Letter-Writing: Penpal Letters

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Getting mail is a ton of fun, but, in an increasingly digital world, writing it can sometimes be hard. This blog post series about Letter Writing aims to make it easier.

Image taken from page 231 of 'Letters from the Land of the Rising Sun. Being a selection from correspondence contributed to “The Times” between the years 1886 and 1892 ... With seventy-six illustrations' In today’s busy world of email and texts, many still cultivate the art of writing to penpals as a way to keep letter writing alive. Writing to a penpal still follows the general guidelines that all friendly correspondence does, but a penpal is special because most often, you are writing to someone you don’t know- outside of their own letters anyway. Yet for many, deep connections can form with this far away friend, making the art of writing to a penpal one that should not be overlooked.


There are places to find penpals from all walks of life and different backgrounds from writing to children to writing to inmates in prisons, from writing people an ocean away to answering ads for a lonely hearts club right in your own town.


In most cases though, when you first start writing you won’t know the person. For this reason, it is always good to write a bit of an introduction letter at first. If you are writing to someone first, consider explaining how you “met” them or got a hold of their information, whether it was through a website or an organization etc. Then, share a bit about yourself. This doesn’t mean you need to go in-depth about your impending surgery or mother’s funeral (at least not in the first letter), nor do you need to give them private identification information like your telephone number. Instead, make it chatty, and tell them about you as a person. What your interests, family and home are like. Pets, for example, are always a good conversation starter. Since many people are visual, you might also consider sending a photo of yourself after a few letters have been exchanged.


Many of the organizations and websites that connect potential penpals allow people to post brief profiles and bios. It might be a good idea to choose at least some of the topics of your first letter from the information on your penpal’s profile. You can point out similar interests (“I noticed you said you played tennis. My husband and I do weekly couples matches with our neighbors!”) or ask about topics you are unfamiliar with but wish to know more of (“can you believe I’ve never been on a bike! Where did you first learn to ride?) Don’t forget, letters are a conversation, not a monologue. Ask questions of the person and their life to get to know them. As the exchange of letters continues you could even use your new friend as a sounding board for advice and ideas, and be that same confidante to them.


Here’s a few "parting" tips before you mail that first letter: First, choose your benediction with care. “Love and hugs” might be too familiar for someone you don’t know, and something like “Write soon!” might put pressure on the letter’s recipient. Something along the lines of “Your new friend,” might work better. To make getting a letter even more exciting, feel free to dress up the envelope. Sometimes mail art can become quite intricate, like something one would see in a museum, but if your talents are more along the lines of doodles, that is quite fun too! On a similar note, try to include your address on the letter itself instead of just the envelope. Envelopes can get torn or lost-fates that are far less likely for a letter!


LETTER WRITING SERIES: THANK YOU NOTES | PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE | LOVE LETTERS | SYMPATHY LETTERS | CONGRATULATORY LETTERS | POSTCARDS | LETTERS OF APPRECIATION | CORRESPONDENCE CHESS | GET WELL CARDS | LETTERS TO SICK CHILDREN | INVITATIONS | HOLIDAY LETTERS | LETTERS TO SANTA| LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION | LETTERS TO THE EDITOR | CIRCLE LETTERS | LETTERS TO POLITICIANS | WRITING TO ADVICE COLUMNS | THE LETTER WRITING GAME | PENPAL LETTERS | LETTER OF COMPLAINT | COVER LETTERS | LETTERS TO PRISONERS | OPEN LETTERS | LETTERS TO FUTURE YOURSELF | LETTERS OF APOLOGY | "OPEN WHEN" LETTERS | FAN MAIL | GOOD BYE LETTER |

4 comments

  1. We had an opportunity in school to do an international pen pal program. (Maybe third grade? Do you remember this?) For some reason I chose Canada (not very exotic, but I'd been there). I got a girl in the Vancouver area who was part of a First Nations tribe. She drew me a picture of her family's totem. I bet we only live a few hours away from each other now; wish I could say hi again!

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    1. I don't remember much from third grade, sadly. I had a penpal, but she was from America (east coast, maybe through American Girl Magazine or Girl Scouts...)

      I love that she drew you the totem pole. How strange that now you do live so close though... !

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  2. i've never had a pen pal but did write letters back and forth w/ one of my best friends in hs on summer when she was at camp. the correspondence was pretty funny actually because of the delay.. like aah i met this really cute guy at camp & now he's my bf... I write back, next letter comes back, oh we broke up haha. anyway that has nothing to do w/ penpals but i love your little tips of including a bit about what you know to find common interests & in choosing your words carefully. it's easy to just jot things down quickly, at least for me, since i do that all too much typing, but you are so right about those meanings, i wouldn't have thought about the "write soon" one. i actually remember, maybe it was in an early FT swap, when you signed a letter "your friend Kristian" and i was really touched by that, that you considered me a friend, which may sound totally weird, but i never knew what was a good line or how far in terms of friendships to go w/ blogger friends at that time and so i appreciated it. also, i will get the answer to you tmrw am : )

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    1. Haha- yes sometimes writing letters is like that where things change faster than words get to your friend!

      I'm so glad to have "met" you through blogging Dus!

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