In celebration of National Letter Writing Month, I thought I’d share some letter-writing advice + inspiration from a handful of my favorite stationery makers:
- Isabel Bonenfant + Kate Kellman of Of Note Stationers
- Lauren Sauder of Studio Ease
- Clara Kim of Euni + Co
- Kirsten Drozdowski of Worthwhile Paper
And in between sending snail mail and practicing penmanship, I hope you’ll share your own responses to these questions in the comments.
Where do you most enjoy writing letters + how does it inspire you?
Isabel Bonenfant of Of Note Stationers: My favorite place to write letters is at home, at my dining room table, on a quiet morning or on a Friday evening. I like to light a scented candle, spread out my letter-writing tools, pick the right card or stationery for the recipient, and put pen to paper. This serene environment allows me the space to quiet down my thoughts so I can focus on my connection with the person to whom I am writing and give them my full attention.
Kate Kellman of Of Note Stationers: I do not yet have a routine location, but I am most inspired by a cleared table or desk where I can spread out and create space for my materials and my thoughts. I am easily distracted by physical clutter so something that is a bit tidier helps me focus on the process and allows me to really dig in. If I am out and about, a corner in a busy coffee shop is also wonderful. The tidiness is inherent and I then have the benefit of the “co-working” stimulation. I love the feeling of writing alongside people.
Lauren Sauder of Studio Ease: I most enjoy writing letters in my studio space. It is filled with all my daily inspiration, including my vision board, and some of my favorite neutral, warm colors. Since it is a creative space, I feel like I can identify most with my truest self and have that reflect in my words.
Clara Kim of Euni + Co: I have a small office area in our home, but I mostly spend my time working in our living room. Our living room is a bit cozier than our office and I’ve got most of my favorite things in our kitchen and living area, so I like to sit and write at our dining table. It helps to be surrounded by all the things I love when I’m writing.
Kirsten Drozdowski of Worthwhile Paper: I like writing letters at my studio, preferably when I’m alone so I can really focus on the words. If I am at home my 3 year old usually has my attention, so it’s hard to write letters there. I need to be in a place that is quiet and calm.
What are the essentials of a well-written letter?
KK: Letter writing is such a free space for me, one that I hope for many others to create for themselves, so I don’t like to think in terms of guidelines. I’d prefer instead to celebrate the fact that when you write a letter you’ve taken the step to pause, sit down, reflect, write, and send your thoughts out to someone else. That is magic and a gift to yourself and to the recipient. For posterity, including the date is something Isabel reminds me to do and a legible return address is always helpful.
LS: Authenticity. I think that any letter has the potential of being well-written if the person writing the correspondence writes from a place of personal sincerity. Letting your natural thoughts land on the page to someone else is much like having a one-on-one conversation with them. It’s heartfelt and genuine.
CK: Love? All things should be done in love—I think that when you write with love and when what you write is genuine, the other things don’t matter as much.
KD: For me, there at least has to be some kind of nice looking hand-lettered name on the envelope! I almost always throw in little illustrations, too. No letter or note I’ve written to anyone is the same as anyone else’s but I have a tendency to be more honest and meaningful in handwritten notes, so I would consider honesty and openness essential. I also like to include little extra surprises like a little drawing, stickers, etc.
How do you approach writing a difficult letter?
IB: I try to start by acknowledging the situation and offering support. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, illness, or difficult times, I let the person know they are not alone. I like to communicate that they have a community of friends and family to rely on when they are ready to accept help. I think it is also important to offer specific ways that you can be there to support them. Whether it is bringing a meal over, shopping for their groceries, or coming over to spend time together, it’s important for the recipient to know how you can be available to them.
KK: This question brings to mind a time I used a letter as a means to reconnect with a childhood friend. It took me a while to get up the courage to write the letter, but I used our “I think of you often and I want you to know” card because it is both open-ended and loving. This card allowed me the space to share that although we have drifted apart I think of our childhood friendship fondly and would love to get back in touch. Overall I think honesty, kindness, and a sense of possibility are good mindsets to cultivate when reaching out in this way.
LS: I am not sure I have written too many difficult letters in my lifetime. I do, however, like to write from a place of authenticity. I want to the receiver to always feel like they are having a conversation with me. Writing what comes to mind in that instant and not over-thinking it helps me write being true to myself always.
CK: I approach it with prayer. When I’m writing to someone who has just gone through a loss or when I have to write about hardship, I make sure to pray first to those I’m writing to.
