Please make me a better letter writer!
May 16, 2009 8:02 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I have broken up because of a move but have decided to correspond with one another through handwritten letters. Please help me be a better letter writer!

For the first time in my life, I am sending handwritten letters through the mail. My partner is graduating from the school we attend together and is moving across the state from me for work. Neither of us really dig the idea of committed long distance relationships, so we have decided to break up. In a year, I may move to join him in the city he will be working in, but I don't really know for sure. I feel like a year is a really long time, and I know that a lot could change in that time. However, in the year between now and then, we intend to correspond with each other via handwritten letters. Neither of us are fans of the phone, IMing seems very ordinary and like what simple friends would do. We both love to receive mail but never get letters and it seems like a very romantic idea, so we've gone for it wholeheartedly.

Despite the break up and the move, I still really care very deeply for this man. I think he cares similarly for me. These letters are the main way that I communicate with him now, so making sure they are of high quality is important to me. I tend to send him a letter per week and letter writing has been very fun for me so far. However, I can't help but think that I could make these letters and packages a little... better? More interesting? His letters come with fantastic doodles in the margins. I can't draw anything beyond stick figures, so similar doodling is out. What sort of fun items can I include in my letters and packages that would make them feel more heartfelt or interesting? What I'm thinking of is along the lines of suggestions of fun, simple items that I could find in the course of my weekly life, or really cheap things that I could buy over the Internet (little things off etsy could work here - vintage postcards, maybe?) that I could include in my letters to make him smile and perhaps keep me in his memory throughout the day. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Also, I have heard that it is possible to create a wax seal out of crayons. I have lots of old crayons in almost every color imaginable and I know he would get a real kick out of a handmade crayon wax seal. Does anyone know how to do this? Help would be much appreciated.
posted by SkylitDrawl to Human Relations (18 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
For The Love of Letters could give you some ideas (memail me if you want a copy). It has actual suggestions for various kinds of (love) letters apart from examples of love letters from notable people.
posted by drea at 8:11 PM on May 16, 2009

1. Start a letter, then carry it (and additional blank paper) with you throughout the few days before you mail it. Write it in sections whenever you have a few minutes. Describe what's going on around you. Begin each segment with time, date, and location.

2. Gather pieces of emphemera throughout your day and tuck them or tape them into your letter. Could be a deli ticket, a receipt, a sticker, a note that was on your desk, something you found.

3. Write in code, or make a puzzle out of the letter, with clues.

4. Write a fiction piece.

5. Write from the future.

6. Fold your own envelopes out of old posters or thick magazine pages.
posted by Miko at 8:23 PM on May 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

ooh, fun!

1) If you like reading, record yourself on CD and send him a copy.
2) A line item, time-stamped list of everything you did that day (including writing and mailing the letter)
3) A flower, leaf, or herb that you find outside, pressed and included (this is cheesy, I know -- but awesome in the fall, when the leaves are changing)
4) A page from a magazine that you read and liked
5) A photo of yourself when you first wake up in the morning
6) One thing that irritated you, one thing that made you smile, one thing that made you think. Or, a list of the music you listened to that day.
7) A photo in every letter that you take at some point during your day.
8) Recipes? (do you like to cook?)
9) Post-it notes with things you forgot to put in the last letter
10) Oh! Telephone pictionary by MAIL! (with strict stipulations of ONLY interpreting the last picture / caption - otherwise it doesn't work)

I got really into sending letters last fall, and I added wacky stickers to everything. Also, funny cards? I really like getting long letters on silly cards -- the little bit of "pretty" "shiny" that totally makes my day.

Also, this sounds like dating.
posted by puckish at 8:31 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could try the crayon wax seal, but I do believe sealing wax is much denser and the colour more intense. Just melt some over a candle and press something into it to test. Sealing wax shouldn't crack very easily, either.

