Pen Pal Tips and Tricks

I love writing letters. For two or so years now, I’ve been writing to several serious pen pals and many others on a more infrequent basis (like some which were only for a single swap match). I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for making and keeping pen pals.

Finding a Pen Pal

  • People you already know – a friend from high school or an aunt you wish you were closer to. Ask a mutual friend or your mom for addresses. I bug people for addresses via FB messenger or by posting a generic link to my Postables page, asking for addresses if people want a holiday card or a random happy mail.
  • A website for something you’re interesting in. For example, Ravelry has two different groups for finding pen pals. If the site you use doesn’t have groups, you can probably start a forum thread, asking if people are looking for pen pals. When you find a pen pal with a common interest, you automatically have something to talk to them about.
  • Postcrossing – Designed for one-time pen pal interactions using postcards and assigned totally at random, but you can use it for extended pen pal relationships. The site allows you to message the person who sent you a given postcard and you can use that space, should you wish, to request a longer pen pal experience.
  • Swapbot – I’ve not used this site myself, but many of my friends highly recommend it. Most swaps follow a theme which can get you started towards an ongoing pen pal relationship.
  • Geek Girl Pen Pals – Just what it sounds like. Really into Harry Potter or Dr. Who or something similar? The site organizes pen pal matches each month and the forums are always a good place to find someone looking for a pen pal.

Writing Your First Letter

First letters, let’s face it, are awkward. You may know nothing about your new pal, short of their name and where they live. It’s like having to introduce yourself to someone at a cocktail party, but with the added benefits of being able to take as long as you want and not having to do it verbally. Here’s a few things to try, if you’re stuck.

  • Basic introduction – Where you’re from, where you live, if you’re in a relationship and/or have kids, what you do for a paycheck or for fun
  • Currently – List what you’re currently…watching, listening to, reading, feeling, making, planning, loving, and enjoying (a really large list is over here on Digi.Shop.Talk). This will reveal more about your daily life than you’d think and gives you an interesting framework for writing about yourself without, you know, writing about yourself.
  • Take advice from Natalie Goldberg – Start with “right now…” or “At this moment.”

Later Letters

  • Ask questions – Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so asking a question is a great way to get someone to do so. I’ve been asked all sorts of things from pen pals. If you need ideas, here’s 100 Questions No One Ever Asks (from Amiyrah of 4 Hats and Frugal) and 50 Things to Tell Your Penpal (from Mary of Uncustomary)
  • Don’t only talk about yourself. Yes, I am really going there. Your pen pal has written you a lovely letter and you should respond in such a way to show that you read their letter and that you care about what they wrote.

Next Time

In my next post about snail mail, I’ll share creative ideas for making your mail stand out. You can probably expect this post next week, as I have a bit more research to do for it.

Mail Monday 4.25

It’s about time I turn my love of letters – and the mail, in general – into a blog feature. Every other Monday or so, I’m going to share what I’ve sent out and/or received since the last update.

Let’s get started.


With the new job starting, I’m trying to get ahead on lots of things, like sending birthday cards. I use Facebook to tell me when people have birthdays, then get them all ready to go around the end of the previous month. (So, for my friends, this is my friendly reminder to have FB tell me your birthday…or subtly sneak it into conversation when it’s getting close.)

I also sent a few little notes to folks, but forgot to take any photos of those before being sent. And this fun, local postcard to my very first Postcrossing recipient.


I also was the recipient of lots of mail the last week or so. There were two notes from the same person – though I’m pretty sure one was a reply to a letter sent months ago, she’s been tied up in nursing school – and a Monet postcard from a Ravelry pen pal.

I also received a fun little package from a Ravelry swap.


What fun things did you send or receive in the mail this week?

(For the curious, both backgrounds are indoor/outdoor tablecloths I got at TJ Maxx or Homegoods. Aren’t they fun?)

Pocket Letters

On one of those random trips through Pinterest, I came across an example of what the pin called a pocket letter. I did a little bit of searching within the site and came across many other examples and, at some point, finally found their creator. Janette Lane created the concept and gave it a real, trademarked name a few years back, far as I can tell. The concept is easy: take a 9-pocket protector (like little kids use for baseball or Pokemon cards), fill it with goodies and a letter, then fold it up and mail it off to the recipient in a standard envelope (Janetter’s summay is here). If you’re an overachiever, you include things the recipient can use for future pocket and/or standard letters in each pocket and even have a theme.