KD: If I am having a tough time finding the right words, I usually slow down. I think if something is difficult to write it’s best for me to keep it simple.
What is in your letter-writing toolkit?
IB: Currently in my on the go pouch: washi tape, fountain penin medium (inspired by the lovely Julia of Eva Moon Press), letter-writing paper, postage stamps (obsessed with the Flowers from the Gardenseries), cards from Of Note (Better Together, Way Overdue, Think of You, and For You) and Banquet (Holy Shiitake and Sending You All The Luck).
KK: I keep the letters I need to respond to / the stationery I can choose from in a Moleskine portfolio in the classic notebook size. This letterpress collaboration set. Postcards that I pick up when visiting museums or perusing in bookstores. Our Gratitude, Post Script, and Glad You’re Here cards. Pilot G-Tec-C4 for careful writing, Zebra Sarasa 0.7 gel ink for a bit looser writing. A white gelly roll pen for writing on our kraft cards like this one and this one. Our “love inside” rubber stamp and a black archival ink pad. Shipping labels from Eva Moon Press. Rifle Paper Co. Love postage stamps.
LS: Always, always artful, nostalgic stationery (even better when it is ethical paper!). I always go for greeting cards that have a blank interior so I can add my own personal sentiment. Although I prefer writing in pencil because I like the friction of the paper against the graphite, I write all my letters with a good pen. I love using micron pens because they have a nice black ink with a fine writing tip.
CK: My favorite pen, which I buy in bulk from Korea—it’s a 0.38 ball pen, and I use it all the time.
KD: Cute postage stamps are a must. I paid extra to buy the botanical fern stamps even though they were out of print because I love them so much! Vintage stamps with nature themes are my go-to as well. Different kinds of pens and markers. My favorite writing pen is the Paper Mate Flair. I also use this to illustrate. Rubber stamps (I have a few snail mail themed stamps that are my go-to), washi tape, kraft envelopes, and good paper.
How does letter writing impact you?
KK: I recently wrote about the impact writing letters has had on my life in a blog post for Of Note. A short synopsis is that letter writing provided an avenue through which I could heal. If you’re curious, I recommend reading the whole post.
Most recently I would say that my letter-writing practice helps me cultivate presence. In the act of writing, I feel fully engaged, engaged with my thoughts, engaged with my correspondent’s questions, engaged with moments of quiet. I don’t yet have a journaling practice so letter writing is the closest I get to that type of focused reflection.
I realized that with letter writing I am the most trusting of what may emerge. I trust my intuitions and allow myself to be vulnerable and open, and I trust that the recipient will read my note without judgment. I find this trust and assuredness harder to embody in person so I appreciate the opportunity that letter writing provides me to fully be.
LS: Letter writing helps bring you closer to the recipient and form a relationship in an entirely new way. So often we are sucked into our phones and busy getting an instantaneous text to someone, but when we slow down to physically write someone a letter we connect with them in a much different way. It also helps me slow down in my daily life and spend time truly nourishing the relationships I cherish.
CK: Writing letters to others, especially those I love, helps me to reflect on whomever I’m writing to. I am a huge advocate of self-reflection, and strongly believe that knowing yourself is crucial to becoming a better person. When writing a letter, I start thinking about whomever I’m writing to, and usually, as I’m writing to say “congrats,” “thank you,” or “happy birthday,” I include characteristics I love about him/her. That whole process makes me recognize how blessed I am to have amazing people around me and allows me to be more grateful.
KD: Handwritten notes are so much more meaningful to me than a text or email. It’s an extra special thing. It impacts me to write because it makes me slow down and I really enjoy getting immersed in the process.
What is your favorite letter-writing salutation + what does it mean to you?
IB: I think my favorite is certainly “Dearest.” Whenever I receive a letter addressed to me as Dearest, I know it is coming from someone who appreciates me and is doing so by addressing me that way. There is warmth, a bit of formality, but mostly a sense of connection in the word Dearest.
LS: Each letter I write always has a different gesture, depending on what the occasion is for the letter I am writing. As mentioned, I always like to keep things genuine so I try to write in the state of mind I am in in that moment, almost like a form of free writing. I find the most joy in letting myself naturally respond and putting my emotional response in the form of words.
CK: I actually usually write the person’s name as I’m starting off the letter, like “Clara –.” I think if I had to choose a favorite, it would be “Dear.” We use it all the time in formal writing, so it seems a bit routine and could seem impersonal, but when you think about what it means to be someone’s “dear,” it is actually such a loving way to start a letter.
KD: I like to keep it simple with an XO or a “much love.”