This is an edited version of a column I wrote a few years ago for the Inky Trail News. Inky Trails was a print pen pal newsletter, unfortunately no longer in print. Now-a-days I mostly find new pen friends through “friendship books” or a web site like Global Pen Friends. (Years ago there were more print based options.)
Writing the first letter to a potential new pen friend can be a challenge. In fact, I think some pen pals dread writing the first letter so much that they avoid doing it, even though they would really like some new correspondents. Instead they sit and wait for someone else to write first, but those letters may never come! To make new friends one must often be willing to take the initiative and reach out a hand of friendship. So I thought I would share some “first letter” tips in this issue’s column.
Those who regularly read my column know that I emphasize that a letter should be a dialogue not a monologue. Letters should not be entirely self-centered, only about you. Your pen friend should know that you are interested in them as well. You should respond to a letter with some comments or questions.
This applies to first letters too! You might be thinking, “But a first letter can’t be interactive. I have to tell them about myself, and I’ve never received a letter from them that I can respond too!” – However, first letters can be interactive.
Likely you are responding to a pen pal ad/listing, and something about that listing appealed to you. What “jumped out at you” to make you willing to take the risk of writing the first letter? Let them know. Maybe you share some of the same interests. Maybe you are at the same “stage” of life. Maybe you just liked the style/attitude that came across in their listing. Respond and interact in regard to these things.
Mention what you have in common. “Your listing said you love reading. Me too.” Share the genres you prefer, and ask them about their reading preferences.
The person likely has some interests that are different from you. Maybe one is something you know little about. Be interested and ask a question about it. “I noticed you like worldwide travel. I’ve never traveled outside the US. What countries have you been to? Do you have a favorite country?”
Of course, a first letter will be lopsided towards you. That’s normal. And they need enough info to properly decide if they want to become your correspondent.
On that note, it can be hard to know how much to share in a first letter. I find the older I get, the harder it is to summarize myself! Where to begin? haha.
Just try to write enough that they can get a general idea about who you are. What are key things about you? What are the most important areas in your life? Details can be left for later letters. Remember that friendship takes time! So, don’t dump the whole load in the first letter.
Besides the challenge of writing a first letter, there is also the dread that the person will never reply. That happens. But try your best to inject at least a little conversation into the next first letter that you write. You may be more likely to receive a response! Best wishes making new friends on the inky trail!