What Did Great Authors Have To Say About Letter-Writing?

Portrait of Lewis Carroll: This was first publ...

Portrait of Lewis Carroll: This was first published in Carroll’s biography by his nephew, Stuart Dodgson Collington: Collingwood, Stuart Dodgson (1898). The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, p. 50, London: T. Fisher Unwin. Retrieved on 2010-12-22. Collington credited no one for this photograph (he has explicitly credited his uncle for other works authored by Carroll). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re looking for great tips for writing a letter, who better to go to than some of the greatest writers ever to have lived?

You might not think right away to take letter-writing tips from Dickens or Wilde – while their contribution to great literature can’t be overstated, they weren’t necessarily known for the quality of their correspondence.

But of course, authors wrote letters like anybody else, and had some things to say on the subject that are remarkably relevant today – even applying to email communication as well. The BBC ran a feature last week on the topic – you can read it for yourself, but we’ll pick out a few interesting points here.

Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice In Wonderland, had a passion for letter-writing. His number one rule was to show restraint and to write more politely than you would like.

It’s a piece of advice we’ve shared in previous posts – it’s a bad idea to write your letter when your emotions are getting the better of you. If you’re penning a missive of complaint, for example, your judgement may be clouded by your emotions, and you risk seeming less credible if you spend more time saying how upset you are rather than clearly laying down the facts of the case.

‘If you have written anything that may offend,’ said Carroll, ‘put the letter aside for a day and then read it as if you were the recipient.’ Imagining how your reader will receive what you’ve written is one of the vital aspects of writing, but one that’s easy to forget.

Philip, second Earl of Chesterfield¬†gave the same advice way back in the 17th century. But he would also advise us to respond quickly. Not to do so is just plain rude, as common sense would tell us. After all, you wouldn’t let a comment in conversation just hang in the air without response.

In the age of email and social media, not replying right away is an even graver sin. Sitting on an email for a matter of days or even hours, when it took a fraction of a second to arrive in your inbox, comes across as quite an obvious snub.

Charles Dickens, finally, seemed aggravated at the infrequency with which some wrote letters. In his opinion, this reluctance adversely affected the quality of what they did write.

‘[Young people's]¬†thoughts and their time are engrossed with their own pleasures and pursuits…A shabby, ill-considered, stilted letter is written at wide intervals to those whose whole life has been spent in their service.’ Damning words, but we reckon writing’s much like anything else – practice makes perfect. If you need to send a letter now but haven’t the time or the experience to get it just right, you might consider hiring the services of a professional UK letter-writing firm.

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