Pen Pal Tips and Tricks

I love writing letters. For two or so years now, I’ve been writing to several serious pen pals and many others on a more infrequent basis (like some which were only for a single swap match). I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for making and keeping pen pals.

Finding a Pen Pal

  • People you already know – a friend from high school or an aunt you wish you were closer to. Ask a mutual friend or your mom for addresses. I bug people for addresses via FB messenger or by posting a generic link to my Postables page, asking for addresses if people want a holiday card or a random happy mail.
  • A website for something you’re interesting in. For example, Ravelry has two different groups for finding pen pals. If the site you use doesn’t have groups, you can probably start a forum thread, asking if people are looking for pen pals. When you find a pen pal with a common interest, you automatically have something to talk to them about.
  • Postcrossing – Designed for one-time pen pal interactions using postcards and assigned totally at random, but you can use it for extended pen pal relationships. The site allows you to message the person who sent you a given postcard and you can use that space, should you wish, to request a longer pen pal experience.
  • Swapbot – I’ve not used this site myself, but many of my friends highly recommend it. Most swaps follow a theme which can get you started towards an ongoing pen pal relationship.
  • Geek Girl Pen Pals – Just what it sounds like. Really into Harry Potter or Dr. Who or something similar? The site organizes pen pal matches each month and the forums are always a good place to find someone looking for a pen pal.

Writing Your First Letter

First letters, let’s face it, are awkward. You may know nothing about your new pal, short of their name and where they live. It’s like having to introduce yourself to someone at a cocktail party, but with the added benefits of being able to take as long as you want and not having to do it verbally. Here’s a few things to try, if you’re stuck.

  • Basic introduction – Where you’re from, where you live, if you’re in a relationship and/or have kids, what you do for a paycheck or for fun
  • Currently – List what you’re currently…watching, listening to, reading, feeling, making, planning, loving, and enjoying (a really large list is over here on Digi.Shop.Talk). This will reveal more about your daily life than you’d think and gives you an interesting framework for writing about yourself without, you know, writing about yourself.
  • Take advice from Natalie Goldberg – Start with “right now…” or “At this moment.”

Later Letters

  • Ask questions – Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so asking a question is a great way to get someone to do so. I’ve been asked all sorts of things from pen pals. If you need ideas, here’s 100 Questions No One Ever Asks (from Amiyrah of 4 Hats and Frugal) and 50 Things to Tell Your Penpal (from Mary of Uncustomary)
  • Don’t only talk about yourself. Yes, I am really going there. Your pen pal has written you a lovely letter and you should respond in such a way to show that you read their letter and that you care about what they wrote.

Next Time

In my next post about snail mail, I’ll share creative ideas for making your mail stand out. You can probably expect this post next week, as I have a bit more research to do for it.

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Pen Pal Tips and Tricks

Where I Blog

In the show Dead Again, the main character talks about she always loved Halloween as a kid because it let you look into other people’s homes, even briefly. I love getting peaks into peoples lives like that – it’s part of the reason I read personal blogs, follow strangers on Instagram who post photos of their usual life/surroundings, and look into windows as I drive by houses (which sounds really, really creepy).

Turn-about is fair play so I thought I’d give you all a peak into my actual life, by showing you where I blog. Usually, I actually sit on the couch with the TV in front of me, so it’s more like where I blog on the weekend and I don’t have to worry about where Lizzie is (and she’s currently napping).

I’m siting at our dinning room table and looking back into the main part of our kitchen. You’ll recognize our blue and white tablecloth from many of my photos of stuff. It was cheap, washes well, and I think it’s not too awfully distracting for photos. I’m probably wrote on the distraction part, but I’m lazy.

