Where do I find penpals? What expectations are there in the penpalling world, and what will I need to get to enjoy it as a hobby? How do I write that agonizing first letter? This, friends, is my Beginners Guide to Penpalling.
Where to Find Penpals
This one was probably the toughest for me. There are lots of ‘penpal’ sites out there, but I found that most people on them just wrote online message back and forth to each other. Okay, that’s cool for them, but lame for me. I had new fountain pens and I wanted to use them, dammit!
Finally, after a lot of searching and trial and error, I hit penpal gold! The League of Extraordinary Penpals ( LEP), is a site/group devoted just to writing letters to each other. Actual letters. And sometimes postcards. They have Facebook groups for just the letter part of being a penpal, but also for hobbies like tea and treats, knitting, fountain pens, and some others that I don’t remember because I didn’t join them. To be honest, I didn’t join the knitting one either, but I have a friend who knits, so it stuck out to me.
It’s a paid membership, but very reasonable, in my opinion. Right now, one month is $6, 3 months is $15, 6 months is $24, and the best deal… (drum roll, for you bargain hunters out there) is one year for $36 (which works out to half as much as paying per month). It’s so incredibly awesome as an idea and a community, I really won’t recommend anywhere else. I’ve already convinced BookaneerKate to join, and she’s loving it too.
What to Expect
Honestly, there aren’t any hard and fast rules to being a penpal, other than to be respectful. Don’t place expectations on what your penpal should write, how many sheets of paper, how often, or whether they should include things in their letters. Also, don’t let anyone else place these expectations on you. If you both come to an agreement on these things that’s fine, but keep in mind that the letter writing world is by nature slower-paced, which is a solace in this world of busyness and instant everything. As long as you’re polite you’ll be fine.
So here’s the low-down. When you first join the LEP, you’ll be added to a database where you include a bit about yourself and some of your interests. They’ll email you a copy of this database, and you can hunt for your penpal match made in heaven. The moderators also add you to the Facebook group, where you put up a picture and introduction, then let the welcoming comments roll in. I’ve personally had some people decide to write me the instant they saw my introduction (because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m devilishly handsome), and we’ve really bonded over shared interests.
You’ll probably get mail coming your way even without approaching anyone first. The LEP has an army of volunteers dedicated to sending welcome mail to the newbies. Be patient, though. People are busy, and the mail system already takes a while. They will come, my child. They will come.
What You’ll Need
You can use whatever the hello you want for stationery. My mailbox has happily received plain lined paper in plain standard business envelopes, written with ballpoint pen. Some envelopes open to reveal folded A4 letters printed out on a printer. Some penpals send beautiful handwritten letters on luxury paper, with home-made envelopes, stickers everywhere and little gifts tucked inside.
I love them all. You will too.
If you don’t have the budget or desire to get fancy with your missives, stick with plain stuff. It’s really the content that counts. This is, however a great opportunity to express yourself, so feel free to get creative! Depending on how I feel, I use fancy paper from Staples, a super-thin luxury paper, and a luxury paper made in France. My preferred paper size is A4, so I’ll cut an 8.5×11″ in half. I use fountain pens with ink colours I love, and I ordered special envelopes, both in navy blue and a thick hand-pressed paper. Handwritten calligraphy addresses add that extra little touch of special, and it was a fun skill to learn. You can, however, get a personalized return address stamp, or use just mailing labels with your printer.
There are some costs involved, even if you stick to supplies you have on hand. Postage can get expensive, depending on how many penpals you have and where they live. You can get the stamps dedicated to the location you’re sending (Domestic Stamps, US stamps, International), but a fun thing to do is use cool-looking domestic stamps, and then make up the postage difference with lower denomination stamps. So if you’re sending a letter to the States, use a Canada forever stamp, and add $0.35 worth of stamps (such as a $0.25 and a $0.10). It’s good fun!
How to Write That First Letter
No rules, yada yada. I’ve already said that before, but it really helps to have some solid guidelines, so I’ll give some here.
Start out with something small for the first letter. I like to write two A5 sheets single sided, which is the same as an A4 sheet single sided.
Begin with your name and how old you are (the age thing is optional). Then add a little bit about where you live and why you entered the penpal world. List some interests, with a small blurb about why you like each one. Then finish by asking just a few questions, such as “What is your favorite thing about the city you live in?” or “Do you like animals, if so what are your favorites?”
You know what? Nothing helps more than an example, so here’s what I would typically write for my first letter.
My name is Elise Judd. I’m 34, and married with two dogs. I live in Medicine Hat, Alberta, which is beautiful in the spring and summer, and cold as a witches britches in winter. We don’t really get much of a fall. It pretty much goes from summer right to winter. I love it, though, and think it’s a great place to live. It’s a city of about 60 thousand people, which is nice because it’s big enough that we have pretty much everything we need, but small enough that it’s quite and clean and safe to live in. There’s a pretty big retirement population here, but we also have a college, so there’s also a decent college student population.
When I was young I didn’t really like writing to penpals. Kids have a harder time connecting to people through writing, I think. Last year, though, I made it a personal goal to write in my journal every day. If I did so for a month, I would treat myself to a special pen. A month went by and I got myself one of those jelly roll pens, which had gold sparkles in it. So I set my treat even higher and promised I would buy myself a fancy fountain pen if I could make it to three months.
Long story short, I made my goal and very soon became addicted to fountain pens and luxury inks. There’s only so much writing you can do by hand in normal life, though, so I started looking for excuses to use my pretty pens. Beautiful handwritten old letters have always been so romantic to me, so I decided to find a penpal to write to. Now here I am, using my fancy pens, inks and my best handwriting to write to you. I apologize if my handwriting becomes a little messy over this letter. I start writing faster when I get excited about something, and my writing gets less neat the faster I get.
Other than writing to penpals and fountain pens, I enjoy reading and writing novels, riding my bicycle Penelope, doing yoga, playing video games with my husband Jonathan and laughing at the silly things my two golden retrievers – Finnegan and Akamaru – do. I love chocolate chip cookies, tea (especially chai), pho, fresh socks, and gardening. I concider myself a minimalist, and try to keep my life free of both physical and mental clutter. It’s a work in progress, haha!
What kinds of things do you like to do for fun? Do you have any pets?
I’m excited to hear from you, and hope this letter finds you well!
There we go. An example of a letter I have actually written. You can do it too, I have faith! Now get out there, Tiger, and go find yourself a penpal to harass! I’m rooting for you!