Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How do I Start Penpalling?

How do I get started with penpalling? Where do I find penpals? Many people are overwhelmed by beautiful mail on Instagram, or have no idea how to find people to write to, or think that their letters aren't good enough to share with the world.

It's okay; you're good enough. I promise.

Remember how you used to pass notes in class? (Some of us used to, anyway.) What did you use to do that? Likely it wasn't anything substantial:  a piece of notebook paper and a ballpoint pen (and some fancy folding that you spent hours practicing). You also needed something to say, someone to say it to, and enough sneakiness that you could have it reach its destination without any problem.

If you have the skills of a 12 year old note-passer, you're in luck: you can be a penpal, a letter writer, a correspondent.

Supplies needed:

  • A pen
  • Envelopes
  • Writing paper (notebook, printer paper, magazine pages... anything will do)
  • Domestic and international postage (if you are in the US, some Forever stamps and some Forever international stamps will do just fine)
  • Time to write
  • People to write to, and their addresses
  • Optional:
    • Postcards
    • Postcard stamps
    • Stickers
    • A cup of tea (or, um, sangria)

Once you've gathered your physical supplies, you just need people to write to. You can try writing to friends you already have, maybe someone you love who has moved to a different city or country or neighborhood. Perhaps someone who lives down the street. Get on your social media to see who would be interested in corresponding with you. The caveat in writing to people who don't normally write letters is that you might never hear back from them. You might be surprised enough to receive a response, but likely they will tell you they are too busy to write letters, or don't have any stamps, or [insert excuse here].

Fear not. There are lots of letter writers out there. It's not a dying art, like some harbingers of doom have posited. You just need to Find Your People. Here are some ways to do it!

Sendsomething is a database of member profiles. It's free to sign up. You can indicate your interests, what kind of penpal or mail enthusiast you are, and what you're looking for in a penpal (a long term correspondent? a postcard pal? a person to share book reviews / troll dolls / poetry with?). I've struck up postcard friendships with older Canadian men who love old postage, a guy who sends me postcards from his world travels (they usually involve cursing or vice of some variety), People Who Live in California, People Who Live on Long Island...

LETTER WRITERS ALLIANCE - $5 USD, one-time membership fee
The Letter Writers Alliance "is a member based organization dedicated to keeping the art of letter writing alive." They have a penpal matching service where you send in a form indicating your interest, and then someone's address is sent to you, and your address is sent to someone. This gets you two new penpals, and you can do this as many times as you desire. There are members-only printables and a really neat blog that covers philately goings-on.

A very active community targeted towards self-identified geeks. Fandoms and nerdiness galore! IGGPPC also has a penpal matching service that runs monthly, forums where members organize swaps, and other fun community-oriented online spaces.

and of course, since you're reading this blog, I would be remiss to not mention...

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY PENPALS - $6 USD/mo or $36/yr; other options available
Joining LEP gets you access to over 600 letter-writing enthusiasts. Looking for someone who is also interested in crocheting Disney amigurumi? A fellow Ravenclaw? Someone who loves typewriters and fountain pens? Chances are you'll find a kindred spirit or ten through LEP. The most active space within LEP is the Facebook group, but you don't have to be on Facebook to be a member. There is a monthly newsletter with swaps, articles, and interviews.

Once you have your people, write! Not sure what to write about? Uncustomary has a great list of 50 things to tell your penpal. Send along bits from your day: ticket stubs, sketches, post-it notes, leaves.

Then, a very important thing: address the envelope, place the proper postage on it, and drop it in a mailbox.

The main thing to remember about letter writing is To Get a Letter, Send a Letter. Don't expect anything if you're not willing to put effort into writing to someone else first. Better yet, free yourself from expectation and just send random acts of kindness to brighten up someone's day. Soon you'll have more letters to reply to than you know what to do with.

Have fun with your newfound friends!

Special thanks to Christine D. for inspiring this post.
Yes, you can follow me on Instagram to tag along on my mail / cocker spaniel / carousel adventures.

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