Friday, 17 January 2020

Never use "I" in the first sentence - further thoughts on letters

I was surfing the web last night, looking to see if I could find some more letter / penpal blogs. A shame many do not get updated that often these days, with the world in general on short attentions spans swiping down / across picture posts instead.

The posts I have read about first letters can be separated into two camps:

  • The CV-style letter applying for the position of your penpal - the "I am ..." and "I have..." and a thousand more "I" - and more or less the same first letter sent to everybody.
  • The personal touch where "I" is not used in the first sentence of the missive, and the universe does not revolve around the writer of the letter. Each first letter written is different.
I know which I'd prefer, but there can be great first letters via either style.

February is a month of letters, international correspondence writing month, a handwritten letter every day. Many participants only see the letter as a one-off, so receiving a CV-style letter may well be a disappointment. The personal touch may persuade the recipient to continue with letter writing throughout the year, whether with that sender or with others.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Carried away

A delivery of wax seal heads came yesterday. I set them out with some of my other wax seals and it suddenly dawned on me that I had gone overboard. I don't think I will cancel the order of more different seals made this morning, but I think I should restrain myself. After all, for snail mail, it is the letter itself that counts. The words matter more than the oodles of washi tape, stickers, fancy writing papers, fancy pens, fancy inks, fancy wax seals, fancy postage stamps. But I do like to use them, they bring me joy, and relaxation choosing how to decorate the letter/envelope, how to show postage paid. Maybe just as colouring-in books for adults have taken off and promote mindfulness, maybe the adornment of snail mail is mindful for me.

With February coming soon, and international correspondence writing month / a handwritten letter every day / a month of letters, I shall enjoy using the new stationery purchases, as well as old. Still no news on any of the main websites for the project, but there is some activity on A World of Snail Mail - the forum, and Facebook group. I'm sure there are other websites out there for their own mini versions of the project. 

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

InCoWriMo-2020 preparation

I have been thinking about International Correspondence Writing Month, where I will be writing at least one handwritten every day, and it will be a month of letters. However, none of the usual sites are ready. has not been updated. looks to be delayed (but is in progress), and has technical difficulties. So, where else can I get my fix for that month? At the moment, one forum has been getting ready for the missive madness, and that is A World of Snail Mail and many of the members have participated in the February letter writing projects before.
Myself, I'm preparing by making sure I have plenty of letter writing paper. I have a lot but some is stored away. Maybe I need to bring some of that into rotation, from bright/colourful/cheerful designs to plainer but still nice papers.

Stickers, yes, need them, they can be used to brighten up some plain papers. Some of the stickers can illustrate better than what I can draw!

Envelopes - some of the postcards I might want to enclose will not fit in the standard C6 envelopes, so I will need either to buy some (there is a crafting shop I've bought 5 x 7 inch envelopes before), or make some (maybe with my We R Memory Keepers board).
I had to clean out some fountain pens, and filled them up, but may have to do this again towards the end of the month as I am still writing letters. The two pens below look to both have orange-ish inks in but only one of them does, the other ink is pink.
Also this month, there's a new issue of postage stamps, celebrating the UK's part in video games, so last century. Worms and Lemmings are to name 2. I shall probably get some, but I'd best get there first thing on the day as that post office won't get that many in.
I do like to use the nice postage stamps where possible. They cost the same as postage labels and Machin stamps so why not go for something that would also bring a smile to the recipient's face (as well as the enclosed nice letter...). If the recipient doesn't want to keep the stamps, then many charities accept the used ones as a means of raising money (and they would possibly get more money for the commemorative stamps than ordinary definitive ones). 
I do like finishing off the envelope with a wax seal. There are so many designs you can have, not just initials (I use the initial for my first name, not surname). 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

The first letter, again

With InCoWriMo/LetterMo coming up in February, I thought it was time for another post about the first letter.

One size does not fit all, and you must find your own way. Find what works for you can take trial and error.

Do first impressions matter? If yes, then maybe first letters matter too. Some people write a generic first letter, a form letter typed/printed/copied without a thought about the person it is to be sent to; a CV. Yes, some things should be in all first letters - your name, your location (especially if you want a reply) but everything else is optional. You don't need to reel off a whole list of names of your relatives and pets, nor a list of hobbies & interests, nor a list of what you like to watch on the screen. If you start talking to someone waiting at a bus stop or supermarket checkout queue or someone on a train, you do not recite your CV to them hoping to start a conversation?

