The first of a three-part series about the art of the handwritten letter, Lisa Shobhana Mason shares how she got involved in letter writing and the best forums for you to try writing a letter.
In recent months, I’ve noticed that the more connected I am to friends and family through social media, the more disconnected I feel. It wasn’t so long ago that these frequently updated bits of information gave me a window into the daily lives of the people that I care about. However, lately there seem to be more reposts and retweets of OPP (other people’s posts) than relevant or interesting, personal communication. Back in February, the usual deluge of OPP brought news of The Month of Letters campaign. As someone who used to be an enthusiastic letter writer, I was keen to find out what it was all about. Author, Mary Robinette Kowal, came up with the idea when she decided to take a month off from the Internet and invited people to correspond with her through letters. The rules of the challenge were simple:
1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.
Even though it had been ages since I had written a letter, I embraced the challenge with great enthusiasm, sending off a total of 24 for letters for the month. I wrote to real life friends, to Facebook acquaintances and to people whom I had met through the Lettermo forum. And while not everyone wrote back, each recipient expressed delight at having received a handwritten letter. For me, writing a letter gave me an opportunity to create a thoughtful chronicle of my daily life, as opposed to the random opinions that I often found myself espousing on social media. Letters give us valuable insight into the daily lives of people both famous and ordinary. It’s not just the words that they write, but also the paper that they write on, the ink that they used, their handwriting and the postmark on the envelope that reveal something about who they were and the time that they lived in. I want to be included in that group of human beings who leaves behind a written account of their lives.
The writing is only half of the story! I am practically giddy when I discover that I’ve received a letter from one of my pen pals. It’s like reading a chapter in an ongoing novel. Each letter is a cliffhanger that leaves you wondering what will happen next. It’s a very special feeling to know that someone has taken the time out of his or her day to tell you their story and to commit the words to paper. I feel a great privilege to be on the receiving end of such a lovely gift! The best thing about writing letters is that it doesn’t require any special skills or supplies. All that you need is a pen and paper, a stamp and a desire to share your story. Your life story is unique and no one can tell it better than you!
Unless you happen to be lucky enough to have friends or family who will respond to a letter in kind, you will need someone to write to. Here are a few resources to get you started:
Letter Writers Alliance – After the Lettermo challenge ended, I was eager to connect with new pen pals, so I joined the LWA. The Letter Writers Alliance is a member- based organization dedicated to keeping the art of letter writing alive. It was conceived in 2007 by Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson. At present, there are 2770 members, mostly between the ages of 24 and 55. The majority hail from the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. Membership allows you access to free stationery and card downloads, members-only products, mail art contests and unlimited pen pal matching. When asked about future projects, LWA co-founder Kathy Zadrozny replied, “The LWA is working on a few big projects to be released at the end of the year. We’ve been collaborating with some amazing mail artists to create more interactive mail projects, like a non-site-specific scavenger hunt, where you earn honors and fancy titles. We are also going to release a new line called Aux Post that blurs the lines between reality and fiction in the postal realm.” Sounds exciting! Follow Letter Writers Alliance on Twitter @_LWA.
Creative Correspondents – I enjoy all of the relationships that I’ve made through exchanging letters, but the people whom I most look forward to corresponding with are those who share my creative interests. This motivated me to create my own pen pal project, Creative Correspondents, where I match creatives, aged 25 and older, with like-minded pals. Participants fill out a questionnaire asking them to rate their level of interest (from dabbler to professional) in a variety of creative fields and they are matched with someone of similar age and interests. Thus far, “rounds” of matching have occurred on a monthly basis. The Creative Correspondents blog features participant profiles and interviews. Follow Creative Correspondents on Twitter @CCorrespond.
Postcrossing – If you would like to stick your toe into the mail pond, but you’re not quite ready to dive in with a letter, then Postcrossing is the place for you. Here’s how Postcrossing works:
1. Request an address and a Postcard ID.
2. Mail the postcard to that address.
3. Receive a postcard from another postcrosser!
4. Register the Postcard ID you have received.
5. Go to number 1 to receive more postcards!
At the time of this post, Postcrossing lists almost 336,000 members in 208 countries, sending 849 postcards an hour. Follow Postcrossing on Twitter @Postcrossing
Get a pen pal and then return here to check out my next article, which will feature tips on letter etiquette and safety and what to write to your new pen pal.
Lisa Shobhana Mason is the author of the North Light books Yarnplay and Yarnplay at Home. She is also a pen pal matchmaker for creatives, aged 25 and older, and works her letter writing magic at creativecorrespondents.tumblr.com.
For ideas about making your letters more creative, check out these art journaling books:
Raw Art Journaling by Quinn McDonald
Journal Fodder 365 by Eric M. Scott and David R. Modler
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS