How to Write a Letter: The Basics



So now that I’ve started on this letter writing theme for my posts, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you the basics of writing a letter. This is for all those of you who have never written a letter before and who would like to learn, as well as anyone who’s written letters before but would like a refresher.

Note: There are some basic rules to letter writing but otherwise, letter writing in itself is not about rules but making it your own. Feel free to take what’s helpful and inspires and leave anything that does not!



1) Setting


I host an Airbnb letter writing experience, where I share with travelers the beauty of letter writing. During the experience, one of the things I emphasize is that every time you write a letter, the location is so important. Different settings bring out different emotions, different moods. A coffee shop can be a nice, upbeat place to write and decorate a letter. In your room at your desk might be a more peaceful and quiet setting, which can allow you to go deeper into your writing, and really be present with your sendee. Outdoors in a sculpture garden where art and nature come together (which is where I host my Airbnb experience), can evoke a free-flowing mood and be really therapeutic. The time of day can also influence how you write your letters. Before 11am and after 4pm when the sun is not as aggressive may give a calmer mood for writing (which is why I rarely write midday, it’s too bright and harsh). The whole point is to find a time and setting that is relaxing and inspiring to you.


Generally, you want to find a location that’s comfortable and where you can remain as long as you wish, undisturbed. I usually write most letters late at night when the rest of the world is fast asleep. I feel that this time of night is when I am most inspired and most creative. I like to light a scented candle— it really sets the mood for me to be present and take my time. When you treat letter writing as a ritual, time spent reconnecting with yourself and the person you’re writing to, it can become something therapeutic that you end up looking forward to doing again.




2) Starting


Starting is usually the hardest part. Sometimes you don’t know quite how to begin or other times you’re not as inspired to write. I recommend, believe it or not, actually not starting with the letter but starting with the envelope. I’m not always fully mentally ready to write at first, but creating a nice envelope usually helps me get into the writing mood. Your favorite pen or cute stationery will also help do that. Find the supplies that make you truly excited to write. Create a stash you can choose from. Personally, for me it’s having a variety of ideas for envelope art. There are so many unique ways to create an envelope. I feel like I need to create a post for just envelope art. But basically, it’s my way of turning the envelope itself into an experience for my sendee. As I’m creating for my friend or family, it gets me excited to send the letter. I just imagine how the envelope itself will bring a smile to their face. Experiment what gets you excited to start writing.




3) Envelopes


Since we are on the subject of envelopes, here is a quick overview of how to address an envelope.



Top left:

From: [Your name] [Your address] [City, State Zip code]

Center:

To: [Sendee’s name] [Their address] [City, State Zip code]


Notice that the stamp goes in the top righthand corner.




Something worth noting is that there is an alternative way to address a letter that also works— the addressee on the front and your return address on the back. Most people don’t know this is a thing, but it works! I’ve sent numerous letters like this. This format is more commonly used in Europe but works everywhere.





4) The Paper


Next, choose your stationery. If you feel more comfortable writing on lined paper, do that. I’ve grown to love writing on blank paper and the flaws in my alignment and mistakes I make when I write. I think it adds character and makes the letter all more human and relatable. It’s okay to make mistakes :). Which brings me to writing in pen…





5) The Pen


I recommend writing in pen, not pencil. Some people might be tempted to write in pencil because they can erase. I had a teacher once who only allowed us to write our timed essays in pen. That used to freak me out. During class one day, I asked if I could write in pencil instead, to which she said no— to which I replied, “But what if we make a mistake?” And she said something that changed the way I see writing in pen forever. She said, “It’s okay to make mistakes. Just cross it out, change it, and move on.” It’s okay to make mistakes. With pens, you get more comfortable with your mistakes and help others see that it’s okay to mess up, cross out, rephrase, and move on. Pen will also last longer over time and will not fade. Go with the pen. A sharp pen (0.5 thickness) will allow you to write without having to press as hard, making it easier and more fun to write. Find the pen you love writing with.





6) The Actual Letter


Finally, the letter :). Format-wise, here is how I format my letters: date, greeting, body, closing.


You can start with saying what made you think of the person and what made you want to write the letter. It really is up to you how you want to start. But an easy starting point is to bring your friend in with where you are physically or emotionally— “I’m sitting here at my desk with my window open thinking about the last time we saw each other…” I write as if the person I’m writing to is actually sitting in front of me. It’s truly a conversation on paper. I don’t plan out what I want to say but simply go with my thoughts and emotions as they come up. If you’ve never written this way, it may be a little scary at first. Maybe you are afraid to mess up or that you might do it wrong. Be not afraid :). I assure you that even though it may feel uncomfortable at first, your sendee will appreciate every word you write precisely because you are being honest, present, and yourself.


Important: if you want your person to reply, you will want to ask them some questions in the body of the letter. If you don’t do this, it’s likely that you won’t receive a letter back. Ask some questions about how they are doing and specifically say that you hope to hear from them. Some people don’t realize you’d like a reply unless you do these things.


You can close with sincerely, your friend, hope to hear from you soon, or love. You will know what works best for your person.




7) Extras


Why not add a little surprise and delight with some extras in your envelope? Here are just some flat things you can include that won’t bring up postage:


Polaroid

Individually packaged tea sachet

Postcard

Bookmark

Pressed flower

Fun quotes or graphics




8) Seal and send!


Now you can seal and send your letter. You can drop it in a public mailbox or leave it in your private mailbox with the red flag raised so the postman knows to take the letter. I like to keep a picture of the letters I send so that I can remember what they looked like. It’s the best feeling to get a response back and hear about how surprised and happy your friend was when they received your letter.




So that’s about it, friends! I hope this how-to was helpful and gave you some insight into how I approach the art of letter writing. Most of all, I hope it gave you some inspiration to sit down and write a letter!


Who is someone who could use a little extra love right now? I encourage you to consider surprising that person and writing a note to them today. Now go put that phone away and write that letter!


Lots of love and happy letter writing!


Stephanie


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