The table, as you’ll see, is often covered in stuff, some of which is only here because I’m in creative mode. The two fabric bags have scrap fingering-weight yarn and my yellow hat progress in them. The striped thing is a cowl I made awhile back that I’m actually going to continue as a long leftovers scarf. There’s also my three notebooks – Midori for daily notes about what happened, red Lechtrum (however you spell it) for to do lists, and a Staedler lined one that is currently empty but may become a journal for Morning Pages. And a box and a zipped case of pens and that box of stationary. Oh, right, my Caffeine Free Diet Coke and today’s snack, cinnamon sugar-free applesauce.

The other stuff here is much more common, fresh flowers, the bread bowl Matt’s mom brought us back from Tanzania, E’s coloring notebook and two things of crayons – that’s what in the Ariel bag and the plastic container you can sort of see. Cookbook pile that has yet to find a home (thanks to recent library book sales and a splurge at a local DC bookstore over a month ago).

The kitchen is much neater than usual, I’ll note. Looking at the photo, I realized I missed two cans that will go to church for the annual canned goods drive and the Vitamix canister is one incidence of E running through the kitchen away from falling.

So, yeah, there’s where I blog on a quiet weekend afternoon. I wear comfy clothes (stretchy pants, tshirt, hoodie), drink too much soda and snack, and listen to music Matt despises as I sit here and write.

What does your writing space look like? Show me it, or describe it to me. Messy? Clean? Just for writing or a stolen space like mine?

Where I Blog

NaBloPoMo 2016

Each year, I make my best attempt to blog every day of November. Usually I only make it until about day ten then attempt to stretch it by responding to writing prompts or pulling random photos from the Internet.

…and I’m not necessarily planning to do better this year, though I do have a plan. I came up with a quick list as I was eating my breakfast this morning:

  1. Intro post
  2. Lizzie update (lots o’photos)
  3. WIP update
  4. Fall in VA (photo heavy post)
  5. Dishcloth FOs
  6. Harper’s Ferry
  7. Mail stats
  8. Wreath FOs (yes, I added wreath making to my craftiness)
  9. WIP update
  10. Uhhhh…
  11. Return to sock knitting
  12. Shenandoah trips of 2016
  13. Uhhh…
  14. New hair color – 2 weeks later (just dyed it last night, all by myself)
  15. Uhhh…
  16. WIP update
  17. Lizzie update (’cause she’ll have done something cute by then)
  18. Coworker knits
  19. Knife skills class / return to cooking
  20. Recipe sharing
  21. What I’m thankful for
  22. Germany Pt 1
  23. Germany Pt 2
  24. Germany Pt 3
  25. Germany Pt 4
  26. Germany Pt 5
  27. Germany Pt 6
  28. Germany Pt 7 (what? we were there for nearly 3 weeks)
  29. Uhhh….
  30. Wrap-up post

See? Much more of a plan. Only “what the heck do I write about?” days in there, versus my usual handful of ideas and lots of blanks.

Anyone else out there participating? Anyone else out there, period?

NaBloPoMo 2016

How I Journal

I’ve had a journal off and on for years. Blame Harriet the Spy then, later, Bridget Jones’s diary. There’s just something very therapeutic about recording what happened each day. Getting it all out on paper so it doesn’t cloud my head the next day. Also, I have a horrible memory for what happened in the past and writing it down is about the only way I have of going back and jogging my memory.

I’d been looking for a good journaling format since I first got my MTN last summer. I played around with bulleted lists or attempting to doodle-record my day but nothing seemed right. Then I came across this post on LifeHacker about a simple format for journaling.

I used the literal format the author described for a little while and enjoyed it. Lots of structure, different ways of looking at your day. It’s now evolved a little.

How I Journal Now

  • Where: Right now, it’s in my graph paper MTN insert. May move to a lined insert as it works for my format.
  • When: Usually the next day, after breakfast but before the day really gets going. Weekdays, it’s at my desk at work. Weekends, usually during nap time.
  • What I record:
    • Weather: Cold? Hot? Rain? Snow? Wind? Record it so I can go back to see if it really was as chilly in February as I remember or if I was freezing only in retrospect.
    • What I Wore: Yes, I am shallow, but I’m writing it down to help when I do purges of my closet. Something never show up? Toss it. Something show up all the time? Tells me to look into buying something similar to it in the future.
    • What happened: Main part of my daily pages. Detailed list of what I did or generally went on around me during the day. Short sentences, maybe a bit of reflection.
    • Accomplished: What I managed to get done, even if it’s as little as “did a load of laundry!”
    • Learned: What I learned about myself or the world that day. Main place to record news (e.g. Friend A is having a baby boy!)
    • Thankful: Specific things I’m thankful for that day
    • Impression: Got the idea from here. Basically, a little square representing each day in a month/quarter (whatever fits on a page). Each color rates the day, overall as great/ok/bad.

Do you journal? What format, if any do you use? Is it all words or images or both? When do you journal?

How I Journal

Book Roundup: Writing Books

It’s no secret that I love reading and writing, so why not combine the two together? I thought I’d take a few moments to share a little bit about two very different writing books I, well, devoured. I won’t use my usual format – first lines of writing books tend to be rather bland, ironically – but will keep it easy: a few favorite quotes that I underlined as I read (What? They are books I own.)

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Golderg

I must be honest, I didn’t just read this one for the first time, but read it again over the winter, when I wanted to write but could not focus on it for the life of me. It’s written as a series of essays, some are direct commandments/lessons, others are illustrative stories. Her laid-back attitude is present, throughout, never judging you too harshly.

  • “Through practice you actually do get better. You learn to trust your deep self more and not give in to your voice that wants to avoid writing.”
  • “Often I look around the room as my students as they write and can tell which ones are really on and present at a given time in their writing. They are more intensely involved and their bodies are hanging loose.”
  • “You might have to be willing to write junk for five years, because we have accumulated it over many more than that and have been gladly avoiding it in ourselves.”
  • “(Making a list) makes you start noticing material for writing in your daily life, and your writing comes out of a relationship withy our life and its texture.”
  • “You can make up all kinds of friendly tricks. Just don’t get caught in the endless cycle of guilt, avoidance, and pressure. When it is your time to write, write.”
  • “Our tasks is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are…”
  • “Be specific. Don’t say ‘fruit.’ Tell what kind of fruit- ‘It is a pomegranate.’ Give things the dignity of their names.”
  • “Make a list of the stories you’ve told over and over. That’s a lot of writing to be done.”
  • “Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of the beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary.”
  • “If you find you are having trouble writing and nothing seems real, just write about food….Where did you eat it, who were you with, what season was it in?”
  • “After you have filled a whole notebook in writing practice (perhaps it took you a month), sit down and reread the entire notebook as though it weren’t yours.

On Writing by Stephen King

I must admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of his novels, but I’ve always admired his ability to create horror out of little details in an overall vague environment. Misery? Yeah, saw the movie in tenth grade and it still haunts me. Matt bought me a copy of his writing book for my birthday last year and it soon became my before-bed reading material, pen in hand. He’s very honest that he has no idea about how to write well, but that his good friend, who happens to be Amy Tan, convinced him to write a book about it, anyway.

  • “We are writers, and we never ask one another where we get our ideas; we know we don’t know.”
  • “Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginately, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all  you’re managing to do is shovel shit from a sitting position”
  • “You must not come lightly to the blank page.”
  • “Build up your own toolbox then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.”
    • Related: “Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of the toolbox, and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it. One of the really bad things you can do to your writing it to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pent in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.”
  • “Paragraphs are almost as importance for how they look as for what they say; they are maps of intent….When composing it’s best not to think too much about where paragraphs begin and end; the trick is to let nature take its course. If you don’t like it later on, fix it then.”
  • “While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writing, and while it is equally impossible to make a great write out of a good writer, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”
  • “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot.”
    • “Every book you pick up has it’s own lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to reach than the good ones.”
    • “I suggest a thousand words a day, and because I’m feeling magnanimous, I’ll also suggest that you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with.”
  • “Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.”
  • “Know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling the story…good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.”
  • “The first draft – the All-Story Draft – should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else.”
  • “All novels are really letters aimed at one person.”

