How To Write A Letter To A New Pen Pal
The Power of the Pen When it Comes to Pen Pals
I’ve been writing letters as long as I can remember.
When I was eight or nine, I had a pen pal in Manitoba, Canada. I can picture myself looking at a map in my encyclopedia and thinking that it was VERY far away from my hometown in Ohio and also that it must be a very exotic place. I kept the small school photo of my pen pal on my desk, which was a white secretary desk with lots of spaces for treasures like this picture of a stranger who I got to know over several years. She and I lost touch around the time that we became teenagers, but I still think of her now and then and wonder about her life up north.
In the summer of 1989, I traveled to the Soviet Union as part of an exchange. This was at the time when the US and the USSR were embroiled in the cold war. There is so much to say about this trip, but one of my most prominent memories is of the letters I received from my counterparts before we left on this trip of a lifetime, the letters I wrote home from the city of Kazan and the letters that my tour mates and I wrote to each other for many years after our return to our own lives and places. This adventure took place just before email was invented and I am so grateful that it hadn’t been, because trips to the mailbox were magical and getting to know these people who are so dear to me thirty plus years later through words on paper is irreplaceable.
Most recently, receiving letters from my nephews while at summer camp has been the highlight of my summers and as of this year I have started to write to an inmate as part of a rehabilitation program focused on compassion.
All of this is to say that being and having pen pals holds great meaning to me. I was excited to be asked to write about it to offer some ideas about having pen pals and being one , but also to leave space to hear about your own mail tales, too.
If you’ve read some of my other entries, you know that I am not currently the best pen pal. I’ve found myself in a rut over the past couple of years. I often wonder why. I love stationery, I love the people who I receive mail from and the mail itself. I have an enviable collection of uncancelled postage stamps and I love to write. As I was thinking about this article, I started to think that getting back to the basics might be the answer. That maybe I had been putting too much pressure on myself to create mail art, write lengthy letters or respond very quickly. Much like the other writing I do, what is ultimately most important is the words. Arranged by your head and your heart in just the right way they can be so powerful, especially the kind ones.
So, I am going to break down some ideas for sending mail and then try to follow my own advice.
Who said it best?
if you don’t have the words yourself, there are others who may have already said it for you.
Quotes are a wonderful way to share what you’re feeling and are easy to find. Just type a few keywords about what you are feeling into your favorite browser and endless possibilities will pop up. In the same vain, greeting cards are also a great way to express yourself and there are so many wonderful independent card makers to support. Greeting cards are also a great way to avoid the curse of the blank piece of paper. They give you a good starting point and eliminate starting from scratch!
Make it special for your pen pal and yourself.
Break out your favorite fountain pen (some of my favorites are right here on the Galen site,) get out your good stationery and cards, light a candle and make a cup of tea or coffee (cocktails are great, too). Making your environment feel special will translate to your letters.
Keep it simple or spill all the tea.
There is no wrong or right way to be a pen pal. Some pen pals send each other short notes, and some send novella length correspondence. Some write frequently and others go months in between letters. Just like other kinds of relationships, each one is unique and has its own cadence to follow. When writing to a stranger, the first few letters might feel a little awkward. Start simple and don’t be afraid to set expectations.
Make an appointment for your pen pal.
Setting aside a specific time to write letters makes a big difference. Just like you slot your to do list and appointments into your calendar, do the same with your pen pals. If you know that you are going to be writing to a specific person at a specific time, it can be helpful for getting present with your thoughts about your pen pal and what you’d like them to know.
A kind word from a stranger can make a huge difference.
If you need a pen pal there are a lot of great resources and a lot of people who would be thrilled to receive your letters. It is a gift of your heart to send a letter. Here are just a few suggestions of organizations that would love to hear from you and pair you up with those they are serving.
Postcrossing is a global postcard exchange. You can send and track cards along with 800,000+ other global citizens.
More Love Letters
The world needs more love letters and this is where this organization steps in. Nominated by a friend, co-worker or a family member, the recipients of your letters are those who need to hear that they matter, could use some extra moral support, are celebrating something special or going through a challenge. Nominees receive a bundle of letters organized by More Love Letters and requests will come to you via a monthly call out and newsletter.
Kids for Peace
A global project for connecting kids through letter writing. This is a great opportunity for your children, other family members and students to be paired up with another child somewhere else in the world. A good way to get kids writing letters when they’re young!
Compassion Prison Project
The mission of the Compassion Prison Project is to transform prisons and communities through compassionate action and they need our help! They have created incredible tools for guiding volunteers through the process of sending mail to prisons either as a one time letter to someone who is working in the prison or incarcerated or to start an ongoing dialogue with them.
Reach out to your local retirement communities and nursing homes. Often they will have pen pal programs to support their residents who may feel isolated, especially during the pandemic.
Mail Art Inspiration
Instagram is filled with accounts that are making the most beautiful mail art. For pointers on making your mail into a work of art, just type in #mailart or #mailartist to see some mail art magic!
Be Your Own Pen Pal
Do you have things that you need to get out of your system or that you want to tell yourself?
Use paper and pen to do so. This can be letters to yourself in a notebook or journal or on stationery to be tucked away or read. There are lots of Galen Everyday Books, leather notebooks and notebook covers that can make this practice feel special and luxurious. There is also nothing to say that you can’t send it in the mail to yourself. Write a letter. Address it to yourself and have someone else send it to you when you think you’ll most need it. Notes to yourself are a great way to show care and compassion.
I hope this encourages everyone who reads this to send a card or letter. I am going to revisit the letters that I have received and not responded to yet and do the same. I would love to hear who you wrote to, if you have other resources that you like for finding pen pals and if you have tips of your own. Leave them in the comments. We would be so happy to hear your thoughts.
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