Needless to say, it was love at first site. I already had a giant pile of those protectors from a failed attempt a few years ago to participate in One Little Word and pocket letters – which I refuse to capitalize – combine two loves: letter writing and scrapbooking.

I’ve sent about a dozen of them so far and have plans to, when I have more time and energy, send many more to both new and existing pen pals. Of course, in my fervor to send them, I only ever snapped photos of one of them – one of three nearly identical ones sent to three brand new pen pals I got set up with from Ravelry.

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From the top-left and continuing across then down, I included the following:

  • Scrapbooking paper with to/from information
  • Robot stickers I picked up from Target. They were actually designed to be a non-candy option for Valetine’s Day. I got like 20 sets of them for $3.
  • A little bit about me, this time focused on my job. Yeah, I have no idea why I decided to write about that at length to a stranger, but I did.
  • Six random things that I do as hobbies.
  • Washi tape samples, before I realized attaching them to paper was not a great idea. (Now I attach them to a small piece of plastic, so the recipient can actually use it later.)
  • Little rectangular pieces of paper the recipient can use for future pages
  • Paper circles for the same
  • An actual letter to the recipient, written on graph paper because it was close at hand and I am a nerd who loves graph paper.
  • An introduction to pocket letters. (Oddly enough, the recipient of this particular letter is a fellow aficionado of the paper letter concept.

I can’t wait to make more letters like this. The setup I described earlier is mostly for letters of this type, as it allows me to have everything super close at hand.

And, before we go, a few shots of the first (and, so far, only) pocket letter I’ve received, from the lovely (but blogless, far as I know) Tina P.

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One of the goodies were these really neat pinwheel paper clips. I hvae no idea what I’m going to use them for, but they sure are neat to look at.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug  Another was a penguin paperclip, though I don’t think she realized that’s my sorority’s (Phi Sigma Rho) mascott.

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And, last but not least, that little blue pocket had stickers inside!Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Have my fellow letter and/or scrapbook nerds ever made (or even heard of) a pocket letter? Interesting in setting up a swap?

Letter Writing Setup

Letter writing should be easy – grab something to write on, something to write with, a stamp to mail it, and something to mail it in. Write the letter, shove it into the envelope, address it, stamp it, and mail it. But, of course, I make everything overly complicated. I’ve got this whole entire setup of stuff I used to create my letters. Here’s a quick peak into my setup which currently resides on our dinning room table (the joys of having my office next to Squirms’s bedroom).

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Below the box:

  • Bright pink divided filer: I keep paper that doesn’t go in the box including stamps, small envelopes, cards for pocket letters I’ve already cut out, stickers, and address labels.
  • Pad of scrapbook paper: I got this on one of those 50% coupons at Michaels (it’s this exact one). I use this to make my own envelopes (I use this folded envelope technique.) or cut it in half and use it as stationary. The paper is a bit thin but it survives the mail pretty well, as evidenced by the letter I had returned to me in one of the envelopes made out of it (for forgetting to write the city/state of the recipient heh). I bought the pad in January but still have a good third of it left.
  • Paper cutter: Another half-off deal from Michael’s (this one). I bought it after my friend made fun of me for still cutting everything by hand with an Exacto knife and metal ruler I’d previously used for cutting fabric. I love it so, so much. I’m only on my second blade ever, having had it for four or five years.

Then, in the box, leftover from greeting cards a few years back:

