Writing letters that are fun to receive

Receiving a letter should be fun. Last time we talked about my mother’s and grandmother’s conversions from hide-bound traditionalism to more creative thinking in the letter-writing department. This time I’d love to share the little tips we collected over the years about making a letter special.

Irish women reading letters from America in front of a thatched cottage.

We’ll drop everything to read a letter from loved ones.
Image courtesy totallyfreeimages.com

    • Write on pretty stationery. (Bet you knew I was going to mention that one!) Whether you love vintage papers you find on eBay or at the antique store, get something that expresses your personality. You may be the little kitten type or the abstract type or the gold-border type. No matter what your personality, let it shine on paper as well as in daily life.
    • Coordinate the ink color. Now this may sound silly, but some colors just don’t go together. Can you imagine brown ink on lavender paper? Blue would be a better choice. Or my friend’s purple!
    • Have fun with pretty stamps. The U.S. Postal Service comes out with all sorts of commemorative stamps. I usually buy the birds and flowers, but often people who have been in the military prefer receiving a stamp depicting the flag. It’s a nice touch to coordinate the stamp with the envelope. I recently had to put an orange zinnia stamp on a lilac envelope. It was not a pretty sight.
    • Enclose some little lagniappe – a little extra something of interest like a little pressed flower or a short poem may be just right. Photos are a nice touch, and with a little cutting and pasting and resizing, you can use photo editing software to print two small pictures on 4-by-6 inch photo paper, and voila – small, wallet-size pictures that will fit into any envelope. Just don’t overdo it. No one wants to open an envelope and then spend five minutes on their knees crawling around to pick up all the little treasures that fell out.

      young woman opening a letter

      Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    • Of all the things we can send, something of ourselves is always the most meaningful. If you can take the time to make a little drawing or write a stanza of verse, your reader will know you truly care. My great grandmother was a master of sending bits of poetry, and they are treasured today.
    • Make your recipient feel loved (unless it’s your boss or your friend’s husband; in that case skip this one). Don’t just talk about yourself or brag on your children. Of course you want to pass on information, but not to the extent that you come across as egocentric. You’re writing because you want to talk to them, not go on and on about yourself. Asking questions shows the person that you care about them.
    •  Mention those they love. Inquire about their pet. It’s a nice practice to take a little present of dog treats to a collie-owner’s party, and it’s equally nice to mention Buster and Fifi in a letter.
    • It goes without saying that we should adjust our handwriting to a larger size when writing to someone who doesn’t see well, and to print a letter to a child who doesn’t read cursive handwriting.
    • Always write with the person’s last letter before you. Everyone knows that annoying feeling of waiting for an answer to questions in a letter and then receiving a reply that makes you wonder if they ever received it.
    • And always, always, send your regards to the rest of the family or group. Unless you just can’t stand Aunt Ann – then leave this part entirely out rather than pointedly naming everyone except Ann. Or you can just add “Remember me to everyone.” Then however she takes it is up to her.
      Ink well, quill pen and old letter

      Image by Simon Howden courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

      There are some things we should never do. Some of them, like juicy gossip, can be hard to resist. But my mother said we really must try:

    • Don’t be pessimistic. Try to encourage people. Remember that they may read your letter over and over, especially in times of stress or illness. Just a few words of comfort can mean so much. Never put on paper something such as “It’s too bad he’s sick. I hear most people only survive a few months with that.” If the person isn’t depressed already, that’ll do it.
    • Don’t use curse words. All letters should be G-rated, as you never know where they might be left out where someone other than their intended recipient can read them.
    • Don’t get in the middle of a quarrel. The dust may have settled by the time your letter is received.
    • Never criticize other people. There’s enough of that. Be the lark singing in the tree, not the vulture circling overhead.

For more ideas and sources:

Crane & Co. has beautiful, traditional stationery and a host of useful information, such as forms of address and answers to etiquette questions.

Click on the U.S. Postal Service to see the current stamps on offer and other mailing goodies you can purchase online.

