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The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication

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From overcoming illegible penmanship to mastering the challenge of keeping straight margins, avoiding smeared ink, and choosing stationery that is appropriate but suits your style, this is a powerful little guide to conveying thoughts in an enduring—and noteworthy—way.

For those who enjoy writing notes, or those who value doing so but find themselves intimidated by the task, acclaimed calligrapher Margaret Shepherd has created both an epistolary tribute and rescue manual. Just as you cherish receiving personal mail, you can take pleasure in crafting correspondence. Love, gratitude, condolences, congratulations—for every emotion and occasion, a snippet of heartfelt prose is included, sure to loosen the most stymied letter writer.

176 pages, Hardcover

First published January 22, 2002

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Margaret Shepherd

43 books11 followers

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5 stars
86 (18%)
4 stars
150 (32%)
3 stars
167 (36%)
2 stars
45 (9%)
1 star
7 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 86 reviews
Profile Image for Linda Wright.
Author 2 books4 followers
October 18, 2015
I picked up this book on a recent trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. While there, I fully immersed myself in the social etiquette of the early 20th century. I found myself dreaming of a simpler place and time. Browsing through the bookstore, I was drawn to The Art of The Handwritten Note.

Writing notes as a child to my grandparents is what built the foundation for my writing life. I still love to write notes, but as a society we've opted to replace personal interactions with short snippets of conversation posted publicly on Facebook and Twitter for the whole world to read and scrutinize.

The Art of the Handwritten Note is not a stuffy narrative about manners. The author makes it clear that the handwritten note is still alive and well in our high tech 21st century. A note that arrives in our mailbox is first, a surprise, and then a personal interaction between two people. It's not publicly posted online for strangers to see. It's special. And as human beings we will always adore being made to feel special.

Ms. Shepherd writes of how to choose stationery, a pen, ink. She gives us do's and don't's for all kinds of correspondence. She asks us to practice what we want to say and not be intimidated by handwriting that may not be perfect. By sitting down and taking the time to write a personal note, we are creating a singular experience for the recipient as well as one for ourselves.

I know that posting a review online about a book on sending handwritten notes is quite contradictory. But maybe if we all spent some time letting our friends and family know what they mean to us, this world would be a happier and more peaceful place to be. We'd all be feeling special and our mailboxes would be filled with joy.
Profile Image for Lauren Hancock.
157 reviews2 followers
June 30, 2022
“Try not to misspell any words at all; when in doubt, look it up, and if you can’t find it, call your local library.” There might be a few things in this book that are helpful, and there might be a few things that are practical, but you’ll rarely, if ever, encounter something that is both. If you were looking for outdated advice from a super judgy old lady about how you, too, can spend “just an hour or two each day” on handwritten correspondence, then this is the book for you!

This book makes me want to never write a handwritten note again just to spite Margaret Shepherd.

Though, I should give credit where it’s due: this book does include a sample note to send when you’ve backed over your neighbor’s cat and want to apologize but don’t want to found liable if you’re sued. That letter was perfect; more with that level of specificity and disaster would have been great.
Profile Image for Ed Kay.
86 reviews
November 21, 2018
As one of the generation which fell between the stools of antiquated communication and modern technology, I was always a fan of the handwritten letter and miss that personal touch lost in email and social media. This is certainly a grand reminder of the beauty and elegance that handwritten notes can bring to our lives, and it has inspired me to endeavour to awaken this old habit in the new year.

Shepherd offers some useful tips on phraseology for more difficult letters - condolences in particular. However her tone is often trite, bordering on patronising, and there's really only so many times you can talk about fine paper and quality ink.

But on the whole a good little meditation on real communication in a digital age. Thanks Katie!
Profile Image for Sharon L..
146 reviews13 followers
August 16, 2020
I’ve been wanting to get back into letter writing and I picked up this book for pointers. A slim but inspiring volume, author Margaret Shepherd lovingly describes the power of a handwritten note.

I thought this book might simply be templates and guidance on how to write difficult letters (condolence, apology, etc.), but the book was far more than that. Shepherd describes how the handwritten note can be a form of creative meditation for the writer and a way to strengthen social bonds.

I remember how excited I was as a kid to write a letter, and how equally excited I am—even now, as an adult—to receive one. This book has inspired me to take up that practice again.
Profile Image for Emily Briano.
424 reviews113 followers
September 15, 2013
A timely, short treatise on how important it is to write notes to friends, family, and others on a variety of occasions. Shepherd's tone is certainly superior at times, but if this book motivates you to take up pen and paper and reach out to someone, she has accomplished her goal.
Profile Image for Hannah.
46 reviews13 followers
January 12, 2023
A little dated by 21 years, but it was a great encouragement to me to start picking up handwriting notes. I have always been a little insecure about my handwriting and just this year I was told that I have the hand writing of a 3rd grade boy.

