Day 19 of the 2018 #sendcardsspreadlove Challenge

Welcome to Day 19 of the #sendcardsspreadlove challenge for for National Card & Letter Writing Month!! Today we have a second BONUS challenge along with a guest post from Sara McNally of Constellation & Co., who shares a training regimen to help aspiring snail mail superstars sail over the obstacles of sending cards.

Day 19 of the 2018 #sendcardsspreadlove Challenge

Day 19 Of The 2018 #sendcardsspreadlove Challenge

Week 3 BONUS Challenge:

The BONUS challenge is to leave a letter for someone to find.

We can let complete strangers know that love exists by leaving notes of encouragement in public places for someone to find. If you’re not sure what to say, write your favorite quote, poem or passage from a book. For the arty and crafty types, draw, paint or make a collage. For other ideas, refer back to the Day 1 Big List of Reasons to Send Cards & this guest post from the 2016 #sendcardsspreadlove challenge.

This bonus challenge is in addition to the Week 3 Challenge – challenge details + tips here. To be eligible to win the BONUS challenge prize of your choice of a single collection, you must include:

2018 #sendcardsspreadlove Challenge Guest Post

I’m so excited for today’s guest blogger, Sara McNally of Constellation & Co.! I have a total girl crush on Sara. Not only for her wonderful cards or that she’s the ultimate #snailmailsuperstar but also because of her honesty about her anxiety issues, her love of books, her kind & empathetic nature & that she adopted her son (as some of you may know, I was adopted on Valentine’s Day!) You can find out more about Sara in our feature designer interview from last year’s challenge.

Today, Sara provides a list of hurdles (gleaned from her friends & community) on why people don’t send snail mail AND tips on how to overcome these obstacles. So, if you’re an aspiring card sender then you’ll want to read Sara’s tips so you can start sending cards & spreading love like a rockstar!

The Hurdles To Good Correspondence

A training regimen to help aspiring snail mail superstars sail over the obstacles

I’m a snail mail person. I write, design, and print greeting cards for a living. I have boxes of letters and cards I’ve received that I’ve been saving since I was a little girl. I own a stationery store and spend lots of time carefully choosing the cards we’ll offer to our customers. Receiving a card or letter brings happiness to the receiver. Sending mail connects us physically to the people we love who are far away. Writing letters is an opportunity to connect to our creativity. Choosing a card, a pen, a stamp, and other fun elements allow us to express who we are and how we feel. There’s so much to love about sending and receiving thoughtful mail.

Sara McNally card & letter writing question

But for many people, sending snail mail comes with a lot of obstacles. I wanted to know more about people’s reservations, so I asked my social media circles a question: “What is one thing that keeps you from writing cards or letters to your friends and family?” The answers I received were quite honest and helpful. This is a list of the main concerns that people shared with me:

  • It takes too much effort.
  • I forget to do it.
  • I get distracted by social media.
  • I don’t ever have cards, paper, or envelopes.
  • I can’t find a pen or I don’t like my pens.
  • I hate my handwriting.
  • I don’t have anyone’s addresses.
  • I don’t have any stamps.
  • I need spell check.
  • I can’t think of something to say.
  • I’m worried that no one wants to hear from me.
  • No one ever writes back.

Wow, that’s a lot of hurdles. But just like the literal hurdles in track and field, getting a good start and being proficient takes practice. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the hurdles at hand, and I’ve crafted a training regimen for correspondence novices and aspiring snail mail superstars. *Cue the training montage music.*

Hurdle 1: Writing takes too much effort.

Writing and sending mail definitely takes effort. That’s what makes it so special to receive mail from someone who loves you! They took time out of their day and made an effort to focus on making you feel special. That’s a pretty special thing!

Here is my best tip to make the effort less of a bummer for you. Gather all the things you need to write and send mail in one place.

Pick out a box of a reasonable size to keep everything together. This will be your correspondence toolbox. (I use an actual toolbox. You can pick a fancier box, but I like my toolbox because writing is serious business!) Fill it with cards, sheets of paper, envelopes, stamps, and a few good pens or pencils. If you’re a person who likes to make things really extra, you can gather some stickers, washi tape, confetti, and markers too. Once your box is ready, store it someplace you can easily reach when you have 5 minutes to spare. Don’t feel like you have to start and finish a card or letter in one sitting. Work on it for the time you have, and leave it in your box for the next time you have 5 minutes. Have a small space or consistently cluttered tables? Include a small clipboard in your box so you can take your writing on the go!

