A love letter to writing

Why you should pick up a pen and start to write

Take a sheet of paper. Or, better still, a whole sheaf. It may be deliciously thick, vellum-smooth and shiny, or a scrap, torn not quite straight and ringed with something that looks suspiciously like tea. But take it, think of someone you love, and start to write. By Emma Irving.

I started to write letters to my best friend when we left school. She was bound for Berlin, a city that seemed (and still seems) to me to be effortlessly, chillingly cool. She didn’t know it yet, but she would end up spending many nights dancing under a canopy of stars (she’s always been a great dancer), dipping into secret clubs, and laughing with friends who came from across the globe, searching – like her – for excitement in the big, beating city.

I was delighted for her, and upset for myself. I went to university that year and found my own excitement, my own rhythms and people. But it was a life that felt far from the wild nights of Berlin. Phone calls were hasty and insufficient, snatched between lectures or (more likely) trips to the pub. Our love lives and friendships, which we used to gossip like fishwives over, were mentioned briefly and quickly forgotten. As time passed, I started to worry that the distance between us was no longer just geographical.

Then, on a rare night in, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to write to her. I spent hours at my desk, writing by the light of a candle long into the night. Writing felt so personal, so free, after the confines of texting, which somehow always felt too black and white to convey life’s shades of grey. One day, about a month later, I got a letter back. It was three pages of heartfelt prose, in which she described how she really felt about Berlin, and everything from a boy she had fallen a little in love with to her first night out at Berghain.

It wasn’t like chatting to her. In a way, it was almost more intensely personal – our lives laid out on the page, bare and vulnerable. Now, I have hundreds of letters from her. There’s the one she sent me when she moved to Canada, or the one from the night she fell in love with her boyfriend. She has ones from me that are tear-stained, others dotted with excited exclamation marks. We haven’t lived in the same city since we were 18, but we’ve shared our lives by writing them down in blue ink.

The letters have never been more treasured to me than they are now. Self-isolation left many of us cast adrift on a sea of loneliness, and showed the great gulfs between our different experiences. While some of us are slowly venturing out into the world again like nervous explorers, many others are still isolating or far from friends and family.

It still looks like it’ll be a while before life is back to normal. So, as Zoom fatigue well and truly sets in, I suggest you pick up a pen and start a handwritten chat. Don’t worry about writing frequently – just settle down when the mood takes you. Write in blue or black ink, in biro or fountain pen, as much or as little as you want. But write.