But this reawakened my desire to start working on my writing and get into the habit of communicating through letters.

I miss the days where you could look forward to Thank You Letters, Celebration, Love Letters and Get Well Soon kinds of letters. And Margaret explains why.

Though I think some of these pieces of advice don’t necessarily stand the test of time, I think the heart of this book is beautifully timeless.
307 reviews4 followers
August 29, 2017
Aug. 24, 2017
The author is in agreement with my own philosophy.
Not enough time is spent nurturing relationships. Stand back away from the glass screen and keyboard; send a note that won't infect the other mail around it with a virus.

Aug. 27, 2017
"Ever since the advent of e-mail, one hardly ever got anything interesting in the post, apart from bills and junk mail. Agatha put the junk mail on one side to be thrown away and the bills on the other side. There was an interesting-looking square envelope of expensive paper. Agatha saved it for last and then slit it open and drew out...."

A Spoonful of Poison - M. C. Beaton
84 reviews
April 9, 2019
A useful manual for a dying—yet still relevant—art.
Profile Image for Pamela.
366 reviews
February 16, 2014
You're preaching to the choir, here, sister. Long a fan and regular practitioner of hand-written notes, I still found plenty to like here. Shepherd offers advice, examples, and "Do and Don't" lists that alternate between quite helpful and hopelessly classless (case in point, one of the "Do" lists which offers this gem for a break-up note: "Your socks are on your windshield to remind you that the rest of your stuff is packed in the car" p. 124). There are quotes, reproductions of notes written by well-known persons, and even a short section on writing a one-sided fan letter. As this is events season in my career, I am in the midst of heavy thank-you-note writing: this reminded me why I do that, and how important it is to continue. One of Shepherd's final quotations eloquently summarizes that sentiment: "Letters mingle souls" (John Donne). >^..^<
Profile Image for penny shima glanz.
450 reviews50 followers
August 26, 2008
While written notes and I never formally parted for long, I am rediscovering the joy they bring to myself and the recipient. I do, however, fear that years of email correspondence has corrupted my ability to write notes. In this slim volume, Shepherd has packed useful information from choosing what to write on, what to write with, and how to close the letter. She includes helpful hints for improving your handwriting (which I needed, I have the fountain pens, but needed the simple exercises) and how to negotiate several common delicate etiquette issues. She includes prompts of what to say and what not to say. I can't recommend this book enough, it's clearly laid out, it's short, it's sweet, it's to the point.
Profile Image for Nick Wilson.
131 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2019
I must confess: this was an impulse read. And one I don’t regret.

It reminds of the earlier days of my life when I sent and received notes regularly. Admittedly, this was written over 15 years ago - in a time that was even less reliant on electronic communication than today.

This book focuses on the simple note - not to be confused with the letter, of which she writes a whole separate book. She addresses the most important “reasons” to send notes: thanks, condolence, apologies, etc. She discusses the dos and don’ts of each one. She also spends a bit of time discussing the instruments of the note: pen and paper,.

The take home for me. Make the time to share with others how important they are. Nothing says it better than a handwritten note.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
844 reviews14 followers
January 4, 2015
How wonderfully true this little book. I still have three friends young and old who write me hand written letters. One even has a Stamp of fake wax circle to close the envelope. The message in this tome is clear, we must not let this art die. Nor should we neglect telling those we love just how much they mean to us in words they can actually touch knowing your hand caressed the pen that wrote them. Beautiful thruthful book to start the year off right. Loved it.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,571 reviews11 followers
August 31, 2016
A nice handbook on the art of writing letters. There are practical lists of what you should say and what you should not say when sending condolences, congratulations or thanks.

Some of the chapters on pens and stationery choice were interesting, but not always practical.

I liked the short chapters and the examples inserted of various letters.
Profile Image for Lori.
58 reviews
August 11, 2016
Informative, some nice quotes, and a reminder of the importance of writing a handwritten note.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,247 reviews
June 26, 2018
I love to write so no one has ever had to prod me to write a thank you note or drop a note to someone I have been thinking about. A friend gave me this book last week, and it has been kind of fun to see my writing needs affirmed: a special pen, artistic note cards, a cup of tea, a quiet mind.

Building the case for letter writing vs. emails, texts or phone calls as a means of pleasure for the writer and the recipient rang true for me. How I savor the note received in the mail. For those who have never had any guidance around the etiquette of note or letter writing, the book will be very helpful. Thank You notes, I'm Sorry notes, I Love/Like You Notes - each of these topics is broken down further so whatever the reader is looking for, the perfect phrase to jump start the writer on any occasion is there. Along the way Shepherd offers advice: don't ever mail a letter you've written in anger; what to say/not to say when breaking off a relationship, how to respond to the break up note.