Click on Peter Pauper Press for stationery and note cards to fit any taste.

Click on eBay for some real treasures of vintage stationery and cards.

If you’d like to include a beautiful quote or piece of verse, check Bartleby.com. I chose the “verse” tab and typed in “blueberries”. There were three lovely poems!

Text copyright 2015 Jill Teresa Farmer. All rights reserved.

A family love affair with stationery, or, How Mother kicked over the traces in a Hallmark store

We had family members scattered in small towns across two Southern states, so we wrote letters. Lots of letters. Grandfather typed everything on his old Underwood. Great grandmother continued to use a number two pencil and anything she could find – a paper bag would do – but the rest of us were hide-bound traditionalists. We did it right.

There were half sheets

Mary Pickford writing a letter on a traditional letter sheet.

My mother was raised with all the strict rules of letters: white or cream paper with black or dark blue ink only, a strict idea of the salutation, the body, and the closing paragraph. The rules she went by still exist, though no one I know adheres to them any more. An entire wardrobe of stationery was necessary: letter sheets, half-sheets (nothing to do with linens for twin beds), correspondence sheets, fold over notes, and  – well, you get the picture. And only one piece of stationery was proper for the type of letter you intended to write. Then, once you had the expensive wardrobe, you had to have the accessories to match – black or dark blue ink. And of course you never, ever, wrote on the back of a sheet. Anything else my mother proclaimed “tacky”.

But my mother met her Waterloo one day in a Hallmark shop. There, displayed right where she couldn’t help but see it, was the most beautiful box of pink rose stationery. As a china painter, many gorgeous pink roses had flowed from her brush. And there was one right on a piece of writing paper. And there were more sheets in that box just like it. She caved. And like a line of dominoes, every woman in my family abandoned the rules forever. It was a brave new world – roses, rosebuds, daisies, even monograms that weren’t blue or black. All bets were off.

The hunt was on. No matter where we went, everyone had an eye out for more of these beautiful writing papers. Stationery hunting became a big-game sport in our family. The winner was my grandmother, who found a box of white paper, delicate as an angel’s whisper, rimmed in pale blue with a single monogrammed initial. When she made a present of it to my mother, the search was on for a little lighter shade of blue ink. “I don’t want to overwhelm it,” Mother explained.

And then it happened: my best friend wrote a letter on lovely stationery with coordinating purple ink.

The letter from my friend that changed it all.

And then we discovered the joy of owning pretty pens. A basic black Waterman had its place – but from the moment my mother put an imitation mother-of-pearl ballpoint under the tree for me at Christmas, I fell harder than anyone. We searched for writing accessories to feed our habit in every kind of store imaginable. In catalogs, in antique stores – “Who cares if it doesn’t write? Maybe we can soak that old ink out of there” – and I’ve even seen my grandmother’s eyes dart to a neighbor’s desk to check if there might be something she hadn’t discovered in the letter-writing line.

But one day something happened that nearly caused us to revert to our strict old ways. Hearing a gasp, I went to see what was wrong with my mother. She mutely held out a book and pointed to an offensive passage. The lifestyle guru of the day had declared that purple ink was permissible and even desirable. Purple? That was as bad as green. My grandmother was brought in on the case. She was appalled. “But then…” she said thoughtfully, “it might go with that paper with the spray of lilacs on it….”

Grandmother, et tu? But it was just a thought. No one actually used green or purple – we were too old-fashioned and traditional for that. It would have been tantamount to dotting our i’s with circles. And then it happened: my best friend wrote a letter on lovely stationery with coordinating purple ink. And the beautiful letter came in a floral, watercolor – lined envelope. It was in the gentle hues of violet that my grandmother loved. And my friend had enclosed a pressed violet. From then on we roared into letter writing with no holds barred, free as birds, all our half sheets and fold over notes stuffed in the top of the closet with the old tax returns.

Many years of letter-writing were ahead.

Join me next time as I share the letter-writing tips and tricks we picked up down through the years.

Copyright 2015 by Jill Teresa Farmer. All rights reserved.