Tell Me

What books on your craft, be it writing or something else entirely, inspire or teach you?

Book Roundup: Writing Books

Filling the Hours

There’s only so many hours in the day and not quite enough to do all of those things I want to do. (We’ll ignore my to do list. That just sort of sits without anything done until a hard deadline – like taxes being due April 15th.)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky enough to have a good two to three hours free most evenings after Squirms has gone to bed. Most nights, Matt and I hang out together (we watch TV, he plays on his phone, I write letter or knit or play on my phone) but sometimes, like tonight, he’s off in his office, playing video games so I’m left to my own devices. And, yet, what am I doing? Watching tons of episodes of Scrubs and attempting to write up a few blog posts to catch folks up on what’s been going on in my life.

What would i do if I had unlimited time? And, somehow, could focus enough to do them?

  • Write that memoir I have made zero progress on.
  • Learn to write calligraphy or in a cool hand-written font.
  • Make a cross stitch sampler of all of the Dr. Who’s.
  • Sew myself some awesome skirts. (Requires actually learning how to sew, for real.)
  • Watch through all of the seasons of Friends, X-Files, Sex in the City
  • Catch up on Squirm’s scrapbook (do have photos from Jan – March printed but have yet to make the pages)
  • Write here, you know, more than once every two months
  • Make a sweater for myself I actually like
  • Take some programming classes online
  • Write letters to the rest of the people on my list (which is down to 8 from the 90+ I had in January)
  • Make some sort of a collage
  • Write to Squirms daily about what she’s done that day and things I want her to know about me
  • Make a few books by hand, especially journals
  • Make a bunch of dishcloths
Filling the Hours

Angela Leese, Memoir Writer

I am going to write a memoir. Not an autobiography but a memoir because, as I read earlier, you can only write one autobiography but many memoirs. This one will be about how anxiety has infiltrated my life, from the time I was little until today. I probably won’t be posting any of that here – the first draft is just for me – though I will be continuing to post about what’s current going on in my life and may post every now and then about my general progress. Working title: Worrisome One.

So, like I always do, I started with research. Because I’m not capable of just diving into something without doing tons of research first. (Second memoir idea, how I love rules. When they’re not too restrictive.)

I bought a new book on writing, deciding that reading Writing Down the Bones for the fifth time would probably not provide me as much insight as seeing what someone else had to say about it. I decided on A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement by Barbara Abercrombie. I’ve been working through the vignets the last eight days and am really enjoying that the daily pages force you to slowly read the book, rather than just plowing through it like I did my first few times through Natalie’s book.

I also Googled something like “how to write a memoir” because, well, why not? I found some really great articles, after throwing out the ones that are obvious click bait, fake how-tos, and blogs that feature a handwriting-like font that’s impossible to read.

  • Writing a Memoir from Linda Joy Myers – love number 4: When in doubt about what to write, select a scene, a significant scene, and write it.
  • Salon’s Guide to Writing a Memoir – tips from some of the best memoir writers out there (I just read my way through Stitches by Anne Lamott which isn’t really a memoir but, whatever. I like her writing.)
  • Memoir Writing for Dummies – yes, from the people with the bright yellow books but it’s quite a good list.
  • Rules for Writing a Life-Changing Memoir – I’m going to try to ignore the “it has to be interesting” rule as I draft things or I’ll lose my voice and start to write what peoeple would want to read rather than the truth.
  • How to Write Your Memoir by Abigail Thomas – Ignore the website it’s on and read her tips. Apparently this is where the quote I loved in Abercrombie’s book (credited to the original writer) was from: But the jumping-off place isn’t always so obvious. You can’t always find the way in. Sometimes you need a side door.

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir or, somehow, are you a memoir writer who ran across my blog? What scares you most about writing a memoir? What parts seem (or actually are) easy?

Angela Leese, Memoir Writer