She acknowledges that some people identify poor handwriting as an excuse. She offers a number of simple writing exercises to practice, repetitive loops and such, which reminded me how much I loved handwriting exercises as an eight year old. There was a meditative aspect to it...maybe I'll go back to it.

Here and there, the author becomes the "Note Writing Police" around certain topics, creating quite a few rules that might be off-putting to some. Don't extend beyond the reason for the note, she warns, such as writing about your recent vacation in a thank you note. In these cases, she recommends, write a second note the next day! Who knew?

One last thought: the subtitle of this book is "A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication," missing from so much of our public and private discourse these days. So just grab that pen you love (never a pencil,) and start to write to someone. It's almost a civic duty, a moral imperative when you consider the subtitle, and keep in mind what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Life is not so short that there is always time for courtesy."
Profile Image for Aubree.
904 reviews3 followers
July 30, 2022
Much of the advice in this book was outdated when it was written in 2002- twenty years later it’s archaic- not to mention much of the book was boring. I don’t know how the author had time to write a book with all the handwritten notes she must write if she is following her own rules. I don’t think very many people expect a handwritten thank you note from someone they exchanged and opened Christmas gifts with, their child’s teacher for the thank you gift they gave her, or a myriad of other things. The one thing I do heartily agree with is that people should send a thank you (although a text message is just fine) when they receive a gift in the mail. I hate not knowing if my gift has been received. I did appreciate the lists of phrases to use and to not use in writing notes. But why is the cover so crooked?
Profile Image for Abigail.
42 reviews7 followers
August 20, 2017
A good introduction to writing notes. I found the materials section a touch snooty. But the reasons to write and the etiquette behind simple notes were very good. (The short section on handwriting improvement was also very nice) Each section for the different types of notes had a list if dos and don'ts and sample real world notes and etiquette faqs. I would have liked a little more explicit examples but overall this is a good intro for those interested in getting started in short form epistolary correspondence.
Profile Image for kayla.
45 reviews
March 2, 2023
this was gifted to me by a friend of mine whom i exchange letters with during the break. i almost cried opening it

this made me realize how inadequate my letters are! i am going to invest in proper stationery now. it is an art, indeed

i agree some points made were kinda out of touch & unrealistic but i appreciate the book nonetheless. i plan to refer back to it whenever i find myself in a situation that requires a handwritten letter :P
Profile Image for Mary.
268 reviews5 followers
August 2, 2018
A lovely little book on the proper use of the written word and why it shouldn't go out of style. As someone who is currently getting into handwritten letters and notes, I enjoyed it, but like the author's similar book on conversation, there's nothing really groundbreaking here. Just simple, good advice.
Profile Image for Kristen.
302 reviews10 followers
January 16, 2019
A gift from a friend (which was accompanied by a handwritten note) I was excited about this little book. It is delightful but a bit outdated at this point. Lots of her prompts are still relevant, but her conventions, and certainly her references, are not. But a great starter if you are stuck on how to begin a composition.
Profile Image for Jenny Preston.
270 reviews5 followers
April 9, 2018
Great little book. There isn't anything earth shattering in here, but I appreciate the reminder of the many times and places a handwritten note is just the right touch. I especially value the many sample notes included in the pages, to help me as I write my own.
2,149 reviews29 followers
June 17, 2018
Makes a strong case for handwriting a note to communicate gratefulness, compassion, empathy, and other emotions, rather than using electronic impulses which are without exception artificial, fleeting, and not near as personal, civilized, or meaningful.
Profile Image for Audrey Campbell.
26 reviews6 followers
January 9, 2020
I bought this on Kindle hoping for ideas on what to say for certain situations. I never know what to say in a sympathy card. Thankfully, I found what I was hoping for plus more excellent etiquette tips.
Profile Image for Steven.
71 reviews1 follower
January 12, 2020
I very much liked the meditations on handwriting and what it means. I liked rather less the moralizing about 19th-century social rituals. Shepherd has, however, persuaded me to send more handwritten notes, so mission (partly) accomplished.
138 reviews
August 12, 2017
An interesting book, which is sort of a "how to guide" to write a handwritten note, a lost art in these days of email and tweeting. I found it refreshing but I also enjoy writing handwritten notes.
Profile Image for Ariel Jensen.
547 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2018
This book was alright. Mostly it was a good reminder to write more letters. It achieved its purpose but wasn’t altogether very interesting.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 86 reviews

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