Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Another February is almost upon us.

As another February looms, it heralds in a couple of letter writing projects I've talked about before: A Month of Letters, and International Correspondence Writing Month. These projects draw in people new to letter writing, as well as seasoned correspondents. So, how should someone new go about writing the first letters for either of these projects?

One size does not fit all, and you must find your own way. Finding what works for you can take trial and error. What do you want from these projects? If you aren't looking for long term correspondents and you don't want to take up a position of their penpal, perhaps do not write a CV-style letter all about yourself/your family/your pets: you don't speak all this when you have an ephemeral conversation at a bus stop, on a train, or in the queue at a supermarket checkout. 

Handcraft (or type) your letters uniquely. OK, you will need perhaps to tell the person you are writing to your name, and if you want a response, your postal (or email) address. Anything else is fluid. A letter is a gift of time and energy, but if you send the same letter to everyone it may not reveal enthusiasm, sincerity and passion a good letter has.

I find this sort of letter below is just so boring:

Hello! My name is Jennifer. I live in Newport. I have a partner called Rhys and four children - their names are Cai (10), Eirian (7), Bethan (5) and Owain (2). We have three cats, one is a tabby called Simon,  the ginger tom is called Goofy,  and the black cat is Jetson. I like ice-skating, hill walking, 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 Cardiff City. 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. It doesn't engage with the recipient. I've received a few of that type of letter, and well, finding it almost impossible to write a reply on occasion (but I have managed to thank them electronically when I haven't been able to respond via letter).

Sometimes I do look up the town/city on a map - to see its rough location. I am hopeless at US geography, so even knowing if some town is near the sea, inland, north/south/east/west may help me write a letter. 

Now, what if Jennifer in Newport was writing to someone in Toledo, OR/USA who has mentioned hiking in their request for correspondence:

Hi there Kathy,

My name is Jennifer and I live in Newport, not the Newport in Oregon not too far from you but one in Wales, UK. My partner is a Welshman called Rhys, but I come from Bath in England originally. We have four children and have given them Welsh names - Cai (10), Eirian (7), Bethan (5) and Owain. The home is ruled by three felines. One of my hobbies is hill walking and I like to go walking in the Brecon Beacons at least once a month. I see from an online map that you've got some interesting scenery nearby. Where do you like to go walking/hiking? Another hobby is quilting. Rhys likes DIY and furniture making. He surprised me last birthday with a handmade sewing table. He is a big football (soccer) fan but likes most sports too. He even stayed up to watch the Super Bowl. I don't want to overwhelm you in first letter, so I will end here. I hope this finds you well. Write back when you can. xxx

A few more words (add better layout on paper with paragraphs/spacing) but not revealing as many hobbies/information, maybe not much more time/effort but there is something to draw you in. A question. A friendliness. Which letter would Kathy prefer? 

Penpal letters should be ongoing conversations. Questions should be asked but not too many - you do not want it to be an interrogation or inquisition.

You could enclose extras, such as a postcard of your area, a map/leaflet for your area, even a photograph (not necessarily of yourself/family), a bookmark... 

Postal services at the moment aren't all running a full speed operation. Post can be slow. Patience is needed for this hobby. Check your postal authority's service news page for updates. 

1 comment:

  1. I like the sentence "A letter is a gift of time and energy".

    I would prefer the second option, of course. But, anyway, at this moment I lack the energy to start that kind of correspondance...