Hurdle 2: I forget to do it.

Make a recurring to do list item. I use Todoist for my work and personal to do lists, and the app allows for recurring to do list items that show up every day. (I’m sure lots of other list services do similar things.) Research suggests that it takes 21 days to form a habit. For the first 21 days of your correspondence training, a daily reminder may be helpful. This doesn’t mean you have to mail a letter every day, but that you should take some time in the day to work on your habit. Even if it’s just 5 minutes, it’s a worthy use of your time. Spend 5 minutes jotting down ideas for what to write, asking someone for their address, gathering your “toolbox,” or writing a quick birthday card. It doesn’t take hours each day to build a habit, just the act of turning your mind and your action to it a little every day.

Hurdle 3: I get distracted by social media.

Put your phone in time out. I have a 3 year old son. To train you for this hurdle, I’ll be drawing from my experiences as a parent. Smartphones are like toddlers. As soon as you sit down to focus on something, they’ll start making repetitive noise. They want your attention, so they act out. Your smartphone doesn’t want you to write a letter. Your smartphone wants you to scroll social media and spend 20 minutes getting mad about something someone said in a comment you read about a topic you didn’t know you cared about. Here’s what you’ve gotta do. Put your phone in time out. Place your phone in a room as far from your letter writing space as you can get. Plug your phone in so it doesn’t get too sad. Tell your phone that you’re not mad at it, you both just need a little quiet time. Walk away from your phone. Go write a letter. When you reunite with your phone, you’ll both be better for the time away. Have both a needy smartphone AND a needy toddler? Put those two together! Start an episode of Sesame Street and borrow a few quiet minutes. You’ll be writing letters, they’ll be learning their letters! Win win.

Hurdle 4: I don’t have time.

I bet you do. Recently I wrote a very meaningful letter on a clipboard in the bathroom while my toddler had a poo (he likes to have company while he does his business). The meaningfulness of the letter wasn’t tarnished by the multitasking I was doing. You can carve out time. How much time do you spend scrolling Facebook, watching Youtube videos, or binge watching Netflix? Drinking a morning cup of coffee and writing a letter go very well together. I love to write letters on airplanes. Waiting for water to boil? Write in the kitchen. Coffee shops provide a lovely white noise and dedicated table space for writing (also coffee). Waiting for kids in the pick up line? Bring your correspondence toolbox with you. Heck, keep binge watching that tv show – and write to a friend about why you’re enjoying it! There is plenty of time in the day to do the things we want to do, but we may need to sacrifice something else to carve out that time. (I promise, Facebook won’t notice.) Like I said above, it only takes a few minutes a day to create a letter writing habit.

Sara McNally write

Hurdle 5: I don’t ever have cards, paper, or envelopes.

The key here is not to wait until you need a card to buy one. Collect your correspondence materials in advance. If you’re out and about, check out the card section of each store you go to. You don’t need to spend a fortune, just buy 1 card that speaks to you. Birthday, thank you, and general “thinking of you” cards are always a good choice. I also like to buy cards that are funny or make me think of a specific person. Save that card for their birthday or just send it whenever! A “just because” card received on a random Tuesday is my favorite kind to receive.

OR… Get yourself a card subscription! You’re in the right place for this problem! Pretty By Post offers an awesome card subscription service. I offer one for my own card designs, too. (Constellation & Co. Card Club). There’s no better way to keep your card box brimming than to have beautiful new cards arriving on your doorstep.

Hurdle 6: Traditional stationery is too expensive.

You don’t need to be too precious about the cards or paper you’re using. I’m a greeting card designer, so I shouldn’t be saying this. But I’d rather see you write letters on a legal pad or the back of some junk mail instead of not sending letters at all. Try DIY. Buying a decent pad of paper and a box of simple envelopes isn’t cost prohibitive. Every piece of correspondence doesn’t need to be a fancy card. Using simple paper is an opportunity to show your creativity. You can doodle a border, illustrate a point you’re trying to make, or choose a pen with a wild ink color! Gather found paper that has special meaning to you. For example: Write a letter on the back of the menu from a special restaurant. Buy old books or atlases at Goodwill and write on the pages that have blank space. Bring home hotel stationery from a memorable trip. Write on the back of an old photograph. Envelopes can be made from folding any sheet of paper that’s large enough. These are just a few ideas. Open your mind to the possibilities and you’ll start seeing letter writing materials everywhere you look.

