The lost art of writing longhand

Where have all those eloquent letter writers gone?

By Marylin Smith Carsley

Recently I received a touchingly beautiful letter. I read it over and over as there was such intense beauty in the words accompanied by artistry in the script. Over the years I have accumulated and treasured many letters as the heartfelt meanings behind the words have been invaluable.

Written communication performed in haste was never a composing criteria. Over time quantity became the more desired result while quality was lacking. Taking the required time, we once wrote longhand and practiced our personal style. Correcting the script was an integral part of the process and it had to meet our personal guidelines. Sentences were inscribed in their entirety and words were always completed using all the necessary letters and punctuation. We did not illustrate symbolically to demonstrate a thought, and time was allotted to stationary design choices. Although more time consuming, it was an art that has been slowly vanishing. Grammar does not count the way it used to and spelling seems to be secondary unless spellcheck catches it. The important goal is to get the message out negating style and any semblance of respect for the English language.

Taking the required time, we once wrote longhand and practiced our personal style.

Where have all those eloquent letter writers gone? Have they disappeared leaving very few traces of the accruements of proper grammar and accurate spelling? I miss that handwritten style where penmanship and content were considered artistic and emotional techniques. Once it accurately possessed elegance and expressed clearly how a person felt. Emojis and slang computer letters written in code missing those once imperative vowels and consonants are definitely not the sole way to communicate.

So why have we fallen off the writing track and why have we enthusiastically adopted this shortcut negating the writings of years ago? We have actually manipulated the written English language into a slang system and we are modeling this for future generations. What are we teaching them? We are showing them the many shortcuts and a true insensitivity to expression. While we race for the easier and meaningless route, we show how little is involved in written emotions. We are simplifying by removing the effort it takes to be literate and focusing on the brief and immediate.

‘We have actually manipulated the written English language into a slang system and we are modeling this for future generations.’

Once upon a time a long time ago, we went to school and we studiously focused on the basics of the English language. These basics took concentration and were also considered to be essential academic and life skills. There was an emphasis on reading, writing, spelling, penmanship and the overall long handed communication process. Unfortunately this educational trend has changed drastically. In our hurry to communicate, shortcuts participate more and more in mainstream education and this example is transferred into life and our ever-changing lifestyle.

I understand that it is 2017 and technology has definitely evolved and invaded all facets. But must we completely negate the literary past into believing that the future is better and the only right way? Not everything that modernizes promotes quality and in this case quality can be sacrificed. Let’s start with this notion of the handwritten note. At one time, we would select stationary for letter writing and it would be personalized or decorative. We would occasionally make a rough draft before writing the actual note to make sure that the right thoughts came across. Now it is all about instant gratification. Writing longhand is too long a process. Now we may send a text, and then wait for the instant reply which may appear through codes such as r u (are you) c u (see you). Punctuation has gone overboard and the exclamation point is a prime example. In order to show what we think is a coherent message we over punctuate. Never before has the exclamation point been so widely used. It is typed in for extreme emotion instead of the actual words. These emails or texts are also emoji created with pictures symbolizing our thoughts.

‘Not everything that modernizes promotes quality and in this case quality can be sacrificed.’

There are definite advantages to this life of speed and connection. When in a hurry and instant directions are needed, you can get that. When help is required you can reach the person you need. Emails and texts pass on necessary information and eliminate the time and delay factor, but rob us of the privacy element. Everything we write about is open to the world and online forever. The beauty of a lovely note such as the one I have received is that personal touch and feeling of human rapport. The educational system needs to focus once more on the literary skills of the students and spelling and writing needs to be introduced once more.

Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.caThe things I truly value and save revolve around the written words of people I cherish. I have collected many such notes, such as a thank you from a student, a letter from my parents, a card from my children and notes from my husband. Many evenings when I cannot sleep, I reread them and reflect on those special times in my life. They are forever inscribed and never lost. Fortunately my parents have left me lasting memories through their letters to me. Even though I cannot be with them any longer, those precious handwritten notes have helped keep them and many special times alive.

Image: mixed media painting (detail) by Choichun Leung –  See-ming Lee via

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Marylin Smith Carsley is a Westmount writer whose work has appeared in several publications.  

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  1. Linda

    I can remember ink wells and quills in Grade 1/2 and learning how to do letters.
    Still nothing like the look of anything written that way in peacock blue.

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