Letter writing and the loss of creativity

Isaac Mugabi, a journalist, recalls his high school days with nostalgia when letter writing was the only means of communication. 

As an all-boys school, students often competed on who would receive the most letters, and in return, they wrote back just to keep the communication flowing.

“There’s something very special about knowing that someone has taken the time to write a hand-written letter to you. We bought writing pads, with the help of the dictionary, used difficult words, wrote as many drafts just to make sure it was perfectly written, in the best handwriting and even sprayed perfume. We had so much time on our hands then, to make the most of our creativity,” he says.

He adds while the handwriting itself was immaculate, there was all manner of poetic side-notes and end-notes tucked into the margins at the end of the letter.

As years went by, emails crept in gradually and physical addresses no longer counted. Letter writing has since been replaced by electronic messaging and social media has placed writing tools in the hands of people. 

Rather than putting pen to paper, it now feels much more natural to quickly type out a message within seconds, summing up our thoughts in very few characters.

Lilian Mbabazi, a graphics designer, remembers the intimacy that came with letter writing. Torn or stained, all of them bore the uniqueness and marks of time which are what distinguish letters from other forms of digital communication.

Writing in pen, for her, is far more of a commitment to the work than simply typing away at the keyboard. 

“When someone sent you a letter, it felt so personal, you felt loved in a whole lot different kind of way. Letter writing made romance feel so real and had a charm that no electronic message can give. It was an exciting piece of art that was full of detail. Forgetting about the art of letter writing, I think we’re hugely missing out.

Letters hold a significant part of the sender, that can be reflected in the handwriting or the writing style because it takes planning and the right grammar to write, different from our autocorrected devices. These details highlight the fact that handwritten letters will always remain one of the most sensual, emotional and expressive ways of communication,” she says.

Eric Muhwezi, a customer care agent, however, believes that modern ways of communicating have proved to be more convenient, because of their immediacy, easing up communication.

“We are living in a fast-paced world and it’s important we keep up. Today we can communicate with people all over the globe, within seconds. 

Emails are also very convenient to read and reply everywhere, anytime but also edit them before we send them, unlike letters where you had to start all over again.  You can also even email from your phone if it’s important,” he says.

Mbabazi believes that some essential skills have gone with the era of letter writing. The e-mail could never replace the passion of handwritten correspondence.

“The art of letter writing taught us language skills and new expressions every day, unlike today where emojis and abbreviations do the expression. People are too lazy now to explore their creativity. Email and word processing provide automate spell-checking capability, writing letters with pen and paper offers no such safety net. It encourages correct spelling or demonstrates your inability to do so in a very glaring manner.

Letters also instilled patience in us because we had to wait a while for a reply, it’s not the case anymore, we have very quick communication methods as well as the option of sending a letter,” she says.

Despite the fun that came with handwritten letters, Mugabi believes the speed and convenience of email have made sending letters obsolete. After all, why wait days to receive information when you can get it almost instantaneously, and at almost no cost.

Even with the comparisons between letters and electronic messages, for some people, there will always be something more temporary about the latter. The sacred and comforting practice of writing by hand doesn’t have to be a lost custom.

The electronic world offers more connections that are often taken for granted. We bounce from one email or tweet to the next in the name of connecting, which cannot be compared to taking 30 minutes crafting a letter to someone.  

Considering the vanishing art of writing, we might want to incorporate the best of it into our current communications sources.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com