Hurdle 7: I can’t find a good pen.

Get yourself a good writing instrument and protect it with your life. Take your time and try them out. Pick one that flows well with your handwriting. Find one that feels special enough that you want to carry it around. Commit to your pen. Love your pen and forsake all other, inferior pens. Your pen is more than a tool. Your pen is your friend. Your pen is going to be with you through thick and thin, love letters and grocery lists, angry scribbles and formal correspondence. Your pen will give you courage to write the things that are too hard to say out loud.

Check out ballpoint pens, fountain pens, sparkly gel pens, and old timey dip pens. Try different nib types, pen sizes, and ink colors. You may need to invest a little time and money into finding your perfect tool. But once you’ve found it, you’ll have it for life. If you discover that you are a fountain pen person, welcome to your new hobby and extended family! We’re a weird but creative group. Make sure you buy a pen that comes with a converter for your ink. Disposable cartridges will just hold you back. You’re going to be putting pen to paper, getting your ideas flowing, and going through whole bottles of ink. (Totally overwhelmed? I’m starting to teach a Fountain Pens 101 Workshop at my studio this month!)

Pencils are good too, especially if you have spelling or overthinking issues. Check out mechanical pencils, colored pencils, or an army of #2 pencils that have inspirational phrases on them. Or even pencils with bad words imprinted on them that will make you laugh when it’s time to write!

You should buy a white or silver pen too. In your correspondence journey, you’ll eventually come across a black envelope. Personally, I love black envelopes. But you’ll need a light colored pen to address them. Add one to your correspondence toolbox. You’ll be glad you did. The Uni Ball Signo white gel pen is my favorite.

Never lend your pen to anyone. Never let anyone else write with it. This is your pen, and you don’t have to share. If anyone complains, write them a letter and tell them to find their own holy grail pen. You know that pair of sewing scissors your mother or grandmother had? Treat your pen like that. Keep it in your correspondence toolbox or on your person. Slap anyone that reaches for it.

Hurdle 8: I hate my handwriting.

Stress about handwriting is a real thing. I still remember the B I received in handwriting class in 3rd grade. I hated my handwriting for a long time. Then, I met my fountain pen. Together, we glide through the world in a messy, artsy manner. I’ve come to love my handwriting for what it is – an extension of my messy, artsy personality. Perhaps you haven’t met your magical pen friend yet. Or perhaps you have, but still don’t love your handwriting. Take your time. Write out what you want to say first, then copy it down slowly and carefully. Worried about people not being able to decipher your cursive or chicken scratch? Sometimes I receive letters that are difficult to read, but I love them! The act of figuring it out is an adventure that feels like codebreaking. Everything is made to be so simple today. Texts and tweets are short and can be impersonal. I don’t mind doing a little extra work while reading, since the person on the other end spent their time and energy to write to me. I’ve talked to many people who are super concerned about their handwriting, but it turns out to be perfectly legible!

Be Kind To Yourself

Try some continuing education.

It’s kind of crazy that we study cursive in 3rd grade (or at least we used to – most schools no longer teach cursive!), but do no more learning about handwriting after that. I’m not asking you to have perfect penmanship that would earn you an A+ in 3rd grade. I’m just suggesting that we’d all do well with a little more practice.

Last year I started hosting a local hand lettering artist and calligrapher (Rosie from Songbird Paperie) at my shop to teach workshops in hand lettering. My favorite thing about her classes is that she’s not trying to mould each student into someone who writes exactly like her. She starts with each person writing the alphabet in their natural handwriting, and she gives them tools and styles to try that will make the most of what each student already has. If you’re in the Seattle area, I highly encourage you to join us for one of Rosie’s classes! If not, make a quick Google search to see if there are similar classes in hand lettering or calligraphy in your town. You don’t have to go back to school for your master’s degree in handwriting, and you don’t have to become an expert. But a few hours with a good teacher will give you tools and tricks to improve upon your handwriting. With some practice, practice, practice, you have the potential to make great strides. (And if you still hate your handwriting, scroll down a bit – you’ll love Postable.)

