Q&A with Lea Redmond: Letters To My series

Hand-written letters simply don’t need to have the same kind of structural coherence as, say, an essay. It’s okay for letters to roam a bit; it’s part of what makes them beautiful. They’re more like a spontaneous conversation or a daydream.

We sat down with Lea Redmond, author of Chronicle Books Letters To My series and asked her a few questions about how the idea was born and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Q&As after this. 

photo provided by Chronicle Books

photo provided by Chronicle Books

Write_On:  Tell us about yourself! What’s your background and how did you get started with your Letters To My Series and Leafcutter Designs?

Lea: My first love was art. And my second, Philosophy. I eventually found a way to combine my love of objects and my love of ideas, and have spent the past decade designing dozens of thoughtful, playful items that encourage people to find creativity and meaning in their daily lives. I started my design studio, Leafcutter Designs, on a bit of a whim, with a quirky art project called the "World's Smallest Post Service." One day when I had my teeny tiny post office set up in San Francisco, an editor from Chronicle Books stumbled upon me there, and that's how our many collaborations began.

Write_On: What inspired you to create the series?

Lea:  The "Letters To My..." series is inspired by an assignment I enjoyed back in high school. My 9th grade teacher had us write letters to ourselves, to be returned a few years later upon graduation. I love how such simple tools -- paper and pen and time -- allow for us to essentially time travel, corresponding directly with our younger selves. So simple, yet pure magic! 

Write_On:  How do you come up with the writing prompts in your Letters To My series? We’ve found having prompts or reasons to write so helpful.

Lea:  My creative process is based on intuition and profusion. I make a big list of prompts that sound fun and interesting to me, and then my friends, family members, and editors help me reduce the list to just a dozen prompts per book. The goal is always to design prompts that will resonate with almost anyone and everyone--prompts that get to the essence of the relationship the book is highlighting. Also, I try to write prompts that are specific enough to be provocative, yet also open-ended enough that the letter writer can truly make it his or her own. I want to be the spark, not the answer.

Write_On:  Have you always been a fan of snail mail? In your opinion, is writing letters less prevalent today? If yes, why?

Lea:  Oh yes! I have had quite a stationery collection since I was a young girl. Also, I have a wax seal with my initial on it and I'm not afraid to use it! Certainly fewer letters have been sent since the explosion of email and text messaging. Their speed is seductive and we are always anxious for news! On the one hand, this is super sad. At the same time, I love emojis! So, I think what's most important is to remember what each communication format is best at, and to choose wisely. If you want to quickly let your boyfriend know you're thinking of him, sure, text him a quick emoji kiss face. But if you want him to know how you really deeply feel, consider composing a heartfelt love letter on real paper and dropping it into the mail. Or, if you're going to break up with him, probably best to meet face-to-face! The key is to thoughtfully choose the best medium for what you have to say, and not to just send a text message or email simply because they are fast, easy, automatic, or addictive. 

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Lea:  I truly love writing letters. Once I get started, it's too much fun to be difficult. But getting started is the tricky part! I know that composing a good letter takes time and thoughtfulness, so it can be tough to carve out the time to slow down and actually do it. Last week I wrote a nice long letter to a friend from a cafe without wifi. It can be helpful to go someplace without internet to write letters, and to turn off your phone! Make a date with your stationery and postage stamps. Put it in your calendar and make it a special treat for yourself. It can be such a pleasure once you get some momentum!

Write_On:  What does your writing process look like?

Lea:  Most of my writing happens on my computer and I must admit that I love the copy/paste function! Writing a hand-written letter is a very different game because you cannot copy and paste. To make the linearity of a letter a little easier for me, I sometimes jot down a list of topics I want to address in the letter, so I have a bit of a plan in my head before I bring my pen to the paper. Also, I've realized that hand-written letters simply don't need to have the same kind of structural coherence as, say, an essay. It's okay for letters to roam a bit; it's part of what makes them beautiful. They're more like a spontaneous conversation or a daydream.

Write_On:  Are the Letters To My intended to be written over time? Are they meant to be gifted or held onto?

Lea:  All of the "Letters To My" books are intended to be kept together as a bound keepsake collection of letters. If you writing in "Letters To My Future Self," then of course that book is for you to keep and enjoy in the years and decades to come. You can even start opening them before you've written them all. If you're filling out "Letters To My Baby," then you can simply write a letter whenever you're inspired to, especially because your baby won't be able to read for quite some time anyway! You might want to gift the book to the "baby" at age 18 or 21. Generally, with the series, you can write all the letters immediately and gift the keepsake book to its final recipient ASAP, or you can slowly complete the letters over time, eventually gifting the book whenever its ready. It's up to you!

Write_On:  What can you tell us about the connection between writing and personal relationships?