As for the letters, well, I can only say what I like: letters that sound like the person is sitting there talking to you, just as they usually are, not stilted or full of phrases/quotations that they don't usually use. I like getting little things: the button off the shirt I love him best in (but buttons aren't what they used to be; they're generic now), a bit of greenery from the plant near the door, a napkin from our favourite coffee shop, song lyrics, a silly postcard/greeting card, a piece of hair. But that's all dumb stuff that perhaps only a person in love would care about. Sooo, the silly card, lyrics to non-love songs, a drawn map of somewhere new you've been to, pics of you in your new hair/hat/clothes, flat puzzles, origami critters, a cartoon out of the newspaper, cookies from his favourite bakery, the coffee he can't get in his new city, things that keep in touch but aren't overly sentimental.
posted by x46 at 8:32 PM on May 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

buy a wide variety of stickers - people or animals and give them little thought bubbles, commenting on the body of your letter.
posted by metahawk at 8:51 PM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

i send a lot of mail (letters to friends, cards for random occasions, articles from the newspaper or a magazine i thought someone would like..) and something that i do that pretty much everyone has commented on is write on the back of the envelope.

it sounds pretty simple, but i write a line from a song (or a quote, or a little thought) on the back of the envelope whenever i send anything. it's like a little bonus because the back is usually left blank.
posted by gursky at 10:07 PM on May 16, 2009

I'm a bit of a letter writer too. Wax seals, in my experience, arrive in pieces. It's still fun, but not quite as grand for the recipient (could just be me, though).
posted by twirlypen at 10:54 PM on May 16, 2009

twirlypen: "I'm a bit of a letter writer too. Wax seals, in my experience, arrive in pieces. It's still fun, but not quite as grand for the recipient (could just be me, though)."

to try and get the best of both worlds,
why not wax seal the letter;
and then put the wax-sealed letter *inside* of another letter, or small package?
posted by demagogue at 11:17 PM on May 16, 2009

You're setting yourself up for failure by creating artificial goals for the quality of your output.

The entire world used to write perfectly inane and banal letters. So can you. Just write what you feel, what you're thinking, and what your experiences are.

That's who you are!

You're fooling yourself if you think you're going to keep this person by enticing them with some magical writing. That shouldn't be the goal. Focus on the process, not the end. Enjoy the chance to write, but don't over think it. Shove each letter into an envelope without a second thought. Don't sweat the details. This is about communication, not passing some arbitrary test for good writing.
posted by wfrgms at 1:40 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding wfrgms, view this as an opportunity to revel in the pleasure of writing, and a journey of discovery, both self and otherwise (without being too cheesy).

Mrs Smoke and I actually grew to know each other through letters, and it's an experience I wouldn't trade for quids. However, the scintillating thoughts at the other end were just one part that made it so great.

What did I like most during the whole letter writing thing of about nine months?

* Poems - not our own, dear god, no. But every letter would end with a poem. Initially it was simply one that we liked, she gave me Donne, I gave her Cavafy, etc. etc. But soon we ran out and so each subsequent letter included a delightful search for a poem I enjoyed or thought was relevant to the letter. Found some great poets this way.

*Memories - We both had radically different childhoods/teenage years, and so some letters were an exploration and extrapolation of moments or feelings that helped shape us. They were always interesting discoveries for both of us, whoever the writer was.

*Issues - Not philosophy, per se, but meditations in a more traditional essay style on how we thought about things in the world etc. etc. Again, we seemed to view this as an opportunity to articulate beliefs that perhaps had hitherto been unspoken or inchoate.

But I think mostly importantly, the secret of letter-writing is the secret of any other kind of writing: Be honest, to yourself and your reader, and write about what's important to you; what excites you, makes you giggle or scowl or whatever. Without getting all high-school journal, don't be afraid to feel something when you write - even if the feeling is a surprise to your or something you're not proud of.

Well, that's what worked for me anyhow. Four years just gone. :)
posted by smoke at 2:46 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

My best friend and I exchange letters frequently (2 or 3 a week, if I'm keeping up). I also corresponded with a former SO this way (uh, while we were dating, not the same as your situation). From both experiences I learned that it's nice to mix it up a bit. Wfrgms is correct, most of your letters will simply be "this is what happened to me this week, and this is what I'm thinking about, and how are you?" etc. Make it special by using different cards or stationary. I'm now a compulsive notecard shopper, and buy some more nearly every time I go out. We use a lot of stickers, and reference them either in the letter or on the envelope. The latest trend with my BFF is writing Haikus on the envelope, usually about the stickers. Sometimes I spice it up by sending something besides a letter, like an art project or something small I know she'll enjoy.