Blend technology and analog. You can purchase a typewriter and write your letters that way! Or if you’re not Tom Hanks, you can use whatever computer is nearby. You can print and mail a typed letter in a beautiful card, and it will have the same personal impact of a handwritten card. Maybe just draw a little happy stick figure friend inside the card so they know it’s really from you. Or if you have a significant other or friend with good handwriting, bribe them with something delicious to write your typed out letters by hand for you! Postable offers a service that allows you to type a short message and they’ll handle printing it in a card, stuffing, stamping, addressing and mailing it for you! You can also use the handy dandy address book function in your phone. There’s a snail mail address section right in there. I use it for my landlord. You could also use it for everyone you know.

Hurdle 9: I can’t live without spell check.

It’s good to plan ahead. Especially if you have something important to say. Type your letter up first, spell check, then commit to ink. There’s no shame in making preparations before you’re ready to put pen to paper. I’ll talk more later about snail mail superstar Charles Morrison, but for now I’ll just share his quote: “Don’t try to write a great letter.” Don’t get too worked up about your mistakes. Cross it out, make an edit, and keep moving forward. That’s the beauty of the written word. It’s imperfect. Let it be as human as you are.

Hurdle 10: I don’t know anyone’s address.

Use technology to simplify your life. I use a service called Postable to keep track of my friends and family’s addresses. Every holiday season or before I send a flurry of cards, I share a link on social media that people use to share their addresses with me. Postable keeps all of the addresses in one place, accessible online or from my phone when I need them. They even offer a service that allows you to type a short message and they’ll handle printing in a card, stuffing, stamping, addressing and mailing it for you! You can also use the handy dandy address book function in your phone. There’s a snail mail address section right in there. I use it for my landlord. You could also use it for everyone you know.

Hurdle 11: I don’t ever have stamps.

Stock up on forever stamps, they’ll never let you down. I want you to stroll over to the USPS website and take a look at the stamp options. Most post office locations only have a few options, but there are a ton more online! A couple times a year, I stock up on stamps of the “forever” variety. It sucks to spend your hard earned money, I get it. But when they feature famous works of art, awesome wildlife, or treasures of pop-culture, it hurts a little less. I like to get a sheet of each of the fun designs available so I have a lot to choose from. Stamps are like the Lisa Frank stickers of snail mail sending! (You can also buy Lisa Frank stickers if you want. Yes, she still makes them.) The main idea here is to stock up on stamps so you always have one at arm’s reach. Buy a few sheets of your favorite options and add them to your toolbox.

Hurdle 12: It’s annoying to take things to a mailbox.

Make it part of the habits of your life! Figure out which mailbox is closest to your house and walk your dog past it. Stick finished mail in your purse or work bag and drop it off in your office’s mailroom. Find a mailbox or post office near your workplace, grocery store, or chiropractor’s office. I promise you there is always a blue box close by, you just have to keep your eyes peeled for them.

Mailbox drawing

Hurdle 13: I can’t think of something to say.

Don’t overthink it. Or do. There are two ways you can go with this particular bit of training. Like arm day or leg day. Is this metaphor getting ridiculous?

Don’t overthink it: A birthday card just needs to say “happy birthday.” Is your friend going through a really difficult time? Sometimes less is more. You don’t need to craft the perfect sentiment. Just say “I care about you and I’m sorry things are hard right now” and leave it at that. Most of my card designs are 4bar size (the smallest you can send in the mail) because they don’t leave too much blank space on the inside. You don’t need to write an essay in a card. “I miss you” or “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” is enough.

Overthink it: Throughout your week, keep a note document open on your phone with ideas for letter topics. Saw a funny sign? Write it down. Heard a great podcast episode? Make note to share it. Want to talk about a great new movie but don’t want to share spoilers on Twitter? Write that super intelligent film critique in a letter! I like to keep a cache of inspirational quotes and short poems nearby for card sending purposes. I’ve also been known to draw ridiculous stick figure tableaus in a card. I like to send cards with shared memories or inside jokes. Here’s what I’m saying: If you have to overthink it, shoot for the stars. Plan ahead. Make notes. Keep a little letter writing ideas journal in your toolbox. Overthink the heck out of it. Just don’t let your overthinking keep you from putting pen to paper or keys to keyboard. You’ve got this!

Resources for Writing Prompts:

I wrote a very long, goofy list of ideas on my blog.