Lea:  One of the joys of relationships is beautiful, heartfelt, clear communication. Letter writing is important because different words come out of us depending on whether we are writing them, typing them, texting them, or saying them in person. I think letters are a wonderful opportunity to say the most complex and deep stuff--things that otherwise might go unsaid forever!  

Write_On:  Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Lea:  Most importantly, writing and receiving letters is a joy! It's a tangible pleasure to choose the stationery and postage stamp, to carve out a contemplative moment or two for some thoughtful writing, and to send it off to someone you care about. Sure, you can write a heartfelt email; but why not put those words onto a beautiful piece of paper, drop it into a mailbox, and let your recipient's hands hold that same exact piece of paper that was once in your hands? Somehow, this just feels a little closer, a little more intimate, a little more heartfelt. And the world always needs more heart.

LEA REDMOND is a creative consultant and the brains behind the Letters to My series, The World's Smallest Post Service, Connexio, My Museum journal, Lucky You!, the Tandem Activity Book, and Conversation Dice. Her creative workshop, Leafcutter Designs, offers curious goods, surprising services, and projects for participation: www.leafcutterdesigns.com. She lives in Oakland, California.

CHRONICLE BOOKS

One of the most admired and respected publishing companies in the United States, Chronicle Books was founded in 1966 and, over the years, has developed a reputation for award-winning, innovative books and quality merchandise. The company continues to challenge conventional publishing wisdom, setting trends in both subject matter and format, maintaining a list that includes titles in fine art, cookbooks, children’s books, music and popular culture. To visit Chronicle Books online, go to www.chroniclebooks.com.

Sponsor Challenge Update: Sakura of America

To me, writing a letter is thinking about the past, writing a note in the present and sending it off for someone to receive in the future. A letter can travel through both space and time and that is pretty cool to think about.

We sat down with Michaela of Sakura of America, a Write_On sponsor, to get a feel for how the 30 day challenge was going! Be sure to check out the rest of our Sponsor Challenge Updates after this. 

Write_On:  How many years have you participated in Write_On? 

Michaela:  This is my third year participating and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Write_On:  What does your letter-writing habit usually look like? 

Michaela:  I don’t write as often as I’d like, but I do enjoy writing cards for the holidays along with our family photo and thank you notes to let people know just how grateful I am for their generous gifts. I also really like lettering and sending “Congratulations!” cards for graduates, friends who work hard and get promotions or new jobs, or if anyone is expanding their family – weddings, babies, even new pets. I have been really into hand lettering so sending a letter I also a good excuse for me to practice and decorate my envelopes. 

Write_On:   How's it going? How many letters have you written? Are you trying to write daily?

Michaela:  I have been pretty diligent about writing my cards and it has been so nice to have a good excuse to send out “I am thinking of you just because….” cards. It’s like sending a hug! I have 15 cards mailed out, although some days I am playing catch up and write 2 in a day.

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Michaela:  Making the time has been tough! Since I have a new baby, it’s been hard going out to dinner with friends or socializing like I used to. Sending cards that just say “Hello! I’m still okay and I’m thinking of you” have actually been pretty fun to write. As a busy person, it’s easy to come up with excuses of why there isn’t time to connect with people. But Write On has shown me it’s actually quite easy to sit down, have a thoughtful moment, and reach out to a friend.

Write_On:  What's been your favorite thing about Write_On so far? 

Michaela:  I’ve had a lot of fun coordinating pens with cards. Working for a pen company is a nice perk because any color I need is right at my fingertips. It’s also been so wonderful seeing all of the posts of Instagram and seeing how excited people are just sending letters. This simple act seems to bring a lot of joy to people – both the sender and recipient. It makes me feel really happy to have the job I do. I get to spread the word about pens for people to express themselves in a colorful and unique way. 

Write_On:  How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships?

Michaela:  I would write long letters to my parents when I first started college, when email was still a bit new and they hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet. I would write down my intentions for the semester, check in on them and let them know how I was doing. My mom would write back and send care packages, which was so comforting to receive when I was homesick. I would post her cards up and look at them when I was studying. It was nice to see her penmanship and have a piece of home in my new place. It was just a bit more special than a phone call. We all still have those notes saved.

When my boyfriend (now husband) and I were first living together we were both working odd hour jobs and going to grad school so often times we were just two ships passing in the night. We would leave silly notes about chores or to-dos for each other. But he would always leave a nice love note along with his updates. It made me feel really special and appreciated. I still have a lot of those notes in a keepsake box.

This past year when we had our baby we received so many well wishing cards from friends and family. I am keeping them for when he is older to let him know how many people we excited for his arrival.

Write_On: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Michaela:  That letter writing is like a meditation. It is an opportunity to sit and slow down in the crazy busy world of ours and just reflect. To me, writing a letter is thinking about the past, writing a note in the present and sending it off for someone to receive in the future. A letter can travel through both space and time and that is pretty cool to think about.