  • Two pairs of scissors: Normal ones (cheapos from Ikea) for cutting packages open or something like that. Small, tiny ones (think they came with the paper cutter, actually) for cutting intricate things like fussy cutting individual stickers.
  • Ziplock of various paper scraps
  • Flowered journal: I don’t use it for a journal – it starting falling apart after a single weekend of use – but as paper for letters. It’s got a super tiny, dark blue grid on each page.
  • Coloring-books style postcards of Indian-inspired patterns: A random Michael’s clearance purchase a few years back. I’ve sent one or two in letters as a a goodie to be completed by the receipient.
  • Letter in progress (that’s the stars paper)
  • Bunch of pens
  • Date stamp from the Smashbooks folks which I rarely use but still keep around
  • Stamps of an owl and a set of letters, plus a blank ink pad
  • Glue sticks – the normal Elmer’s acid free type
  • Lots of Smashbook packets of papers. These are for embellishments for pocket letters or to send as goodies to pen pals. I still have a Smashbook but I’m not keeping up with it that much so it made sense to keep these with my letter stuff versus scrapbook stuff which is up in my office.
  • Circle punch: Finally splurged (okay, it was like $8) and got one of these. I use it for pocket letters, mostly, but have plans to have it help me make my own stationary.
  • Washi tape: I’ve bought it at normal places like Michael’s or Target but also Ikea and the grocery store. The stuff is everywhere, much to my detriment. I’m rather addicted, especially as it’s “only” three or four dollars a roll.

So…fellow letter writers..what’s your setup look like?

Old. New. Borrowed. True. #4

(It’s been awhile since I’ve done this so pardon the tons of very short responses I came up with.)

Old: Squirms is high energy. I continue to be a test engineer. I’m writing lots of letters (over 100 so far in 2015). I lost a total of 25 pounds (but have forgotten my diet entirely the last two months or so).

New: Matt started a new job a few weeks ago – he’s really enjoying it, especially their beer + video games happy hour. on Fridays I’ve switched from knitting baby stuff and sweaters to socks, in accordance with my usual spring transition.

Borrowed: We tried spaghetti squash – it’s disgusting. I took an off-handed comment from a coworker to heart and am going to take a software development class or two this next year (maybe as soon as this summer).

True: I really should get more sleep at night – there is really no need to stay up as late as I do. Writing makes me happy. I need to buy more work clothes and fewer supplies for yet another craft I won’t stick with. Coffee is awesome and cheap if I make it at home.

Oh, uh, here’s…a recent photo of Squirms to tide you all over until a big update coming Sunday.

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Letter Writing

I’ve always loved getting things in the mail, even if it’s just something I’ve ordered online or a catalog for the local rec center. When I was little, I was lucky enough to have a few aunts who would send me a postcard anytime they went somewhere and had a few friends who moved far away who wrote me letters. But, other than the flurry of cards at Christmas, I don’t really get a lot of mail that’s not somehow commercially related. Which makes me sad. Quite sad.

And, you now what, you can’t really expect people to mail you things if you don’t mail them yourself. Everyone assumes everyone else is too busy to do something like hand-write a note (even thank you notes are rare these days, but I’m not going to get on my soapbox about that one). So, I’ve committed to writing more hand-written letters this year. I even got supplies to make my own envelopes and got supplies (which I then ruined, long story) to teach myself calligraphy. Plan is to try to write ten letters each month, which will probably be more like 15 in January then two or a three a month after that. And, for sure, to respond to any hand-written letter I receive in response.

My total so far this month? One reply to a letter I received at the end of December plus three more (one to a friend I haven’t seen since I moved from LA, another to a friend who lives 30 minutes from me but I don’t see often due to scheduling issues, and one of Matt’s cousins). I made this giant list of people I want to send letters to – I’ll admit, not a single guy made my list because I feel really weird writing letters to guys – then used a random number generator to see who would get the next letter. It adds an element of fun and surprise to it. The list is a combination of relatives and new friends and old friends and even a few famous or semi-famous people I admire and/or generally want to say hello to.

Once my letters look like something more exciting than basic notebook paper in blank, send-your-payment-to-the-doctor type envelopes, I’ll be sharing what I’ve sent out and received in reply. For now, I’ll leave you with a photo of my LWA kit.

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(Ah, yes, the LWA. Didn’t actually mention them yet. When I was looking around for ideas, I came across a really cool group called the Letter Writers Alliance. The gals who run it send beautiful (really, you’ve got to see them) letters out to family and friends and pen pals almost daily. Their Instagram feeds are fully of their hand-lettered, stamped, washi tape embellished, and stamped creations about to go into the mail box. For $5 you are a lifetime member and get a little membership card and a special little patch. I, of course, signed up immediately. You then have access to their members-only site and the ability to sign up for a pen pal, international or within your own country. I’m more than a little excited to be amongst their number.)