Paper Geek Club

Hurdle 14: I’m worried they don’t want to hear from me.

You couldn’t be more wrong. In the last few years I’ve been through some really difficult times. There were days of depression and anxiety that kept me in my house, feeling isolated and alone. Sometimes I don’t have the strength to reach out, but that doesn’t keep my friends from reaching in to show me love. During one especially difficult stretch, I received several cards, letters, and postcards in my mailbox. They felt like a cool breeze on a hot day – refreshing and joyful. I had to make a difficult cross country trip, and I brought all the pieces of snail mail with me. I carried them in my purse everywhere I went as a reminder that there are people in the world who love me enough to take time, effort, energy, and stamps to make me feel known and cared for. The people in your life want to hear from you. I promise.

Hurdle 15: I’m sad that no one ever writes back.

That’s totally a bummer, but it’s not the only reason that you write. Whether or not you ever receive a letter in return, your words of care and encouragement make a difference in other people’s lives. I wish I could promise that your journey of sending thoughtful mail will always be reciprocal. Most of the time it probably won’t be.

One of my snail mail heroes, a prolific letter writer named Charles Morrison, writes 3-4 letters every single day. He shared in his Creative Mornings talk that despite his impressive commitment to correspondence, he receives few letters in response. This breaks my heart. I’m lucky enough to receive letters from Charles, and I do my best to send him as many in return as I can. But I think Charles has a really good understanding of the importance of writing on our own personal development. Charles writes letters about topics he’s thinking about – like a journal that he shares with other people. His letters are thoughtful and interesting, and they set my mind off on important topics that wouldn’t have otherwise come up.

Sending a letter doesn’t have to be newsy or particularly purposeful. It can be a way to talk about things you care about and bring other people into the conversation. I believe that writing letters and cards is an act of self care. It causes us to step away from the manic pace of social media and digital life. Writing requires a quieting of the mind and the surroundings to bring clarity of thought. The physical act of writing connects us back to the movement of our own bodies. Using our handwriting, as messy or childlike as it may be, reminds us of our own uniqueness. Handwriting analysis, like fingerprints, is used to solve crimes! It’s uniquely yours, and it’s also a craft that can be improved upon throughout your life. It can serve as a reminder that you are a work in progress! Writing to someone else is an act of selfless love that draws us out of selfishness and toward empathy and kindness. So even if you never receive a letter in your own mailbox, sending them out into the world is a worthy pursuit for yourself.

That being said…be the one who writes back! Your correspondence toolbox is a great place to keep the cards and letters you receive so you don’t forget to respond to them. I like to keep all the mail I receive, but if you’re short on space, don’t stress. It’s easy to snap a quick photo of the letters you receive to keep in digital form. Or just let the card go! There’s no reason for guilt. Cards and letters are “ephemera” – things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. The moment of happiness they bring is enough. You can appreciate them and let them go.

The days of everyone sending letters out of obligation are gone. You don’t have to write to anyone. But the act of doing so – despite not needing to – will make that letter in their mailbox among the grocery store flyers, credit card offers, and electric bills will make the act feel extra special. Don’t let the hurdles be your excuses. Find creative solutions. Take action. Your words will spread love. And love is worth fighting for.

Hurdle 16: Anxiety? It’s a total jerk.

This is a topic I could write another several thousand words about. I’m working on a long term writing project on the topic of creativity and anxiety, so stay tuned. Just know that I see and understand how anxiety fits into the equation here. Do what you can, when you can.

I’d like to conclude this post on the merits of letter and card sending with an honest confession. Cards are my career, but I’m not perfect at sending them. All of the tips and tricks above are things that I’ve been working on implementing to make myself a better penpal. I have correspondence on my desk that I’m very late in responding to. I worry sometimes that I’m not saying the right thing. Sending mail is all about relationships, and relationships aren’t easy. We’re never going to do it all perfectly, but making an effort and reaching out imperfectly is worth it. If all my writing and designing and pontificating on the joys of snail mail accomplish their goal, it will be to bring people together.

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Author Bio

Sara McNally is the owner of Constellation & Co, a letterpress stationery company and brick & mortar gift shop. She is also a writer, fountain pen enthusiast, wife, mom, and soccer fan. She loves lighthouses, daffodils, taking walks near boats, and she drinks coffee like she’s getting paid for it. You can connect with Sara on InstagramYoutube or Facebook.

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