GENERAL INTEREST

The Art of Letter Writing

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people. I have voicemails that I haven’t listened to, missed calls to return and emails to check. Despite this I have found myself deeply interested in the “lost” art of letter writing. It also helps that I moonlight as a sales associate at the hottest stationery shop in Chicago. Letter writing is a truly intentional and thoughtful act. Sure, we could quickly shoot over a text or call someone, but wouldn’t it be nice to go a step further and mail them a note to show that you’re thinking about them? Who doesn’t enjoy receiving mail that isn’t a bill, notice or an advertisement?

So, if I ask you for your address, don’t get creeped out. It means that I plan on sending you a letter or postcard. And, of course it would be nice if you returned the favor.

This month I reached out to Donovan Beeson, co-founder of the Letter Writers Alliance. The Letter Writers Alliance is a member-based organization created in 2007 by Donovan and co-founder Kathy Zadrozny to preserve the art form and cultural tradition of letter writing. Read on below for Donovan’s tips on how to start letter writing.

Image courtesy of Donovan Beeson's Instagram (@dovbee).

Image courtesy of Donovan Beeson's Instagram (@dovbee).

Q: Why write letters anymore? Isn’t e-mail just as good?

A: If you reach back and remember the joy from receiving a letter, something to hold, to reread, to treasure and then imagine passing that feeling on to someone else. A letter means even more today than ever before. They became mundane, but are now almost sacred artifacts. It's a small, very small, price to pay to touch someone the way that a letter can. You start by sending them out and the reward is receiving them. I don't think letter writing is lost and I do think there are enough to keep it going. A lot of people just need to take the first step; send that first letter. You have to write a letter to get a letter, is what we say. Nearly every day, we get a new member in our Letter Writers Alliance and we've got over 5000 members right now.

Q: What tools do I need to start writing letters?

A: The simplest is paper, envelope, writing instrument, stamp and someone to send your letter. You can certainly go all sorts of places from there, but that’s the bare minimum. Technically, you don’t even need an envelope. At one time letters were just one piece of paper, folded securely and sometimes sealed with wax, with the address written on the outside.

Image via Donovan Beeson
Image via Donovan Beeson

Q: Why did you start the Letter Writers Alliance?

A: The Letter Writers Alliance exists because Kathy and I grew tired of hearing people say that they loved letters, but that nobody writes them anymore. We heard this a hundred times in one day, for two days straight. A light bulb just went off for both of us: what if we could link up these people, who participate in a solitary art, and connect them so they don't feel like the only ones anymore?  We decided to create the Alliance to network those letter lovers together. We created a website and came up with a concept for what a membership would entail and what kind of perks came with it.

We offer free downloads of stationery and cards, members only products and projects, and we run a blog three times a week open to the public with all the goings on in the letter writing world. We also offer a pen pal swap between members, run mail art contests, and have a special currency that members can earn through community involvement and the turn in for free things. We use tools like Twitter and email to keep our members informed on the latest postal news, etc. We always tell people that we aren't anti-email; we're just pro real-mail. Mainly, we just want people to write more letters. Membership lasts for a lifetime can be purchased for $5 through our website.

Q: How do I make time for letter writing? 

A: For me, letter writing is a way to relax and I do it wherever and whenever I can. I write in bed, I write in cars, I write in lines, I write on the bus, I write on my lunch break. Often, if I’m trying to work through a problem, by writing about it to someone else, I’m able to come to a decision. An invisible part of your letter is the gift of your time to the recipient. That’s part of what makes them special.

Image via Donovan Beeson
Image via Donovan Beeson

Q: What should I even write about in my letters? Any advice on how to get started? 

A: The first step is to start writing letters and stop making excuses. So what if it’s been forever, write now! We get a lot of questions about the “proper”, “right”, or “best” way to write a letter. The answer isn’t that straightforward. It all depends on who you are writing to, the old adage of know your audience; a great letter to your grandmother is not the same as a great letter to your pen pal in London.  A good rule of thumb is to write about what interests you. Our friend Carolee of GOOD MAIL DAY has a great thing she does called “Snapshot” where you describe for the reader what it is you’re seeing/smelling/hearing/tasting right in the moment when you’re writing. A final tip is to ask questions of your recipient which will hopefully spur them on when they write you back.

Q: Where can I learn more about letter writing? 

A:

Letter Writers Alliance: www.letterwriters.org

16 Sparrows: http://16sparrows.typepad.com/letterwritersalliance/

Post Crossing: www.postcrossing.com

United States Postal Museum: http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/

GOOD MAIL DAY: http://www.amazon.com/Good-Mail-Day-Primer-Eye-Popping/dp/1592535372

TO THE LETTER: http://www.amazon.com/To-Letter-Celebration-Lost-Writing/dp/1592408354

Q: Finish the sentence: What I love most about letter writing is...

A: the friends I have made through the mail. I have met the most amazing people through letters.