Before phones, email, and internet, letter writing was the way to communicate! Inevitably, however, letter writing has lost its place as the most popular mode of communication. It is much more convenient and efficient to give someone a quick call or write them an email. The disadvantage of electronic correspondence is the loss of personal touch: emails, calls, Facebook messages, and texts are intangible, and most will fall by the wayside as the days pass. That’s where letters really shine: they capture a piece of the author with handwriting, ink choice, stationery, and enclosures. For that reason, letters stand the test of time — and they make the recipient feel very special! In today’s blog post, we’re going to examine how to write a standard and simple yet elegant letter.
Letter Writing Supplies
The list below outlines a few basic supplies for writing a letter. Keep in mind that letters are just as unique as the people who write them, so if you want to add or subtract from the list, you absolutely can!
I always begin by choosing an envelope. Your envelope selection should match your creative mood on any given day. If you aren’t loving any of the envelopes in your collection, you can always make your own!
If you would like to write on the envelope with a dip pen and ink, you might take a look at the How to Choose the Best Calligraphy Envelopes post. In the post, you’ll learn which envelopes “play nice” with calligraphy, and which to avoid!
You can use any paper that appeals to you! I generally use paper that has been cut to fit the envelope I have chosen.
To figure out the proper dimensions to cut your paper down to, you’ll want to measure your envelope horizontally and vertically.
Once you know your measurements, subtract 0.25″ from the horizontal number, and multiply the vertical number by 2.5. As an example, my envelope here ended up being 6.5″ wide by 4.75″ tall. As a result, I cut out a 6.25″ x 12″-ish piece of paper. You have some wiggle room on the vertical measurement of the paper because you’ll be folding it up anyway!
If I have a lot of time and patience, I’ll write a letter using a dip pen. That said, I’m perpetually lacking time, and often my supply of patience isn’t much better … so I revert to using a gel pen! The Pilot G-2 .05 is a favorite because of its reliability and vivid ink.
Even though I usually don’t write correspondence using a dip pen, I think it’s gorgeous when people do! If you’re feeling like writing a dip pen letter, go for it. I received one of the most beautiful dip pen letters from Jodean Cooper last year … what an amazing artist!
If you don’t have Jodean’s patience, however, you can be in the regular pen camp with me. Just pick a pen that you enjoy using, and you’re all set to go!
Wax Seal (Optional)
A wax seal is a totally frivolous and unnecessary element of letter writing, but if you’ve got one, it adds elegance and a touch of nostalgia to your work. Wax seals were once a very popular — and necessary — way to seal letters!
I always note the irony of using a glue gun to apply such an antique element to letters … and yet, you can’t beat the modern convenience. If you’re interested in a wax seal glue gun, you can purchase one at Paper & Ink Arts; otherwise, you can find “old school” wax sticks in a myriad of colors at Nostalgic Impressions.
Letter Writing Process
Decorate the Paper
If you’re not using pre-decorated stationery, you can embellish the paper to add some personality to it! In the photo below, I have used the Geometric Embellishments concept from the Four Simple Envelope Embellishments post.
Feel free to experiment here! You can embellish both the top and bottom of the stationery, as I did in this example, or you can choose to embellish only one edge.
Write the Letter
If you have opted to use unlined paper to write your letter on, it’s a good idea to put it on top of notebook paper. You can then use a light box (< that’s an affiliate link — but it’s a quality and cost-effective little machine; the one I use is needlessly more expensive) to see the lines underneath. If your paper isn’t too thick, then you probably won’t even need the light box to see the lines! (Printer paper is great to write letters on because you can generally see right through it sans light box.)
If you can, try to write in cursive. That will give the letter a nice, vintage feel!
As far as content, you can find several letter writing prompts in the The Letter Writer’s Complete Resource. Here are some basic prompts I use:
- Write about what’s going on in your life, especially if it relates to the person you are writing to.
- Ask questions — either specific (“What is your favorite restaurant right now?”) or more broad (“Where do you see yourself in ten years?”).
- Answer any questions the person may have posed to you the last time you corresponded.
- Make recommendations for recipes, good television shows, or music.
Once you have written the letter, fold the top of the letter down. The fold should be just a tad shorter than the vertical length of the envelope — in my case, that’s 4.5″. Fold the bottom up over the top, and you’ll find that the bottom fold is significantly shorter than the top and middle folds. That’s perfect! You can now use your wax seal to secure the letter shut.
I realize that sealing wax isn’t exactly something that everyone has laying around somewhere. If you don’t have any, washi tape, a cool sticker, or a DIY wax seal will work just as well!
Decorate the Envelope
There are about a gazillion mail art tutorials on this website, and you’re welcome to use one that appeals to you in order to create an artistic envelope! I opted to make an envelope that echoes the design motif of the paper.
An elegant Janet Style return address contrasts nicely with the geometric hand-lettering on the front of the envelope!
Once you have decorated the envelope, you can slip the letter inside and send! Here are some tips to follow to ensure your letter reaches its intended destination:
- Make sure you put enough postage on the envelope. If you’re in the US, this is a good website to reference for current postage costs (especially if you’re sending a letter internationally).
- If you use a wax seal on the outside of the envelope, the letter will cost extra to send (at least in the US). Currently the additional cost is 21 cents (again, in the US). If you use a wax seal on the letter itself — as I’ve done today — then there’s no extra cost.
- Sometimes, the US postal service gets fussy about the return address being written on the back rather than the upper left corner. To be absolutely safe, you should write your address in the left corner (you can do so in an artistic way!). I guess I like to live on the edge, so I usually write my address on the back.
While letter writing is a fairly basic topic, sometimes it’s good to return to the basics! Remember that the instructions outlined above assume that you have an hour or so of free time to craft your snail mail correspondence. You can always shave off time by using lined notebook paper, skipping the wax seal step, and writing the address quickly! When it boils down to it, we all write letters differently, and I hope that you’ll take my steps as suggestions (rather then the rule) next time you sit down to write!
Happy snail mailing!