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. 


  1. You made some good points here! As for your last question - do you refer to a general phase of 'writer's block' or 'I just don't feel like writing to that person right now' or rather 'I don't think I want to continue writing to this person at all'?

    1. Perhaps it is both. An "I don't know how to reply to this letter/person" but there are other letters I can reply write now. That one letter gets delayed and delayed, and it is months or even years later - and then you find you can write to them.

      One penpal I wrote to went travelling for well over a year and had no fixed postal address - she reached back out to me when she was in the same place for a couple of months.

      For some "I definitely do not want to write to this person" - no reply is required. I did not write back to someone I received a letter from who was on death row, about 25 years ago. I also did not reply to letters back then from people forcing their religious views, or who wanted x-rated letters.

      If a letter received is full of negativity through bereavement or illness or unwanted situation, and you really don't want to respond - I don't think a "I'm sorry, I cannot deal with your negativity at present" would be helpful. However, in time, maybe you find yourself facing a similar situation and feel like responding, "I'm so sorry I did not write back to you earlier, but now I understand what you were going through..."

    2. Yes, I know what you mean, some letters really don't require a reply - had my share of those, too. As for the last paragraph, I find it more helpful to say 'I have no idea what you're going through at present, so forgive me for not being able to come up with an appropriate reaction' - or something like that. I find that a lot of people shut down when they are going through bereavement, loss or illness, anyway, and only come out of the woodwork when it's behind them. There isn't really a 'one size fits all' solution for all possible cases, I think. Anyway. Thank you for making me think about this - it's always good to reflect and look at things from different angles.

    3. Thank you for your comments. I like that more helpful phrase.

      I know some of my penpals do suffer from depression. I had a feeling life happened to one, and so I didn't receive a letter (or did it get lost?) for a while. I decided after a couple of years to send a letter and it was responded to. I don't like to hound penpals - "Did you get my letter?" especially after only a short time. Months need to go by.

      I reached out to someone else also, whose wife hadn't been very well the last time I heard and it did sound quite bad news - anyway, when I didn't hear back, I allowed plenty of time to pass before reaching out (his wife is well, all things considered).

  2. These are good guidelines to go by. Mum has the stamps off me to go to some charity. Which reminds me... I need to order some more stamps!