Write_On:  What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Michaela:  I plan on writing a note to my mom and let her know how helpful and kind she has been to me as a new mom. I appreciate her now more than ever! And even though I tell her all the time, I think it would be nice for her to hold something in her hands that lets her know just how grateful I am to have her.

LA Pen Pal Club

Whenever you’re thinking of someone and wish to let them know, try writing your sentiments in a letter or card. The experience you’ll have and the impression you’ll make will be so personal and cherished.

We sat down with Victoria of LA Pen Pal Club and asked her a few questions about what sparked the idea and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Q&As after this. 


Write_On: Tell us about yourself! What's your background and what inspired you to start the LA Pen Pal Club?

Victoria: Pen Pal Club was originally one of the clubs held at Reform School. There I met Margaret Haas, who organized the Pen Pal Club meetings. She and I (of Paper Pastries and Paper & Type, respectively) grew to be friends, and we kept in touch by letter when she moved away for a while. Upon her return she was eager to reestablish the club and invited me to help co-host. So, LA Pen Pal Club began (again). 

Write_On: Describe the Club. How often does it meet, and what happens during a typical meeting? Do you pick a theme? Read each other's letters? Provide writing prompts? How many members do you have?

Victoria: Anywhere from 5 to 15 attendees—a mix of regulars and new—fill our seats each month. There is space for members to quietly write, or to engage in conversation and show-and-tell of recent mail and postage finds. And while we don't direct the meetings in any particular way, we do provide a spread of stationery and supplies.

Meetings are usually held at Margaret's stationery studio/shop, but we're portable! We recently brought our club over to Announcement LA, an event and co-working space.

Write_On:  How have hand-written letters impacted your life and relationships? Why is having a Pen Pal Club important to you?

Victoria:  Letter writing has always been my primary way of staying in touch with faraway friends, so I very much treasure this practice. I enjoy the pace of connection through letter writing. And I appreciate the openness and intimacy and relief that it allows as well. With letter writing being such a personal activity, LA Pen Pal Club provides a welcoming, dedicated space to gather with others who also endeavor to keep handwritten correspondence. It's good for the soul, and refreshing! Plus, I get to spend some time with Margaret.  ;) 

Write_On:  What does your letter-writing practice look like? How often do you write, and what types of letters do you write most often? What do you do for inspiration and to make time and space for letter-writing?

Victoria:  I keep a small folder stocked with essentials: stationery, postage, strips of washi tape, and my Letter Ledger. I enjoy writing away from my desk whenever possible—at the park or in a coffee shop or wherever I may be with an extra moment—so this kit comes in handy. I try to write once a week or every other week, whether it be a few (post)cards or one longer letter. My pen pals and the LA Pen Pal Club keep me inspired. I love seeing each person's unique way of starting out a letter or addressing an envelope. Simple pleasures!

Write_On:  Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Victoria:  Handwritten correspondence brings delight, comfort, or pause. It's become extra meaningful and it's less fleeting than other forms of communication.

Write_On:  When is it better to send a letter than an e-mail, phone call, or text?

Victoria:  While it's easy to email and text Thank you or I miss you, a handwritten note means the sender took time to focus care from his or her heart to pen to paper to envelope and into your hands and eyes and heart. Whenever you're thinking of someone and wish to let them know, try writing your sentiments in a letter or card. The experience you'll have and the impression you'll make will be so personal and cherished. 

Write_On:  What's the best advice you've ever received about letter-writing?

Victoria:  This is more from my observation, but: send postcards! They're the simplest way to get into the habit of sending mail. And the postcards needn't be from faraway places; local cafés and boutiques often have fun postcard takeaways you can use to send to your pen pals.  

Write_On: What's the next letter you're planning to write?

Victoria:  I owe a thank you note to a dear friend!

Photography: LA Pen Pal Club

WRITE_ON + BUILD

Write_On brings letter-writing to college and elementary school students

We're super excited to introduce you to one of the Write_On's 2016 non-profit partners, BUILD (Berkeley United in Literacy Development). BUILD is one of the largest literacy programs in San Francisco's East Bay, with UC Berkeley mentor teams providing one-to-one literacy support to 21 after school locations in the Berkeley and Oakland public schools.  We’ve donated over 600 cards, generously provided by Write_On sponsor Chronicle Books. 250 college mentors will be writing and helping 600 elementary school students write their own letters this month.

On Friday, April 8, Sabrina Moyle of Hello!Lucky and Tess Darrow of Egg Press visited BUILD at UC Berkeley to introduce Write_On to over 50 college student mentors.

We were curious to see what the response to letter-writing would be from 18 - 21 year-olds, who’ve grown up with social media and have probably written very few letters so far in their lives. We were pleasantly surprised!

One BUILD mentor shared how she had written a letter to her future self when she was 13 and had opened it recently; it was really meaningful.  Letters are in fact a way we can connect the dots of different phases of our lives.  The choices we make and the experiences we have at each life stage influence and build the foundation for future phases, so visualizing and setting intentions for the future or coming full circle to the past through a letter-writing can be an illuminating, satisfying exercise.

