Because Personal Writing Matters

Anna Quindlen shares why personal writing matters in her book, Write for your Life with a focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic invited ‘ordinary folks’ — ‘civilians’ she calls them — to write through the isolation, disconnection, and uncertainty. Infused with stories about how everyday people use personal, often narrative, writing to think, grow, and maintain their sanity, the book is impactful.

After reading an excerpt from a friend, I ordered a copy, adding it to my morning reading list…

the inside jacket of Write for Your Life by Anna Quindlen, sharing a peek at the book's contents

But shortly after the book’s arrival, life took a sharp turn. My grandmother entered hospice and I had the honor of sitting with her on those remaining days. The room was quiet. Her shoulders rose and fell with each soft breath. I watched and listened. And remembered. I read a bit. Wrote a bit. Closed my eyes a bit. We rested together in her final hours.

Making connections one personal note at a time

Quindlen talks about personal notes and letter writing, something my grandmother loved to do. I have so many cards and letters from her before she entered assisted living and from the first years she was there. Mind sharp and walker at the ready, we’d go downstairs to the gift shop and pick out colorful cards she’d happily fill with messages about her days. With a few packets of stamps, off we’d go, back upstairs. She’d smile and chatter about the people who’d be receiving those handwritten notes in the cards. I was always happy to be on her list. As the years passed and her memory faded, the cards and letters stopped. Seeing her handwriting will always bring me so much joy.

Quindlen writes,

“If you think of letter writing as a mechanism simply to pass along information, then letters and email are fraternal twins. But in an age when we can pass along information with the push of the send button, a letter, especially a handwritten letter, becomes something different. It is something uncommon, something that arrives and makes its recipient feel special. It may even become an artifact.”

Artifacts, indeed.

It’s been nearly a week since Gran died. In quiet contemplation, I opened Quindlen’s book today to read while sitting on the porch. We did that a lot over the years… enjoying the ocean breeze together. I couldn’t help but think about the timing of the universe, the impact of karma— whatever you might call it. April arrives in a few days, an opportunity to send handwritten cards and letters to the people who matter to us in the month designated to do just that.

sunrise over the river in Florida

National Card and Letter Writing Month encourages personal writing

USPS marked April in 2001 as National Card and Letter Writing Month — an extension of what had been one week— with this note, “Writing, sending, and receiving letters, postcards, and greeting cards is a tradition that has preserved our nation’s history and has changed lives-particularly in times of war and times of personal triumph and tragedy. Unlike other communications, card and letter writing is timeless, personal, and immediately tangible.” Personal writing matters.

This nod to tradition is also a way to promote literacy and encourage creativity in young people as they’re invited to participate in a fading practice. During my 27-year career in public education, I loved to teach my middle and high school students why personal writing matters and how to write personal notes! At first, they thought it was weird and outdated, but once they learned how and sent a few, many loved this personal act of giving. A box of cards and packets of stamps were always in my desk drawer. Each school year required a few restocks. I was happy to oblige!

Want to surprise a teacher in your life or in your community? Gift them a box of cards and a few booklets of stamps with a note thanking him/her for their service and a note to help keep the tradition in April.

Want to say thank you to the person who goes out of his/her way to do something for you? Or to the person who’s ‘just doing his/her job’? (I often tell those folks there’s no such thing as ‘just.’) Maybe it’s a friend, family member, neighbor, or favorite restaurant…

So many people and so many reasons to write a personal note— because the artifacts are priceless and personal writing matters…