Saturday, June 10, 2017

How to Write a Fabulous Pen Friend Letter--Content vs. Aesthetics

Good morning, pen friends!

The Summer Pen Friend Exchange is in full swing---I hope you all are having a fabulous time writing and receiving letters. {If you didn't get a chance to sign up for the Summer Exchange, do fill out the Pen Friend Sign Up in my menu bar to be included in the next sign up.}

I was so excited to see participants from all over the world---women new to letter writing and many who said they'd missed the days of childhood pen pals. One thing I didn't anticipate {but should have} is that participants would be unsure of what was expected of them concerning what else to include with their letter. For most of letter writing history, it wouldn't likely have occurred to someone to include "stuff" with a letter {more on that in a minute}. However, in this day of online swaps, in addition to all the gorgeous mail art images on Pinterest and Instagram, I can see why some of you were concerned your letters might not "meet expectations".

These are excellent questions and things I also think about when writing a new pen friend. Of course it's never possible to know what your partner will be expecting---a few bits and bobs for crafting? A bookmark and bag of tea? A purchased and wrapped gift? Each exchange site and host has its own rules, but the only thing promised in the letter writing exchanges you'll find here at The Victorian Letter Writers Guild is a thoughtful, chatty, letter---anything else you do is completely optional.

I'm hoping that participants will make the content of the letter just as important as anything done to "pretty it up". The early Victorians paid additional postage per page sent so they didn't have a lot of room for extras---unless they could afford to pay. Content over aesthetics, I say!

I think the first priority should be a meaty, newsy, chatty sort of letter that your partner will enjoy reading and thinking about. Second to that, it's always nice to receive something pretty so try to use stationery, if you can find some. Or decorate notebook paper with stickers or colorful sketches. If you'd like to go further than that and include something extra, perhaps you could send a written recipe, bookmark, or some pretty fabric or paper scraps she could use in her own mail art. I know "mail art" is a big thing right now---but, in my opinion, it should never outshine the actual heart of the message we're sending. After all, the aim is to get to know one another and share our lives through the written word!

What constitutes happy mail, in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. Writing in the style of a Victorian letter writer is not as easy as it may seem, the standards are exceptionally high simply because there were no other means of communicating, and travelling was difficult and off-putting. A prime and exceptional example of the best in Victorian letter writing can be found in Jane Welsh Carlyle - wife of the (then) famous historical writer Thomas Carlyle - who would often, whilst separated from her husband through business or travels, write him a letter every day. Kathy Chamberlain has just published an excellent biography of Jane Welsh Carlyle, and there are collections of her correspondence available online, along with many others; too many to name.

    1. Thank you for the reference, Adam. This will be a fun avenue to explore!

  2. Yes, your words are the most important thing you can send!