Another BUILD mentor shared how one of her scholars (what BUILD calls student mentees) had written a thank you note to a children's book author.  The author is passionate about creating children's books that reflect diversity and had donated several of her books to the scholar’s school. They are hoping that the author will write back!

Sabrina reflected on how she had first met her college roommate through letters. She recalled receiving her first letter from someone named Laura Christian in Katonah, New York, and how much she learned about her future friend just through the form of her handwriting and the things she chose to express.  There was an unraveling sense of mystery as she and her future roommate exchanged letters, and their friendship continued to grow organically. Fast forward to the present and they are still best friends, about to attend their 20 year college reunion. Sabrina shared that she had just written a new letter to her, reflecting on how much her friendship had meant and expressing appreciation about all the aspects she admires in her former roommate.  Even though they see each other regularly and communicate by text and email, the letter gave her a way to pull up from the day-to-day and reflect on the bigger picture. What is it like to meet your college roommate for the first time, today, she wondered?  Is it a flood of Facebook and social media information?  Does it remove some of the mystery and intimacy of developing a unique one-on-one relationship over time?

We exchanged tips about letter-writing with children:

+ Ask open-ended "who, what, when, why, where" questions like:  Who matters most to you in your life?  Why are they your friend?  What do like most about them?  Can you remember a time they did something kind for you? How did it make you feel?

+ Encourage them to write on a piece of paper and then tape the finished draft into a card.  Children who are learning to write often need a few tries before they are happy with the result.

+ Let them know it's okay to mess-up and either scratch out your mistake in a "beautiful oops" (to quote best-selling children's book author Barney Saltzberg), or start again.

+ Keep a positive, open-minded, low-pressure attitude. Letter-writing is fun and gives you a chance to make yourself and the recipient feel good - it's not an obligation.

+ Write to an adult who is likely to write back.

+ Mentors could write a letter to their mentees about child and what they appreciate about him / her, and perhaps about their hopes and dreams for them -- to be either delivered now or in the future.

Big huge thanks to Carrie Donnovan and Rosa Ortega for coordinating our partnership with BUILD!  We’ll be sure to share any images and stories about the BUILD team’s Write_On adventures over the rest of the month!

Postcrossing Giveaway!

Today, Write_On is very excited to be partnering with Postcrossing on a giveaway! Postcrossing is a project that allows people to receive postcards from all over the world. By sending a postcard you can turn your mailbox into a box of surprises and meet new people from all over the world. In February they reached 34 million postcards sent -- what an awesome movement!

Head on over to the Postcrossing blog to enter to win a collection of stationery supplies from the likes of Social Preparedness Kit, Gelly Roll Pens from Sakura, Chronicle Books, and the generous Write_On sponsors.

Designer Q&A: Red Cap Cards

Connection through hand written letters in invaluable, we should all do it more often….

We sat down with Carrie Gifford of Red Cap Cards and asked her a few questions about how she got started and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Designer Q&As after this.

Write_On: Tell us about yourself!  What’s your background and what drew you to design cards and stationery?

Carrie: When Hal and I started Red Cap Cards I was directing children’s theater and Hal was running a coffee roasting company. We always wanted work together and had a lot of ideas brewing at the same time. In 2005 were playing with 3 business ideas. A brewing company (Hal’s a beverage man), a toy company ( I was making dolls) and last a card company. Long story short… our future was in the cards.  

Write_On: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Carrie: Our cards are art driven. I have a storytelling background and I tend to curate art of this nature. The artist that we work with are animators, painters, designers and illustrators that all have a distinctive look and an amazing capability to tell a story in one picture.

Write_On: How do you use your designs to inspire people to connect in writing?

Carrie: I think when people find our cards they are inspired by the art. They see a story that’s familiar or intriguing and make it their own. They want to share what they’ve discovered and they sit down and write. I love how our cards can trigger a memory or create a dream world that people want to connect through.

Write_On: What does your process look like for creating a new card or stationery design?

Carrie: It all begins with the artist that we are working with. Every artist is different so the process is always changing. Our goal is always the same, to support our artists in creating work that they love. We typically give our artists minimal direction in the beginning, such as an occasion to help inspire a story or perhaps a general story concept, then we let the artist create what they feel. Creating art for greeting cards is not as easy as it seems. We often receive beautiful artwork, but then you have to figure out how to turn it into a card. That can be tricky.

Write_On: How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships? 

Carrie: All I can say is that anytime I’ve ever sat down to write a letter it’s always felt amazing. I think the process of sharing our feelings with someone through pen and paper is a healing meditation and a great habit.

Write_On: What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Carrie: These days it’s just the discipline of sitting down to write. 

Write_On: What does your letter-writing practice look like? 

