Pen Pal 101

*This post is a bit long but perhaps scan down it, to see what interests you. There are brief thoughts and links about questions related to letter writing and pen pals.*

Recently I joined a pen pal group on social media, and observing is interesting! Many of those posting are only looking for a pen pal because they are stuck at home due to COVID-19. I wonder if their interest will remain after this is over? Also, it is amusing how little some know about the postal system, as they ask really rudimentary questions about postage. Wow, someone does not know that? I am not making fun, but just amused, since I’ve routinely used the post for 35 years.

Some questions are understandable, and there have been some good ones about letter writing. What do I write in a first letter? How long should a letter be? How often do I write? How many pen pals should I have? Etc. It is great to see people being re-introduced to the idea of letter writing.

I saw an article that said people are talking on the phone more during COVID-19, wanting to hear the voice of others.

In the past I’ve read about increased loneliness in modern times, despite the ease of communicating by text, e-mail, and social media. Many of these modern methods lack a personal touch, and people can still feel isolated despite all the “communicating” taking place. There is indeed something more personal about communicating via a tangible handwritten letter, or hearing someone’s voice on the phone, or getting together in person for coffee.

But regarding some of those basic questions about letter writing, here are brief answers or links to past posts on Postman’s Treasure:

Writing the first letter to a potential new pen friend. A first letter will be lopsided towards you, as you introduce yourself, yet even a first letter can contain dialogue. Also, you are introducing yourself, not sharing your autobiography! haha. Just try to write enough that they get a general idea about who you are.

A letter should be a dialogue, not a monologue. In this post, I share quotes from pen pal ads, where the pen pals express their desire for conversational letters.

♦  How long should a letter be? It is common in the pen pal world for pals to say they want “long letter” pen pals. This does not (usually) mean the person wants to exchange 10 page letters, but rather that they are not interested in overly brief letters that only contain thoughts about the weather. They want letters with more effort than that, more sharing, more depth, etc.

♦ How often should I write? Generally, among pen pals, it is one-for-one. You mail a letter, and then wait for a reply before writing again. Most pen pals prefer regular correspondence. I prefer pen pals that can reply to my letter within 4-6 weeks. I’ve had a couple blog posts related to this:

When you stop hearing from a pen friend. What if you send your letter and receive no reply, even after patiently waiting a while? I encourage you to check in with your pen pal! Maybe a letter got lost, maybe your pen pal’s life has taken a turn for the worse, etc. A friend should…wonder, care, reach out. But with the reasonable expectation that sometimes a pen pal just stops writing and you never learn why.

♦ In regards to the length of time between letters: Where has all our time gone…for letter writing? As a pen pal for 35 years, I’ve noticed a change in the last 10 years or so, even among life-long pen pal enthusiasts. It seems harder to have pen pals that write regularly and consistently. Years ago, most would reply within 2-4 weeks, but now it seems stretched longer and longer, and some only write 2 or 3 times a year.

If you have written a pen pal for years, have an established friendship, and then their life changes, and they can only write a couple times a year? That is different, and I am glad they still keep in touch. But when you are trying to establish a NEW pen pal friendship, letters need to be regular and consistent for a time! It is hard to get to know someone when there is 6 months between letters! You will stay strangers otherwise.

♦ Finally, how many pen pals should you write? That will vary. Find your personal pen pal limit. How many people can you write and still have time to write a quality letter and write back in a reasonable time frame? Start with 1 or 2, and slowly add more. This is about friendship, not bulk mailing. My personal pen pal limit has typically been about 15 – 20 over the years, but your limit could be much lower or higher!

Of course, these are general guidelines, or what is typical among most pen pals. Certainly, some pen pal relationships can be different and not follow the norm!

You may write brief letters and focus on “artsy” correspondence primarily about your shared rubber stamping hobby. You may send weekly brief notes, instead of  long letters every few weeks.  As long as you and your pen friend are on the same page in regards to expectations… Happy writing!


3 thoughts on “Pen Pal 101

      • Usually I check on my way home from work but since we have an order to stay inside, I’ve been working from home and not going out much. I live in an apartment complex so the mailbox is across the street and another apartment building over… Not far but more out of the way than being right at the door.

        Liked by 1 person

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