"How long have you been waiting here?" could translate into letter-speak as, "How long have you lived in Oakley Street?" You could even write about the weather and from there, ask questions, e.g.: "The hills get a lot of snow around this time, and one hill nearby is popular for sledging down. It has been a while since I've been sledging, I am more a fair weather person. Do you like the winter sports?"

A letter is a gift of time and energy - a generic form letter CV lacks this, although it may save time and energy for the recipient, it does not reveal enthusiasm, sincerity and passion a good letter has.

I find this sort of letter below is just so boring:
My name is Jennifer. I live in Bath. I have a partner called Jeremy and four children - their names are Brian (10), Lucy (7), Celia (5) and Thomas (2). We have three cats, one is a tabby called Simon,  the ginger tom is called Goofy,  and the black cat is Jet. I like ice-skating, darts and quilting. We go on holiday every year to Weston-Super-Mare and visit my grandmother, Jean. I am a 43 and my partner is 45. We met on New Year's Eve 12 years ago in the pub. He likes doing DIY, wood turning and supports Swindon Town. I go to bingo with my neighbour once a month. Write back soon xxx.
I'm afraid that sort of missive doesn't inspire me to reply.

Some people take part in InCoWriMo/LetterMo just for the month of correspondence, and do not want to continue writing letters/snail mail throughout the year. That's fine, but it does feel a little sad. It doesn't matter if people take their time to reply: I like to respond to letters within a month of receiving, but I know life and events get in the way of speedy responses.

Thursday, 26 December 2019


It is that time of year where many of us reach out to old friends and family. Some would have sent just a Christmas card and perhaps with no other words other than the season's greetings, as other words may not be needed. Others would have enclosed a summary of the year with news of exam results, hobbies, and trips undertaken. Then, there are those who prefer the electronic means of communication (it doesn't cost a postage stamp or two). I am not a Luddite but I dislike email. The words might not even by your own as predictive text removes the need to think about what to write. Digital Christmas cards (not made out of paper) filled with emoji and/or animated gifs get easily forgotten. Handwriting shows thought and compassion, feeling and emotion. I know there are times the type-written/word-processed missives are the only way for some to correspond, whether due to writing-hand ill-health or a difficult bit of news to be repeated to many, so I do make exceptions.

Letters and cards are easier to treasure. Do you keep all those silly little email greetings, especially ones with URLs to the electronic greetings cards websites - would the message still be there on the website in 20 years time? Would your great great grandchildren be able to see the thoughtfulness of the message, or be able to open the attachment from the century-old email missive? Handwritten letters might not last forever (flood/fire) but wouldn't it be a shame that only scholars/well-educated people would be the only ones to be able to decipher the handwriting?

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Do I have my own rules and guidelines for snail mail?

One size does not fit all, but there are a few rules and guidelines I think should be applicable to all. Here are my rules and guidelines:

1) Postage - do not cheat/defraud the postal authorities by using insufficient or invalid postage. A postage stamp can only be used once of sending an item of mail. If it has been postally used but remained unmarked, it is still not valid for postage. 

2) Seeing photos of snail mail on social media can be good for inspiration, discovering new ideas, and show that letter writing is not dead. Please, please do hide/obscure/blur the other person's address. UK postcodes are very specific and with the house number, it is just revealing as leaving the rest of the address. 10 / SW1A 2AA is the minimum needed for one iconic London address with a black front door. 

3) When writing the date, use the name or accepted abbreviation for it, rather than the number. Date conventions differ. 1st February is not the same as Jan. 2nd. 01/02.

4) It does not matter if the letter cannot be finished in one sitting. I don't worry about pausing letterwriting, even after a short time. I do hope to have finished the sentence I am writing if I have to pause. I have started a letter while writing for a friend on a night out. I am usually able to finish a sentence/paragraph when she turns up. 

5) The writing medium does not really matter. Paper meant to be written on, be it lined or blank or dotty or wavy, or with punched holes down the side and used by students to take lecture notes on (a school friend penpal wrote to me during her lessons), or reporter's notebook with pages on a spiral, or even actual letter writing paper. 