Carrie: Well it’s not as creative as it was when I was in 7th grade. Boy, those were the days. The amount of time and effort I put into writing was beyond! I must have written a million letters a day. Not to mention I had pen pals. Do you remember having those? I had a teacher that set us up with complete strangers in other countries and we’d write to them every week. How awesome is that. It makes my current letter writing process seem very sad. That’s why I’m looking forward to your challenge!

Write_On: Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters? 

Carrie: Recently my Dad passed away and I found a box in his desk with all the letters and cards I had written to him over the years. Each letter was a bit different. I thanked him for money, I wished him a happy birthday, I reminded him of favorite childhood memories, but in each letter at some point I always express my love and gratitude for him and my mom. As I read each letter I realized how important they were to him and how grateful I was that I took the time to sitdown and let him know how I felt. Connection through hand written letters in invaluable, we should all do it more often….

Write_On: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Carrie: Not to edit. To let go and free flow. 

Write_On: What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Carrie: I think it’s time to send a love letter to my husband. It’s been a long time and I think it’s overdue.

Live Well, Write On!

One evening, 100 people, and 100+ letters

Last Thursday evening, over a hundred people gathered at Coffee Bar in San Francisco’s Mission District to do something unusual: write letters.  Hosted by the Write_On Campaign and The Dinner Party, the event was called “Live Well, Write_On” and invited people to reconnect and deepen their connections through the written word.

As guests of all ages, backgrounds, and persuasions entered the room, they found group writing tables set up by theme:  Thank you, I love you, Please forgive me / I forgive you, and Sympathy.  Each table was stocked with stationery, pens, and writing prompts.

Sabrina Moyle of Hello!Lucky kicked off the program with a welcome and background on the Write_On Campaign. Launched in 2014 when Tess Darrow of Egg Press challenged herself to write 30 letters in 30 days, Write_On has grown into a national movement. This year, we’re giving away 10,000 free letter-writing card kits and thousands more free cards, thanks to sponsors Sakura of America, Mohawk Paper, Chronicle Books and nine independent card studios.  People worldwide, ranging from people who grew up writing letters to kids in the public schools, are taking up the challenge to bring back letter-writing.

Why?  

Sabrina observed that in today’s world, we have more social connections than ever but many of them have taken on a superficial, performative quality. Handwritten letters provide a way to deepen relationships, to say things that would be too awkward or embarrassing to say on social media or in person. They are private. They are personal. They are permanent. She went on to share three personal examples: of her six year-old son’s letter to a homeless man, a funeral where a letter written to the deceased was at the center of the service, and a letter she had just written to her college roommate, whom she had first met by letter.

Lennon Flowers of The Dinner Party, a non-profit organization that brings together 20- and 30-somethings over potluck dinners to talk about loss and life after, then gave her own examples of why letter-writing is important. She spoke about a friend of theirs by the name of Dr. Ira Byock, one of the world's leading palliative care doctors. After decades spent working with patients living with advanced illness and their families, Dr. Byock found that there are just four messages that patients wanted to say and hear at the end of their lives: “thank you,” “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” What better way to express those messages than in a handwritten letter? And what better time than now? To write a letter, she observed, you don’t need an address. Each year, one of The Dinner Party’s members goes down to the beach, opens a bottle of beer and writes a letter to her dad, who was a surfer.  She then puts the letter in the bottle, and tosses it out to sea.  

Guests then got to watch Dear You, a short video of people reading letters they’ve written and received and were treated to readings by Shelby Cowell (author of the blog Future Stella, I Love You), Eliana Bruna (826 Valencia), Eva Silverman, and Christina Tran.

More than one hundred letters were written that evening. As participant Bobbie Pinto noted, "I aways knew I liked writing letters. Now I understand WHY".

Join the Write_On Campaign at www.writeoncampaign.com and #Write_On. Our next San Francisco event, The Last Letter, will be on April 28th from 5 - 7 p.m. at Chronicle Books and will feature Letters to My… author Lea Redmond. Find out about more Write_on events here.

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Love letter to Pam

We received an anonymous Write_On submission that we just couldn't pass up sharing...


About 30 + years ago the mother of a school-friend died rather suddenly and, after clearing out her things, the daughter asked if I would like all her old dressmaking patterns and hoard of fabric. They were a well-to-do family and the mother was always effortlessly elegant and soignée and here were some beautiful items of both pattern and fabric from the 1950's when she had been a debutante.

Some years later when I went to use one of the patterns I found this letter inside the Lanvin Castillo design. 

I've no idea if anyone ever knew of the admirer/lover, somehow it's more poignant not knowing - a little touch of Madame Bovary or a sub-plot from a Trollope or Dickens novel.

-Anonymous

Designer Q&A: Fugu Fugu Press

I love it when I receive a letter and it tells me something about that person I didn’t know about.

We sat down with Shino of Fugu Fugu Press and asked her a few questions about how she got started and where she sees the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Designer Q&As after this. 

