For most, establishing a decent relationship with a far-away pen pal is likely not a concern. Very few people have pen pals nowadays. And even fewer get past that first letter. As someone who's had pen pals over the past 9 years, I'd like to share with you my tips for writing a good letter: How to Write a Great Letter to Your Pen Pal:
1. Use special paper and matching envelopes.
Now, if it's just not in the budget, that's absolutely fine, but let me tell you; when you use nicer paper it just makes the whole experience extra special for both the sender and the recipient. Your paper is a reflection of your personality.
Update January 2013: Special paper can mean different things to different people. As long as it increases the enjoyment of writing, you should use it. Envelopes can be anything you have on hand. Don't be afraid to add decoration or embellishment to them, either. I often use plain white paper and plain white envelopes and run a line of patterned washi tape across both. Voila, matching. I have correspondents who literally paint on the envelope and cover it in stickers and other ephemera and use kawaii stationery to write their letter on. Use what you want. Whatever you use though, use something that you feel is 'special.' After all, you are taking the time to write a letter so why not make the experience as enjoyable as possible?
2. Use a nice pen with nice ink.
Again, it makes the experience extra special for both the sender and the recipient, but especially the sender. Using a nice pen, like a fountain pen, actually helps to improve your handwriting. Many nice pens, like fountain pens, actually allow your grip to relax resulting in smoother handwriting. If you are someone with poor handwriting, you might want to give a fountain pen a try.
Update January 2013: You might want to take a look at my Disposable Fountain Pen Post. They're inexpensive, but still very nice to write with!
3. There should be 5 main parts to your letter;
- a little about yourself
- questions (ask some questions to your penfriend)
- answers (answer some or all of the questions you just asked)
Now, these don't have to be definitive sections or anything; just as long as you include them. This seems to be a good, manageable formula for most letter writers and you'll fall into your own patterns as you write more and more.
Here's a sample letter:
4. Don't make demands.
Don't say "write back as soon as possible" or "Please write back within two weeks." It makes you sound like a needy pen pal. Be relaxed, and just say you look forward to their response.
5. Don't expect a response immediately.
For some people, writing a letter is more of a struggle; it requires hammering out some down time to actually craft a thoughtful letter. Many of my pen pals take 3-4 weeks to reply, and that's normal.
Update January 2013: Depending on the time of year, I take anywhere from a week to 6 weeks to respond. I'm not one to rush the process of writing a letter, and everyone can tell when they get a rushed letter. This is about quality, not quantity. (However, if you are into quantity, or have anxiety about this, I recommend getting involved with Postcrossing or just sending postcards.)
6. Include a little something.
It doesn't have to be anything fancy; maybe your business card, a photo, a neat clipping or a sample of your favorite tea. It's a nice gesture and really exciting for the recipient who receives a little something extra. Wouldn't you like that?
Update January 2013: In the past 10 or so letters I've written, I've included 'Achievement' ribbons I picked up at a school supply store for teachers, vintage stamps (just tucked them in loose) and pictures I printed off of my office remodel. Anything goes. You might want to read my post on mail enclosures here.
My favorite pen: My absolute favorite pen for writing letters is a Sheaffer Fashion Fountain Pen (now called a Sheaffer Agio). My second favorite is a Lamy Safari (about $30). I don't use cartridges, I use ink straight out of the bottle. It's cheaper that way and the ink lasts forever. Plus, it's fancy.
Update January 2013: This pen is still my favorite. Other favorites are the Pilot Cavalier and my antique Prosperity Pens Flex Nib fountain pen. Love my Kaweco Sport for day-to-day writing.
My favorite paper: I really can't narrow it down. But, let me share with you a great tip. Find a nice ream of paper at your local office supply store. It might be resume paper, it might not, but whatever tickles you, just pick up a ream. Now, take it over to the copy center and ask them to cut the paper in half. Voila! Extra special paper without the specialty paper price tag!
I use Crane papers, Neenah paper and some vintage paper from the 1940s mainly, but I do venture out on occasion.
Now, in the spirit of a good penfriend...if you'd like to send me a letter; I will write back! Cole Imperi PO Box 42831 Cincinnati, OH 45242-0831
Do you have a formula for writing a letter? What works for you? Is there a letter you've received that you'll never forget? Share with us!