Can you believe we’re already two weeks into October? It’s always a thrill and surprise when our Letter Writing Club rolls around again, which is coming up tomorrow, on Thursday, October 12, from 7-9 pm. Please come! We have treats.
Sometimes I get asked about pen pals and how to keep up with correspondence. There’s a bit of irony in asking me, since my backlog is sometimes months long, but I truly think that letter writing can be a way to a deeper relationship with someone you see infrequently, or maybe would otherwise have not gotten to know at all – it’s worth everything you put into it.
Oftentimes we’re busy with such fast-paced lives, and with procrastination and late work nights or spending time with kids, it’s hard to find time to write – or maybe the motivation.
I think the biggest challenge in physical correspondence is really getting to know your pen pals. I tend to find that once I make it past the point of getting to know them, and actually becoming friends, it’s much easier to write. It’s no longer a chore to get out all of the supplies or to wonder what I’ll say to them – in fact I look forward to sitting down and sharing my opinion on their lives (hah!) and what’s going on in mine.
Here are a few ideas on staying the course, and developing long lasting correspondences.
Start writing with a friend. The easiest way is to write to someone you already know, but who lives a distance from you (if they live too close, the excitement of hearing news via letter after they’ve already heard it over coffee can be the demise of a would-be correspondence). This person will more likely understand your sense of humour, or you already have a history together you can pull from.
This person should be also game to writing a letter back – and you may be surprised by who is – as sometimes friends can opt to email back with “got your letter, how wonderful that you’re writing by hand!”
If you don’t have anyone in mind, though, it’s more than possible and can be very exciting to write to someone brand new. There are lots of places to find a pen pal or you can write to someone you sort of know or whose address is accessible – some of my favourite pen pals are people who wrote to me at the shop.
Keep at it. I know this sounds a bit obvious, but you really have to keep at it if you want to get anything out of it. To get a letter, write a letter is a common phrase for letter writers. The idea expands beyond just the disappointment of an empty mailbox weeks in a row, though – to build any relationship, you have to pour something into it as well.
If your pen pal hasn’t written back in a while, don’t give up. While it could be a sign that this relationship wasn’t meant to flourish and perhaps they’re sending you a white flag, it could also very well be that your letter was lost in the post, or they’re going through an exceptionally or unexpectedly busy time.
Send a postcard to let them know you’re thinking of them – and sometimes they may send you a postcard back letting you know they’re alive, and that they’ll be writing again soon. Pen pal relationships are unfortunately of the sort that die very quickly if no one is there to hold up the other end. Actually sometimes it’s a nice surprise to just send a postcard for fun in-between letters!
Go deeper. While the first letter to a complete stranger sometimes seems the easiest – to share who you are, your family, your work, your pets – as your relationship grows, consider sharing your thoughts and ideas along with the events that happen in your life. It can get a bit boring hearing from a pen pal who just says this happened and that happened and hope you’re doing well: it’s hard to truly get to know someone this way.
For example, rather than just sharing a book that you’re reading and what you think of it, share more intimate details about how and where you read, why you read, or how what you’re reading reminds you of something in your past. Are you a library user? Do you have a secret guilty online book buying pleasure? Do you dog ear your books?
If you recently went on a trip, it can be easy to say: I went on a trip to San Francisco, and I visited these places, and had a lot of fun. But consider writing about a funny story that happened, or a moment that you really enjoyed, or something idiosyncratic about your personal travel habits.
My favourite pen pals are those who make me laugh out loud when they say something irreverent about their in-laws, or share something personal about their life, or tell me about their philosophy in life around travel or the environment or living in nature. These are the ones that I truly get to know and call my friends, the ones whose voices I can practically hear over the page.
Send a picture of yourself. How awkward! I know. But sometimes this is a great way for someone to be able to visualize who you are and get a better sense of you. Barring that, send a photo of your dog.
On a side note, I’m currently reading through the Game of Thrones series – I’m on the third one. Along with occasionally referring to Super as a dire wolf (an extra large, extra intelligent wolf/dog creature), I’m really enjoying the whole concept of sending messages by raven, and the additional excitement of not knowing if your raven made it or not. It conveniently leaves the recipient to pretend not to have received any message at all, especially when called upon to take up arms against other armies – the original “lost in the post.”
I would also, of course, require a whole hatchery of ravens for all the missives I would send, and to make up for some of the ravens my “dire wolf” might eat.