Write_On: Tell us about yourself!  What’s your background and what drew you to design cards and stationery?

Shino: I was an illustration major at a college, then a freelance illustrator for a number of years when I started working for my friends who owned a letterpress greeting cards company.

Write_On:  How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Shino: I love Scandinavian designs, vintage children’s book and advertising illustrations, and Japanese character designs.  My Japanese upbringing definitely shows through when I design our cards. I try to design cards that communicate immediately, and evokes some sort of emotion.  They tend to be more of ‘illustrations’ than ‘designs’.

Write_On: How do you use your designs to inspire people to connect in writing?

Shino: My hope is that people see our cards and somehow make them think of specific people in their lives, and inspire people to send the cards.  When I design, I usually have specific person in my mind for that particular design.

Write_On: What does your process look like for creating a new card or stationery design?

Shino: I have so many papers and half-filled sketch books lying around everywhere - printshop, computer desk, dining table, on a night stand… I brain storm constantly. Once I have a rough idea, I sketch it out, and sometimes do a finished drawing to scan it into Photoshop, or I re-create the image in Illustrator, depending on what feels right.  

Write_On:  How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships?

I used to write long letters all the time to my friends when I was a kid.  My family and I moved around within Japan and then from Japan to Texas when I was 13, and there was no Skype or email then, so I wrote.  I’d check the mailbox everyday to see if my friends wrote back.  Then when I started college in California, the rest of my family moved back to Japan, so again, I wrote to them.  My mom would send care packages, I still have many of the letters my mom sent to me from those days.  After college, some of my friends and I sent little comics to each other about what’s going on in our lives.  I still have those as well, and they crack me up.  We were pretty silly.  I also made zines for a short while, and it was exciting for me to receive letters from total strangers requesting to purchase them.  I think I sold them for something like $3 each.

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?  

Shino: It’s really weird, because I used to LOVE writing letters, and now I don’t know what to write about!!  

Write_On: What does your letter-writing practice look like?

Shino: I still write to my friend from college (she is an avid letter-writer and a mix CD sender), but other than that, they’re pretty limited to writing notes to our customers and also birthday and Christmas cards to friends and family.

Write_On: Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Shino: Both personally and professionally, a hand-written note or memo immediately makes whatever that’s written so much more personal.  When I receive a hand written note, I can imagine the person behind the writing.  Not as much with emails or texts.

Write_On:  What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Shino: I don’t remember if I ever received any advice about writing letters.. but I love it when I receive a letter and it tells me something about that person I didn’t know about. So I try to do the same when I write to other people.

Write_On: What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Shino: To that college friend/pen pal. I owe her a response.

Seasonal Letter-Writing with Jaime of Send More Mail

Summer

Throwing a letter-writing get together in the summer lets you take it outside.  Gather up your friends and some stationery bits and bobs and get writing – by the lake or in your local park!

Summer tips:

Use the shade from a great big tree and spread out your picnic blanket(s).

Pack a cooler with cold lemonade, fruit salad + homemade brownies.  (Maybe even iced coffee?)

Set out your supplies. Cards, paper, envelopes, pens, stickers and postage stamps.  Keep things summery with bright and cheery colours.  My favorite thing to tote along is a teeny-tiny watercolor set.  Pooling together your stationery supplies makes for a fun and thrifty way to spice up your letter-writing game.  One person’s everyday washi tape is another’s gem!

Get writing and chatting.  It’s so nice to socialize while cutting, pasting and writing pretty mail.

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Winter

There’s no other way to describe winter letter-writing parties other than cozy.  When it’s a snowy Saturday in February it’s the perfect time to catch up with friends and write some letters while you’re at it.  Anything goes: birthday cards, thank you notes and for-no-reason-at-all letters.  (Honestly, receiving those out of the blue letters always delights me in the very best way.)

This is the time to put on the kettle and make a few pots of tea.  Hot chocolate works like a charm too.  Treat it like a mini potluck.  Each friend can bring along a snack or sweet.  Since you’re indoors, break out your typewriter and turn on your local jazz radio station.  (Typewriters are always a hit since not everyone has one of their own.)  Get super crafty with rubber stamps, stencils, glue, paper scraps and twine.  

Thank you Jaime for sharing these inspiring ideas! For those of you wondering where you can find the vintage stamps featured in this post, Jaime has a beautifully curated online store called Send More Mail! She also has a not-to-be-missed Instagram account for endless letter-writing eye-candy. 

Mail Carrier Q&A: Tips & More

We sat down with a veteran mail carrier to find out what it's like to be on the other end of the mailbox.

I hope people keep sending letters. You know, it’s more of a personal thing. Right now, people are keeping in touch but they use this (points to the cell phone) but it’s not personal. Someone likes to open letters – especially older people. That’s their joy. Sometimes they’re right there by the box waiting for it.

