It may come as no surprise that I like to write. It is after all the reason why I set up a blog, and although I may not be a very prolific blogger, I write ‘stuff’ all the time. My flat and my Onedrive are full to bursting with little notes, musings, observations and general mutterings from my Scattered Brain, hoping that, like those miscellaneous bits in that special kitchen drawer, they will be useful for something someday – if only I can find them when I need them.
But I miss the act of holding a pen in my hand and actually physically writing. At school when I was 10 – which was a while ago, but not that far back in the dim and distant past (I’ve not reached my half century just yet, thank you very much) we were taught handwriting. Do they still do that now? We had to have fountain pens and jars of Quink ink to refill them. Then we would spend classes writing in our best handwriting on specially lined paper to get the curls and the flicks in just the right places, which may surprise you if you were to see my handwriting these days.
It’s probably because of these lessons that I have this romantic (but completely impractical) image in my head of myself as a writer, not with an old style typewriter, or banging away at a keyboard, but as a scribe, quill in hand, sitting in my library, scratching amazing anecdotes and awe inspiring work onto parchment, sporting ink stained fingers on my leather-topped oak desk which is littered with paperweights, inkwells, blotters and wax stamps.
Well I have an ink well, a couple of quills and wax stamps too. No blotter, oak desk or library yet though. Instead an old kitchen table and a pad of blotting paper work just fine.
I spend a great deal of my time at a computer of one sort or another. PC, laptop, tablet, phone or even the TV, and I realise that social media is a massively important part of getting to know others in the writing community. It is not my strong point, getting to know people, and especially online, but I do try with Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
So I decided to look for Pen Friends again. Did you know that writing letters is now called Snail Mail? Back in my day it was just called mail. A quick Pinterest search for Snail Mail ideas and the amount of stuff on there is gob smacking. Since when did writing letters become such an art form, so expensive and so competitive? What exactly is washi tape anyway??
I had a few pen pals when I was a teenager, and some of them are still Facebook friends 30 years later, but we don’t write anymore. To be honest, we don’t even chat on Facebook now. We just like and share each others posts, which is quite sad really. I think I need to get in touch and see if they want to write again.
I found an online pen pal finder, which seemed to be legit, had great reviews and did their due diligence when it came to handling personal information. It was also free – a bonus for a skint would-be-writer – but also has the option to upgrade for a small fee. Everything is checked and verified by real people and no one gets your address unless you say so.
There is an option for you to decide how you want to correspond with people. Snail Mail, Email, Postcards, Pocket Letters, Mail-Art, Parcel Exchange, Candy Swap, Travel Buddies. I had no idea what half of these were, so I just plumped for snail mail and postcards.
In the last two months I have been in contact with three ladies. One each from Canada, Kenya and Germany. You can filter the people you are looking for by age, language, country, interests, gender etc., if you want to.
I received my first letter at Christmas and I have to say there is nothing quite like a little parcel from another continent dropping through your letterbox to cheer up your day. Diane had included all kinds of little gifts, a postcard and enamel badges, nail stickers, maps of her town and photo’s of her with her kids as well as a lovely long letter telling me all about herself. We are both really excited to get to know each other better and we seem to have hit it off really well, with common interests and outlook on life.
But I can now remember why it’s called snail mail. It can take a month to receive a reply to your letters, by the time it takes to get there, for them to find time to sit and write and for the postage back again, so patience is definitely a virtue. There is no instant gratification of the ping on your phone. But that makes it all the more exciting when they do arrive. And you can also write to more and more people and stagger when you write, that way you may have a more even flow of letters in return. You just need to keep on top of the writing and finding things to write about. And tracking what you’ve said to each friend is a task all of it’s own. For now, I think 3 is enough to get me back into the letter writing habit.
I did succumb to buying some washi tape and lovely stationery. The tape is easy and cheap to buy, stationery and address books less so. But they are out there, and there are plenty of online suppliers to suit all tastes and pockets – but I was trying to buy local and avoid the screen again. I even picked up a stationery set in a charity shop for 50p. I love a bargain.
The biggest expense is probably the postage, but the contents can be as extravagant and fancy as you like. Mine are not very fancy at all, but I do like to tart them up a little bit and include a few tit-bits to make them more interesting. Photo’s are also great. It’s good to put a face to a name.
I don’t write letters with a quill yet. It’s extremely messy and untidy in the hands of this amateur, instead I use a fountain pen filled by cartridge rather than ink bottle. And I don’t make my own envelopes and little knick-knacks to go inside them as Pinterest might have me do. Nice as they are, life, I feel, is too short and I am really not that artistic. They would look like something a 5-year old made for Mother’s Day, and although the thought is what counts, I’m not sure a 40 something lady in Kenya wants to keep that crap on her fridge.
Writing letters is a great excuse to talk about yourself. It is also an interesting and uplifting way for us introverts to get to know new people, to find out about other lives and cultures, and it’s a perfect excuse to sit at your desk (oak or otherwise) and write.