Embellishments, stickers, washi tape and whatnot are not vital for a good penpal letter. I do use them myself though, because embellishing brings me joy. I cannot draw so some of the stickers can illustrate for me instead.

It doesn't matter if the letter is written with a fountain pen, dip pen, or ballpoint. I admit I find it easier to use a fountain pen as the ink makes the words flow across the page. 

The words matter!

6) Of course I want to hear from you sooner rather than later. However, response time doesn't bother me. I like to reply to letters between a fortnight and month after receipt, having slowed down from within a fortnight. Life happens. I know some penpals take a month or more to reply, that is fine. Penpalling is supposed to be a hobby and therefore an enjoyable pastime. If pressurised, it can feel like a chore and you could get burnout. InCoWriMos/LetterMo/Write_on, the February or April letter writing projects, can overwhelm people and drown them in correspondence.

7) If you do not keep the letters/envelopes, consider saving the used stamps for charities (as they can raise money from sales to dealers/stamp collectors). There are plenty of charities in the UK raise some funds this way.

8) You can't be penfriends with everybody. Personalities can clash, beliefs can collide, or you just don't click. 

What do you do when you find you cannot write a reply to someone? Is it easier to not say anything? Or do you write to tell them (via snailmail or even via electronic messaging)? I haven't had to make this decision for a while, but I find myself in the category of not saying anything. It may be because I do not feel like writing to them at the time but maybe in the future I will be able to. There is hope. Life happens, stuff happens. Time. Patience. 

I think that is it for my rules/guidelines. 

Monday, 9 September 2019

Letters - yours, mine, other people's...

I was mortified recently finding out I had accidentally mixed up letters: one was sent to France but should have gone to Canada, and vice versa. This is a very rare mistake for me and in over 10 years of penpalling, have never mixed up letters to penpals before.

I do not know if the recipients read much of the wrong letters before forwarding them on. They knew of each other anyway, and have exchanged letters before, I believe. The contents of my two mixed up letters were not 'Top Secret' or "For Your Eyes Only" nor were they overly personal nor suggestive in nature. Some letters I do write to close penpals may contain more personal information, not just about me and my family, but questions / comments regarding theirs. I may occasionally talk about other penpals in letters: one recent case is that to a penpal in the UK with family & penpals in Hong Kong - I also have a penpal there so we have written about the political situation. I hope things will work out for the best over there.

I have not finished reading More Letters of Note, yet. I really should. I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of letters compiled by Shaun Usher. It was interesting to spy on written conversations not initially meant for strangers' eyes; a glimpse into the lives/worlds of other people. Do we all like to eavesdrop to a certain extent?

I would have liked to have read the letters my mother's brother wrote to her, in a 40 year correspondence, but she had shredded most of them. I was hoping to find insight into some family history, although I am not all that interested in genealogy (in a time my mother's family did not approve of my father, and possibly some of her ancestors would turn in their graves about it).

So, what of my letters, the ones I have received? I keep them all. I do sometimes look back through them, but not often. Should I digitise them? Have OCR work its magic and make the letters searchable? Should I allow others to read them?

Occasional snippets do get shown to others - maybe on a particular topic of interest to my family or friends (e.g. I showed the picture of a boat a penpal had sent me, to a friend who was a sailor and merchant seaman), or maybe the handwriting. But, I do not show the bits I deem to be "For My Eyes Only" to anyone else.

But, what should happen to my letters when I die? At this time, I don't think I would want them to be destroyed. The letters are kept in their envelopes. If an envelope has a return address other than a PO Box, I don't think it would be fair to sell the envelopes as stamped covers. The stamps could be removed from the envelopes and sent on to charities raising money through kiloware, or to friends/family who are interested in stamp collecting.

But what of the letters themselves? What it matter if they were read after I died? Would it be up to my family what to do with them? Do I bequeath them in a will? Should I leave it up to my family to decide? Would the senders like them back?

As for letters I have sent, I am not sure I would want them returned to me. I relinquished any power over them when I fed them to the post box. They belong to the people I sent them to, and leave it to them to decide what to do with them.