Please note: interviewee requests to remain anonymous for this interview. 

Write_On :    How long have you been a postal worker?

Interviewee: I’ve been working for the post office since 1985. So 31 years. 

Write_On :   What is your job title? Or what do you like to be called? 

Interviewee: Mail carrier. Not post man. No. 

Write_On :   What is a typical work day for you? 

Interviewee: Getting up in the morning, getting there around 8. And I’m a rural carrier in a small town, I’m different from the normal carriers so when we finish our deliveries we go home, we don’t have a set schedule. When I’m done, I’m done. It’s nice. 

Write_On :    Sometimes we want to stop and say hi, or ask our mail carrier questions but we know you're on a tight schedule. What is the etiquette there?

Interviewee:  Well, I’m very flexible. I usually chat with customers, we can’t take too long, but we’re very polite to our customers and friendly. 

Write_On :   What is your favorite part about your job?

Interviewee:  My customers. Getting to see people every day. I have a regular route that I’ve been doing for seventeen years. So I know everyone pretty well. I have lots of friends around. We’ve become friends. My route is 25 miles. I drive and deliver in a rural area, outside of the city limits. So I can’t walk, even if I wanted to. 

Write_On :   and your least favorite?

Interviewee:  The politics. 

Write_On :   Have you noticed any changes in the amount of letters being sent? More or less?

Interviewee:  It’s a lot less. There’s not that many personal letters. It’s mostly emails. The only personal cards we get is when someone passes away you’ll notice that. Otherwise it’s someone’s birthday or something like that. 

Write_On :   Is there a time when you noticed a decline in personal mail being sent? 

Interviewee:  When these came out! (laughs and points to cell phone). Devices. The internet. 

Write_On :   How often do you get to see beautifully decorated mail?

Interviewee:  The ones that have a lot of artwork are usually from prison! Usually they’re the ones that have drawings and stuff. But otherwise pretty envelopes you see mostly around Easter, Valentines. 

*Sakura recommends Gelly Roll pens to decorate the outside of your envelopes! They are waterproof and archival and will withstand the weather. The bright colors will provide a fun and cheerful greeting for your recipient. 

Write_On :    Describe a unique piece of mail that caught your attention. 

Interviewee:  I’ve actually received a coconut in the mail from my co-worker who went to Hawaii. I’ve seen messages in a bottle, but mostly regular envelopes. 

*For alternative surfaces like cardboard, wood, plastic or metal, try Pentouch or Permapaque markers. The water proof inks are durable and the opaque colors and metallic shine inks stand out on darker colors.

Write_On :   What are some tips you can offer for anyone sending a letter? Any dos and don'ts?

Interviewee:  Always put your return address. Because if you don’t do that it can go back to what is called “Dead Letter”. And it could stay there for quite a while. The inspectors have to open it up. Always put your return address because it can get stuck to a piece of equipment, or get stuck to another letter and can go from California all the way to New York before it comes back! 

Write_On :   What do you hope to see in the future of mail?

Interviewee:  I hope people keep sending letters. You know, it’s more of a personal thing. Right now, people are keeping in touch but they use this (points to the cell phone) but it’s not personal. Someone likes to open letters – especially older people. That’s their joy. Sometimes they’re right there by the box waiting for it. 

Write_On :   We started Write_On to promote joy, creativity, expression and connection through hand-written correspondence. How do you hope this campaign can help people to connect?

Interviewee:  The way we get paid is by how much people mail! That’s how they figure out our pay. (Laughs)! The best thing to do is write to someone in the hospital or who is down or isn’t feeling well. They love to receive mail. Older people love to get mail. Sometimes that’s their whole day.  Young people, it’s their phone. But older people – the highlight of their day is when they see the mail carrier. We’ve gotten invited to weddings by our customers. They’re like our family now. We’re a small town. We know everyone.

Ready to Write! A Letter-Writing Toolbox

Of course, all you really need to write a letter are paper, pen, and thoughtfulness, but being organized and having a few extra tools can make it more likely that you'll write more often and generally make the process more enjoyable and one that reflects your personality.

Read on for some of the tools you'll find in my own letter-writing stash!