As far as the romantic letters went, I appreciated the times when he wrote me about a specific moment, or memory, or impression in extreme detail. I will never forget one letter about how he was cutting herbs in the garden and the smell of the basil made him think of me and miss me, etc etc. Now, it helped that he was a talented writer, but I think just the thought is sweet. Follow the advice above and write like you would talk, just give yourself a little more freedom. Also, follow the tangents that will inevitably distract you.
posted by purpletangerine at 6:29 AM on May 17, 2009

If I'm writing a letter, I keep notes throughout the day (or days) and then sit down to compose a letter out of those notes, that way I can keep track of what's important for me to communicate to the person on the other end. wfrgms is right--people wrote inane letters before they had the technology to write inane e-mails. What's nice about letter writing, though, is that you can distill your message somewhat so that instead of the disorganized and non-prioritized reporting on your day that sometimes happens with e-mail, you can give it a little more time and focus. Compose your letters knowing that this one letter is all he'll get from you for one day: you can't follow up with another one ten minutes later that says "P.S. I meant to tell you, I got into grad school... LOL." It'll make your letters clearer and more meaningful.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:57 AM on May 17, 2009

I have a friend who writes his letters on an old typewriter, and often on the back of random papers he finds lying around the place (old assignments, junk mail, etc.). I find them quite beautiful, and it's an interesting compromise between handwritten and computer generated.
posted by Emilyisnow at 7:10 AM on May 17, 2009

Start a long running comic. Draw stick figures in the margin of every letter. Have them tell a story. It can be silly, like stickboy's exciting travels around the world, battling stick pirates, climbing mountains, etc., or simple - stickboy meets stickgirl.

Get colored index cards. Send a few great quotations, short poems, pictures, etc. every week. At the end of the year, the cards are a little book.

Rasterbate a great picture - send 1 page per week, with instructions on where it should be mounted.
posted by theora55 at 11:58 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a little bit different, but I used to communicate with one of my best friends (and he's still one of my best friends, even now) through letters in middle school and high school. Now, we were mostly handing them off to each other, but sometimes they went through the mail. They became increasingly elaborate affairs as we went on.

I can't quite remember what we included, but I know sometimes we'd put stickers, playing cards, leaves, odd pieces of paper, origami, sticks of gum, and once, an M&M. Sometimes we'd put various scented things -- is there a perfume you wear? -- onto the paper. We'd write in different colors. I think sometimes we'd tape down pictures from magazines or whatever.

(We'd also fold them in strange ways, but this probably doesn't really apply to things going through the mail.)

For the most part, we'd pretty much be writing these letters for a few days at a time, recording everything we were doing or thinking about -- I remember keeping the letter-in-progress with me almost constantly while I was working on it. Sometimes we'd copy bits of poetry or passages from books. We'd include quotes or lyrics to songs that we liked and want the other to respond to them. A lot of this sort of became a fun game of one-upping the other, in a way, but not in any mean-spirited way. it was all meant for entertainment.

Confetti is also fun to stuff into envelopes. That was a recurring joke I had with a pen-pal of mine (we're still in touch today, although not much of letter writers). Writing/drawing on the backs of the envelope is also fun -- I used to decorate them constantly, or add a word-of-the-day sort of thing on the back.

All of this makes me want to take up the letter-writing practice again.
posted by darksong at 2:18 PM on May 17, 2009

twirlypen is right.

My dad works on the machines at the post office, and tells stories of how the letters shoot through very precise slots at very fast speeds.
posted by aniola at 2:57 PM on May 17, 2009

Pick up a Griffin and Sabine book for inspiration - they are books of nothing but incredible, unique, handwritten correspondence between two friends.
posted by blahtsk at 8:58 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Clearly we need Ask.Metafilter PenPal exchange up and running soon.

In the longest series of letters I've been involved in, we invented little cartoon animals that would have their own story lines across the letters. Anything that happen around the letter can be really quite fun to do as well.
posted by Augenblick at 6:43 AM on May 18, 2009

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