Last month, we received an email with the subject “A special request.” It was from a woman named Jana about her mother-in-law, an avid letter writer named Annabelle.
Meet Laura Brown, author of the newly published book, How to Write Anything, which is a guide to exactly that. From composing everything from a research paper to a recipe, it’s a necessary addition to any proper writing desk. Here, the well-seasoned writing instructor of more than 25 years talks to us about pen pal-ing with Shakespeare, fountain pens and a truly memorable A-.
When did your interest in writing begin?
It started when I was small. I wrote little stories when I was a child, and then when I started having to write at school, I found I really enjoyed it. I was lucky to have some truly inspirational teachers who encouraged me, partly by giving wonderful assignments where we could stretch our wings as writers. I’ve always felt a kind of flow with writing, being in the zone, and that’s very pleasant.
When San Francisco-based artist and filmmaker Ivan Cash decided to create a project that involved handwriting emails, he figured it would be a one-time experiment. Soon, though, he had so many requests that he had to enlist the help of hundreds of volunteers around the world to help him write. In all, more than 10,000 letters were sent, and Snail Mail My Email has become an annual, week-long event that takes place each November. If you can’t wait that long, however, the project’s letters are also available in book form. Here, Ivan talks with us about his dream Zen pen pal, in-the-moment correspondence and why including plastic dinosaur toys with your notes is pretty great.
Tell me about your snail mail project and how it came about.
I’ve always loved letter writing, but when I lived in Amsterdam during 2011, I found I was working all the time and not writing enough letters. When I quit my job just six months in, I decided I needed a project to help immerse myself back into the world of letter writing. I also wanted to use my skills in advertising to share the magic of snail mail with others.
The lunchbox note has been a staple of cafeteria correspondence since PB met J. It has served as a pick-me-up, a reminder, a pep talk and a hug replacement. It makes a great day even better, and makes a bad day just a little more tolerable. It is, like any note, a small gesture to let someone know you’re thinking about him or her.
But writing a lunchbox note isn’t as easy as scribbling a few x’s and o’s. Like all handwritten sentiments, there is an art to perfectly crafted communication. Here are our tips on how to make sure yours isn’t tossed out with the empty juice box.
- Keep it short and sweet. Lunchtime is about re-fueling, but it’s also about socializing with friends. Between conversations about homework and weekend adventures, your child has about 30 seconds for reading. Keep it to 1-3 sentences (this isn’t the time to reminisce or tell a story) and keep it light and loving (this also isn’t the time to remind him he needs to clean his room tonight).
- Don’t use the good stuff. Now isn’t the time to utilize your engraved monogram stationery with lined envelopes. Not that a note to your child isn’t special, but there is a good chance that it will come home decorated in apple juice and peanut butter (if it comes home at all). Instead, invest in a box of notecards reserved only for your note to your child. This way, he’ll know it’s from you to him (and feel special because of it), and you won’t be upset about your monogram getting trampled in the hallway between classes.
- The delight is in the details. “I love you” and “Have a great day” are certainly lovely sentiments, but chances are you tell them to your child on a daily basis. Every note should touch on specifics. Mention a funny line from a movie you both love, tell her how much you love her new red sneakers or suggest you both get frozen yogurt after school. Whatever it is, make sure it gets a smile.
- Everything in moderation. Like an extra cookie, a lunchbox note is meant to be a surprise treat. They should be sporadic, inspiring smiles, not groans. Sure, including one on Valentine’s Day or on the day of a big test is lovely. But it’s those not-particularly-interesting-in-any-way-days that make an unexpected note quite a delight.
Need more correspondence advice? Email our Crane Concierge at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canoe races. Fireside s’mores. And, of course, letters home. No care package was complete without a note from mom and dad (and Gummi Bears), so we thought we’d offer a few tips on how to craft the perfect summer camp letter, as well as stationery sure to make you the talk of the ice cream sundae social.
Lauren Kay will write you a letter: All you have to do is ask. The New York resident has penned requested missives to her childhood sitter’s daughter and a high school boyfriend’s little sister, just to name a couple, as well as unrequested — yet very much appreciated, we’re sure — ones to her own friends and family. One can read about her correspondence escapades — and request one of his or her own — on her few-years-old site, Letters From Lauren. Here, Nora Ephron’s biggest fan talks big zip codes, love letters and her favorite scene from When Harry Met Sally (hint: it doesn’t take place in a diner).
When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
It all started with box of Crane & Co. engraved ecru stationery, a gift from my grandmother. I was nine. It came with a fancy pink pen, which I was only allowed to use for proper correspondence. In hindsight, it was all a ploy to get me writing thank-you notes (I grew up down south where manners were practiced with emphasis). But it worked! And I’ve been writing letters ever since.
Leah Dieterich is gracious every day. It isn’t that she is regularly showered with gifts or good deeds, but rather the thxthxthx.com founder is just thankful for the little things: Tote Bags (“for being gender-neutral purses”) and a New Longboard (“for allowing my afterwork exercise to be considered play”), to name just a couple.
