Someone new to the pen pal scene suggested I posted a bit of a how-to, so this goes out to everyone who is considering giving this hobby a go. :-)
I wish I could tell you that there’s a protocol for writing letters, but that is simply not the case. Sometimes you’ll hear from someone a couple times a month and sometimes a pal’s letter may not arrive for weeks. Not everyone will decorate their envelopes or even use stationery. Sometimes they’ll type their letters and once in a while you’ll have a pen pal you wish would type since their handwriting’s a pain to read, haha.
Yes, every pen pal is different, but I have some helpful hints for those of you who are new to this hobby. Hopefully a lot of pen pallers would agree with them.
#1. Put an ad on a site like Pen Palling (Snail Mail) or respond to one that’s already there.
Whoever says snail mail is dead clearly hasn’t tried looking on Facebook let alone Google– there are so many people who are just as interested in writing letters as ever. You can find people in Facebook groups or post an ad so someone can find you. Should you write an ad don’t be too vague. In addition to saying how old you are and where you’re from, you could include the hobbies you enjoy, whether or not you have kids, and what you’re looking for in a pen pal (e.g. someone who writes long letters or someone who writes quickly, etc. etc.). Still not sure what you’d say in an ad? Try sites like the International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club or the Snail Mail Project as they can find a match for you.
#2. Chat online a bit before exchanging email addresses.
Sure, there is the safety aspect to this one, but there’s another advantage to talking a bit first…
It’s exciting whenever you see someone has responded to your ad, but for me that excitement quickly dies when all someone will say is “I want to write you.” Nothing more, nothing less. Guess what? Their letters, IF you even get one, will NOT live up to your expectations. Someone who is chatty online will likely be chatty on paper so definitely use that opportunity to test the waters. If you don’t think you’d ever get along with them in real life, don’t feel obligated to write them. I know I consider a handful of my pen pals some of my closest friends so you should look at pen palling as a chance to make a friend (or several) you would never have met otherwise.
#3. Find your voice.
All right, you found yourself someone who has similar interests yet you don’t know what to write after “I’m so glad you were up for becoming pen pals!” I have 3 general options for you…
First of all, you can ask the other person to go first. If your potential pen pal has more experience writing letters then they should know what they like and don’t like about intro letters so it could provide an example for you. Should they talk about where they live you could follow suit because that’s likely a topic they’re interested in hearing about.
My intro letters tend to cover the basics. I (usually) will talk about my family some, describe my work/school situation, and share a bunch of my favorite things. It’s a bit outdated, but I posted an example at the beginning of last year. I will add questions throughout all my letters since A) it gives the recipient something to respond to and B) because I’m nosy :-P
The other option you have is to just dive in as if you’re already friends and talk about your day. I’ve received intro letters where people vented about work, bragged about the cute thing(s) their offspring did, or talked about the movie they were watching &/or the book they were reading. Helpful hint: while some people have mastered these letters, they can be a slippery slope because others will talk about themselves/ their families for pages and pages yet never ask their pal any questions. It’s important to know when to stop. Just like in a regular friendship there needs to be a balance of give and take.
#4. Avoid exceeding 4 pages right off the bat.
Sure, this is more of a personal preference, but I have my reasons. The first is that there are people who will see an an intro letter that’s 6+ pages long as daunting; they may feel like there’s so much to cover they don’t know where to start. The second reason is that sometimes letters get lost or people will just be buttmunches who don’t respond. Don’t pour your heart and soul onto the page until you know the person will treasure it. Once the two of you have made a definite connection then by all means send each other novels. My first letters are usually on 2 pieces of stationery the size of copy paper, front and back, by the way. If you know me well you know that I believe writing should be like a woman’s skirt– long enough to cover everything but short enough to keep it interesting ;-)
#5. Don’t expect to hear back immediately.
As awesome as it would be to hear back from everyone within a week of sending their letter, that’s NOT the norm. There are people who only find time to write on the weekends or after the kids are asleep if they haven’t passed out themselves. Life happens and sometimes people just have more on their plate so be patient. If you’re concerned after a couple weeks that they might not have even received your letter you can message them about it. I feel like I have enough pen pals to keep me busy so one person taking over a month to respond does not hurt my feelings. On that note, if you’d like quite a bit of mail each month, get a few pen pals. I think it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket unless you don’t mind the wait.
If you have any questions regarding pen palling I haven’t addressed, please ask me! However, if it’s something among the lines of whether I want to write you then look no further: I am NOT interested in any more pen pals anytime soon, sorry!
I shall leave you with a pretty little song— the second verse is my favorite part, hehe.
Sincerely, Kate ~!~