I recently read this article by Matthew Gasda about the value of regularly writing letters instead of just emails. He thinks this is one of the best ways to develop as a writer, because it allows us to “think on the page” and explore, in depth, our ideas as well as different writing techniques.
Email is all about being as concise as possible. Letter-writing is about expression and exploration.
“Writing an email, usually in the midst of several other activities simultaneously — that is, while distracted and unfocused — fundamentally can’t be the same thing as sitting down in a moment of relative quiet to compose a letter. There is some hard science to back this statement up — our brains just read and process text differently on a screen…”
I used to write letters fairly often, and I loved doing it. More often, though, the way that I make myself write regularly (which is, I think, Gasda’s main point) is by blogging or writing in a journal. The latter has actually become my preferred method; I’ve only recently realized just how much of a different there is between writing on paper and typing on a keyboard.
Here’s an excerpt from one of my freewrites:
“I can’t keep up and my hand hurts but for some mysterious reason I feel that I have to do this by hand. Like I won’t get as much out of it if I don’t. I’ve spent the past several – 6? 8? – years writing almost exclusively on a screen, but even though there are a lot of benefits to that (speed, convenience, privacy, organization) I find that there’s some sort of mysterious process that occurs when I touch pen to paper. Almost like I’m more connected to the ideas in me. Maybe because I’m physically producing letters and words and phrases instead of hitting labeled keys on a keyboard. I really don’t know. This has helped me brainstorm and start writing. Maybe b/c it feels less permanent and fixed than a computer document, even though really my text is more easily changeable and re-arrangeable there. But then again, maybe its precisely that, that pressure of editing capacity/possibility that makes me anxious and blocked. I’m still learning.”