoyed receiving mail and actually reading it, my grandmother, fondly called Granny, and my godmother, Aunt Peg, started writing to me and I would write back. Both lines of correspondence continued well into my adult years, until the loved one passed away – Granny in 1995 and Aunt Peg, at the age of 101, in 2021. Even when these loved connections couldn’t write to me, I wrote to them – weekly at the least.

One of the most cherished letters my godmother enjoyed in the past few years was one I wrote about a recent acquisition for my garden: a Rodgers flower. Her son, Roger, was her letter-reader and he informed me that they enjoyed a chuckle over my revelation of the Rodgers flower addition to the garden that sparked the quippy comment from one of my adult children: “What’s Uncle Roger doing growing in our garden?”

So, what’s in a letter? Connectivity and love, the solace of a few written words to make someone feel special in a world gone mad, which ours definitely has. It’s also a release for the writer, to unburden the soul on paper, slowly, precisely, carefully, in elegant (or, in my case, not so elegant) script. Simply put, writing letters is an excellent way to hone one’s skills as a writer. It could be a small note on the back of a postcard, where the message has to be tight, succinct and to the point without taking up too much space. Or, it could be multiple pages of narrative and even some dialogue to carry the message to the reader in an entertaining manner.

As a writer who enjoys working in several genres, I value the art of letter-writing. I have several author friends who feel the same way and we exchange letters on a regular basis. One of these author friends lives less than a mile away and yet we still exchange letters on a weekly basis. Writing letters not only touches others and shows our appreciation, it also enriches our writing skills. So, next time you think you have writer’s block, write a letter. Or, don’t even wait for that feeling; write a letter anyway. There’s someone out there who will appreciate it and your writing will be all the better for the exercise.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford has published several books, creative nonfiction stories mostly about her family. Growing up in Toronto, then Hamilton and finally London, Emily-Jane has lots of family stories to warm the heart.

In her most recent novels, “Mrs. Murray’s Ghost,” “Mrs. Murray’s Hidden Treasure,” “Mrs. Murray’s Home,” and “Mr. Murray’s Gun” (all part of the “Piccadilly Street Series”), the author returns to her roots and the fond memories and dreams, growing up in a haunted old Victorian mansion in London, Ontario Canada.

The Picadilly Street Series of books is available on Amazon.

Note from Marlene: You can also use letter writing as a warm-up to your project writing.

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