No excuses - the letter is in the mail

I know I should write more letters. But somehow, it's one of those worthy goals I manage to put off almost indefinitely.

It's not that I don't communicate - I send and receive hundreds of e-mails weekly, and my long-distance phone bills attest that I frequently chat with far-flung family members.

But letters? Well, they generally don't get written.

So when I received Margaret Shepherd's charming new book, "The Art of the Handwritten Note" (Broadway Books, $16), my first reaction was grumpiness: One more thing to feel guilty about not getting done, I thought.

But I was wrong. Ms. Shepherd has penned 153 pages of inspiration. She offers countless "recipes" for writing various types of notes and practical discussions on everything from handwriting to "how to express who you are on paper."

She also deftly demolishes my excuses for not writing by hand more often. In answer to the "I'm too busy" complaint, she points out that the five minutes spent composing a note is less than the average phone call, and it can be read at the recipient's convenience.

Is it possible to say anything meaningful in a short note? Shepherd shows that it is. Because I write so seldom, I tend to go on and on, and end up wishing I'd typed the letter on my computer. Now I see that I should buy regular-size stationery for those times instead of the cute fold-over notes I favor. And that if I wrote even a short note per month, I wouldn't need the long epistles.

It's time to get going on my Christmas thank-you letters. Maybe I can begin by shopping for special notepaper, and it would be fun to have a fancy new pen.... But first, I suspect, I should reread Shepherd's guidance on procrastination.

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