Her notes of gratitude can be followed on Twitter and read in her new book. Here, Dieterich talks with us about long distance letters, being a lefty and why a signature is her favorite part of the writing process.
It’s true that every letter one sends should be written earnestly and with importance. After all, while status updates tend to capture the commonalities of everyday life — a particularly delightful lunch, cheeky cat videos — a letter reports the thoughts, milestones and stories that have accumulated over time.
However, there is one letter every year that is written with especially particular focus and purpose to a very influential older gentleman: Santa Claus.
It is a letter that must recall with influential detail the benevolence, impeccable behavior and overall good nature one has exuded over the past year. At the same time, it requests something (or, in most cases, many things) of the recipient, who is given a very specific deadline to fulfill said requests.
We recognize the gravitas that is the Letter to Santa, and so below are our tips on how to write the perfect letter to everyone’s favorite red-suited shopkeeper.
Andreia Mateus found solace in writing letters when, at the age of 10, her family moved from her native Portugal to Switzerland. Fast forward a decade, when Mateus decided to launch her Pens & Envelopes Tumblr, on which she posts delectable correspondence-themed images in hopes of inspiring others to take pen to paper. Here, the devoted Pen Pal talks to us about her letter writing lists, what she looks forward to getting in the mail each week and why a memorable letter isn’t always the most eloquently written one.
When did your interest in letter writing begin?
It began when I was about 10 years old. My family had decided to move to Switzerland, and being it a country with a whole different language, I was having a hard time making new friends, and I was missing the ones from Portugal quite a lot. So I asked my mother for paper and envelopes and started writing to my friends. That was around 1999, and ever since then I haven’t stopped exchanging letters.
Why did you start Pens & Envelopes?
I started it mostly to see if there were any other people from the Tumblr community that shared the same interest. With instant messages and social networking, people have forgotten about the old ways of communication. I was hoping that posting images of letters would remind people how it feels like to receive a letter that was written by someone just for you.
Why do you enjoy stationery & correspondence?
Correspondence mostly because it is how I manage to relax from the everyday stress. It helps me to keep my head clear. As for stationery, well, some girls like to spend their money on brand new clothes and shoes; I like to spend my money on pretty stationery! A letter is so much more fun if you use colorful and visually appealing stationery.
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
That would be creating a list of the things I want to mention in the letter. It helps me to keep my writing organized, and it is also fun to think back of the important and significant happenings that I wish to share with my pen pals.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
There are a lot of people I could think of, but I’m going to choose Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese writer. His works are studied in our high schools, and I got really fascinated by his books. He is also mostly known for his complex personality, and I always wondered what he was really like. I probably would send him a casual letter, asking him if life turned out as he had planned, and if he was happy with his achievements.
To whom do you most often write?
To one of my closest friends, who had to move to another city. We exchange letters every week, which I’m quite thankful for. If I’m having a bad mail week, I know for sure that there is going to be at least one letter.
Describe the most memorable letter you have ever received.
A letter from my grandmother and my now deceased grandfather. They both didn’t know how to write (not very well), yet they had made an effort to scribble down a few lines. It was simple letter, but it meant so much to me. I still have it.
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
The decoration of the envelope and the penmanship. It is usually the first thing I notice, and it always gives so much out about the person who sent it.
Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
My favorite series so far is the Europe 2009 Astronomy series.
What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
Hopefully there will be more people opting for traditional correspondence. There is just so much beauty in picking up a paper and a pen and writing a letter. Even with online communication, I don’t think any other form of correspondence will be able to substitute the sentiment a personal letter gives you.
Have a question for Andreia? Email our Crane Concierge at email@example.com.
Donovan Beeson loves a good ka-thunk: that sound one hears as the mail drops into the postbox. As the co-founder of the Letter Writers Alliance — an organization dedicated to, among other things, providing letter writing tools as well as pen pals — she hears that sound quite often. Here, Beeson talks to us about “goodie boxes,” her motley crew of pen pals and her position on supermarket stamps.
When did your interest in the epistolary world begin?
I’ve always loved sending and receiving mail. I can remember my maternal grandmother sending what she called “goodie boxes” to our house at every holiday. They were simple collections of candy and small toys, but everything was magical because it was wrapped up special and came in a box. Now, I’m the one who sends the boxes of goodies and I like it just as much being the sender as being the receiver.
How did the LWA come to be?
My business partner Kathy started her stationery business 16 Sparrows in 2003. I came on to help with production when she started graduate school, and together we evolved the business into something less like a business and more like a lifestyle. In 2007, we started the Letter Writers Alliance because the most common statement we would receive was that people loved our stationery but “no one writes letters anymore.” We decided to create a network so that all of those letter lovers would be able to write to each other and no mailbox would ever go hungry again.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The people — I have met so many different, interesting and thoroughly engaging human beings through letters. In my return pile right now is an active duty soldier, a 12-year-old equestrian, a retired engineer, a teacher returning to work soon and so many more. I get to see slices of life that I would know nothing about, direct from their sources. I love it.