  • Vintage paper clamps to bundle outgoing mail, stamps, etc.
  • Handy paper snips for cutting ephemera, washi tape, etc.
  • Special paper that inspires you to write. This is woodblock printed paper from Haibara, est. 1806. I recently spotted Mr. Carson carrying a similar style in a brief scene in Downton Abbey! 
  • The letterpress Possibilities Notebook from Social Preparedness Kit for planning and plotting. 
  • Social Preparedness Kit Tear-Away Notes for letter-writing on the fly. There have been several occasions when I was kicking myself for not having this in my car glove-compartment AND my purse.
  • Little goodies! I love to send little treats with my letters like tea bags, seeds, and candy.
  • Social Preparedness Kit pouches. These come in a range of sizes from pen pouches to document size. I love to use them to gather up a whole stack of cards, stamps, and address book and go work on some letters at a cafe.
  • Postcards. Sometimes you aren't feeling very verbose and just want to send a funny joke, a few words of thanks for an awesome dinner, etc. It's nice to have a limited space to write!
  • I haven't painted since 5th grade (as you might be able to tell!) but I've been inspired by all of the Spring blooms in Portland to try my hand at water-coloring. “Strathmore Artist Papers™, a division of Pacon Corporation. ® and TM used under license from Mohawk (Write_On sponsor!) has these terrific watercolor postcard pads. I've been having so much fun with them. Perfect for a little plein air painting AND letter-writing!
  • A collection of brush pens (I like the Pilot Futayaka) and various paint brushes.
  • Vintage stamps! These are from Send More Mail, a wonderful curator of unused vintage stamps who sells them in packets which are all sorted by color.
  • Social Preparedness Kit card sets. I can't really imagine life without these. I use them as mini-card writing stations with one in my kitchen, one on my desk, and one on my livingroom table. Writing letters is hard! It's so important to have things at the ready whenever YOU'RE ready.
  • PENS! Gelly Roll pens from Sakura are so painterly and fun and perfect for addressing envelopes. For the inside of my cards and letters I'm devoted to the Japanese Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens. They have a very fine tip but don't drag. I recently bought the white refillable jumbo pen so I can have all my favorite colors at hand.

Letter of the Day

It’s my most favorite month because I get to think of all the people I don’t get to write to as much and share my sentiments.

For Write_On 2016 we've decided to share our favorite letters in the #write_on feed. Have you browsed all the posts lately? GLORIOUS! This one is from Issa (@issalilley on Instagram) and we love the ideas she's shared and that she racks her brain for silly memories to send to her mom as a way of showing her how much she appreciates her. Awww.

20 Reasons to Write a Letter, with Sabrina Moyle of Hello!Lucky

  1. A letter is personal, private, and permanent

  2. Writing it down in a letter makes it known and real

  3. A letter gives you perspective on what someone means to you

  4. Letter-writing takes time; the process helps us savor the people we love

  5. A letter is a shared object

  6. A letter is a shared experience

  7. Handwriting is more personal than typewritten text

  8. Handwriting helps us generate creative thoughts and ideas

  9. Letters give us a reason to be creative and expressive. They can include words, pictures, quotes, lists, poems, questions...

  10. Letters help us stay connected to people who don’t use computers often

  11. Handwritten letters are rare, which makes them special to receive

  12. Letter-writing is a form of contemplation

  13. Writing a letter helps you know yourself

  14. Writing a letter helps you develop your voice

  15. Letters give us a reason to express gratitude, which is scientifically linked to happiness

  16. Letters help friendships grow deeper

  17. Letters let us say things that would be hard to say in person or on social media

  18. A letter is a more meaningful gift than most material things

  19. Letters are 1-to-1 instead of 1-to-many

  20. Letters re-humanize relationships

Welcome to Day 1 of Write_On 2016!

Welcome to Day 1 of the 30 day Write_On Challenge! We hope this will be one of the most rewarding things you've done and we're here to cheer each other along. We have so many fun things planned for the blog! Inspiring stories, advice and tips from letter-writing pros, and fun DIY ideas.


We welcome you to follow the growing movement and share your own experiences through the #Write_On feeds on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This year we've also created a new Tumblr page for your daily letter-writing inspiration, including an everyday Reason to Write from our Write_On Calendar. We'll also be sharing our favorite #write_on letters!



If you're looking to stock up on supplies for the month, use code WRITEON2016 for 10% off site-wide at Egg Press and Hello!Lucky all month long!

Begin the Write_On challenge today and wear a badge to prove you're all in!

Write_On Kits Available Now!

This April marks the third year of the Write_On Campaign. We are proud and excited that Write_On has grown, and is bigger than ever! What started as a challenge to write 30 letters in 30 days has become SO MUCH MORE. With our Indiegogo campaign, we raised over $19,000 – enough to cover the postage for our free kits, and to support Write_On events around the country. Thank you to all who shared the campaign with friends and loved ones, donated to the cause, and rooted us on. With your help we are one step further in making letter-writing a cultural movement.

SO! The countdown is on to National Letterwriting Month, and we'd love it if you would take the Write_On Challenge with us. To get you started, we're offering our free kits once again!

This year, we have 10,000 kits to distribute to eager letter-writers - twice as many as last year. The kits include 6 (!) letterpress printed cards from Egg Press and Hello!Lucky with matching envelopes, a sheet of Strathmore Writing paper with a matching envelope from our generous partners, Mohawk Paper, and the first 5,000 kits claimed will also include a Gelly Roll pen from Sakura of America! Plus, who knows? There might be some surprises in your kits this year... you'll have to sign up for a kit to find out!