Writer Claire Gibson joins us today for a Q & A with a local stationery designer who has a few things to say about the art of letter writing. 

Claire:

It’s that time of year again. The time for baby showers, graduation parties, weddings, and, yes … the dreaded stack of thank you notes. In a world of digitized communication, penning a handwritten letter can feel laborious, if not completely outdated. But still, etiquette (and my mother’s voice) tell me that a visit to a paper shop like Ink Nashville, The Dotted Line, and The Paper Place might be in order. Recently, I caught up with Nashville stationery designer Emily Holmes to learn how to make handwritten notes personal and meaningful and why they are more important than ever.

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Why is writing letters so important?

Notes make people feel known, seen and remembered. A handwritten letter means more now than it did 10 or 20 years ago. With digital communication that takes seconds (and usually less than 140 characters), sending a handwritten note carries much more meaning. A note communicates that the sender took the time to stop their busy day, put down their phone and sit down and think. To write, we have to realize how kind or generous or special or someone is in our life. We have to be aware. We have to be thoughtful and not rushed, communicating what they mean to us. It’s an important process that benefits not only the receiver, but the sender, as well.

Aside from thank you notes, when are the most important times to send a handwritten note?

There are so many occasions that warrant a handwritten note. There are the obvious times, like birthdays and special occasions where congratulations are in order (i.e. a new baby, graduation or other life milestone). It is proper etiquette to send a handwritten note after a job interview or a business meeting with a client. But then there are the harder ones to write: condolences, missing someone because they mean so much to you, surgery, illness, or the most important lost art — the love letter.

How do you make time to write handwritten notes?

It’s very hard. Even as a paper person, I find it challenging to stop and write notes in between work, a baby girl, family, dishes, errands, emails, etc. My husband Wade and I are starting the new tradition of Friday thank you notes, like Jimmy Fallon. Each Friday we are going to write one thank you note in the morning before we start our day. We are excited about making it a routine, like taking vitamins or exercising or journaling.

How long should a note be? And what if I don’t know what to say?

The most important part of a note isn’t what you say, but how you say it — with sincerity, naturalness and genuine emotion. Emily Post says, “There should be no flowery phrases or meaningless flourishes.” This is perfect advice! The main thing to remember is to be specific when writing a note. State a feeling or a specific occasion; something like, “I squealed with delight when I opened the rug you sent us!” Or, “Our walk at Radnor Lake meant so much to me. I felt encouraged by your listening ear and wise words.” And don’t let length scare you away. A note can be 3 sentences or a full page. All you need is an uninterrupted moment and a sincere and friendly thought.

Are there pens or stamps you like best?

I am always on the lookout for the perfect pens that have just the right combination of weight, color and thickness of the ink, and style. Currently, I am using the Parker Vector rollerball pen. It has nice dark ink but not too dark or thick. As far as stamps go, I always love to stock up on the good Forever stamps. But my recent favorites are the recent USPS vintage seed pack stamps, as well as the Johnny Cash and cherry blossom centennial stamps.

When picking stationery, what should you consider?

Stationery (remember, it’s spelled with an -ery not -ary) has such character these days. If you are more traditional, lean toward a classic monogram or a set with your name engraved. If you are more adventurous, ask for a color or motif on the stationery that expresses your style and has a touch of whimsy. But it’s always nice to stock up on a variety. I designed a set that includes a few birthday cards, one condolence card, some blank cards, some thank you notes and one that says ‘a little note’ which is perfect for those spur of moment notes of kindness you need to send. That way, you’re ready for any occasion.

Why is writing letters an art?

I majored in art education and took numerous art studio classes, and one thing I learned was that every medium is so different that you have to practice each one and relearn how to move your hands, train your eye and see the world to become good at any level. Notes are the same way: we almost forget how to compose a genuine thoughtful note because we are so used to shorthand communication. Writing letters is an art because you have to practice for it to become natural.

It’s also an art because notes are a keepsake. People hang art on their walls to admire; listen to music to bring them to a state that little else can; create pottery for the feel of the clay and the wheel … letter-writing is much the same way. The act of writing can bring relief, peace, release, joy or numerous other emotions. And, receiving the note can be like a one-of-a-kind piece of visual artwork, something that can be admired and cherished for days (and oftentimes years) to come.

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Thank you, Claire and Emily, for encouraging us to keep the tradition of handwritten notes alive! Click here to see an example of Emily’s variety packs of notes that cover many writing needs in one neat, tidy package.

Resources for stationery in Nashville:

Headshot2012_1Claire Gibson is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. A former Army brat, Claire loves writing about travel, food, faith, and education. When she’s not writing, drinking coffee, cooking, or running with her Vizsla named Cooper, she’s probably out hunting for the world’s best margarita. Claire is the Forbes Travel Correspondent for Nashville and her work has been featured in The Christian Science MonitorThe TennesseanThe Nashville PostAmerican Songwriter, and Bearings, among others. See more of Claire’s writing here.