Warm Fuzzy Feelings in a Letter

You meet someone interesting, in a very personal way. Things go well during the first conversation and by the end of the time you spend together he is finding little reasons to touch you. A pat on your arm, stroking your back while you stand at a traffic light and then the very lovely, gentle kiss at your door.

He phones to say he has to go out of town unexpectedly but asks that you contact him. Twice he repeats his phone number but says he can only be reached by mail until he gets back. He repeats the mailing address twice too and says how great it would be to hear from you and promises to write back.

So you write a letter. It is surprising how much you begin to enjoy it, like therapy to write to someone who was so kind and caring. You write more than you feel completely comfortable writing. some very personal things about your past. Things you wouldn’t likely have said in person until you really knew him a lot better. But, you mail the letter anyway.

After doubt sets in and you reconsider. Too late though. You can’t unmail a letter. Likely your letter with too much intimacy will scare him off. There is no reply, or phone call or email for several days, then a full week. Then, a letter!

What do you hope he will write? What would be the best reply you would get a warm and positive feeling from? Write the letter you would love to get in reply.

The Word You Use

Pick a word you don’t know. Find a dictionary (online or not), pick a letter and read down the lists of words until something unusual and unknown comes up.

Now write ad adventure for yourself based on the word you pick and it’s meaning. Make sure you use the word once and then write around it, showing the meaning so that no one reading your work would have to look up that word. Make the meaning clear through use of your story telling ability.

Query Letters

We’re writers, we know the words, so why is it so tough to write a query letter? Why do we second guess every word on that page? Why do we agonize over the punctuation, the grammar and the spelling? Why do we “just die” when we realize a typo was missed in our proofreading of that all important query letter?

Because we are bundles of self conflicted maniacs. Geez… I thought you had that figured out by now. Anyway, I thought it was time I wrote something about query letters. We know how important they are, giving prospective editors and publishers (clients) that vital first impression. Plus, of course, the actual idea you’re pitching them.

A query letter is a proposal, describing an article or book you would like to write for a particular publication or publisher. Queries should be kept short, a readable length, one page. A couple of paragraphs to sell the story, a line or two to actually ask for the sale and another paragraph to describe your qualifications.

If you get no reply after a month send a follow up letter. Of course, you kindly ask if they read your first query and remind them of the particulars. You know yourself how hard it is to catch up with an idea you brushed against a month ago. Keep that in mind as you write your follow up. Make a copy (or keep a copy) of your letter. You’ll sound foolish if you finally hear from the editor only you don’t remember what you queried about, exactly.

The basic elements of a query letter:

Start with something to catch their interest and make them read on. An anecdote, statistic or something you can enclose in the envelope along with the letter. Chances are you won’t have anything to send other than your words but if you can come up with something more go for it.

In a paragraph or two explain your idea, why you want to write about it, why their publication would be interested in publishing your article. Gear your idea to the market you have chosen. Of course, you have already spent time picking out your target market. Make sure you also get the editor’s name right (and spelling counts!) and the name of the publication. This would also be an important part of researching your market.

Draw them in with your special angle, slant or hook on the topic. It’s likely true that everything has already been written about at least once. So you need something new to say about it or say the old stuff in a new way. Show them how your slant is new and interesting. Let them know if you can include photographs or other illustrations to go along with your article.

If you have clips (copies of previously published articles) offer to send them. Remember, you’re selling yourself too. Add any other credentials that would help. Are you an expert in the field or have some related experience?

How many words will your planned article be? The editor will know how much space they can offer and you’ll have to work with that. But, start by giving them an idea of what you plan, how much content you can provide. Tell the editor what format you will be using- plain text email, Word document, double spaced, etc. Maybe these seem trivial things at the beginning but to someone working on filling space and keeping a layout they matter and make life easier.

If your query isn’t being emailed or faxed you need to send a SASE (self addressed, stamped envelope) for return mail. This is part courtesy and part hoping making a reply easier will make it happen sooner. We always have our wishful thinking, they can’t take that away from us. Also, make sure the editor accepts email queries, some people still don’t like or use email. Email queries should also have an email signature which sticks to the rules of email etiquette: not more than 4 lines or approximately 60 spaces wide. Please, don’t send an email where your return address shows up as “CutsiePie69”. Unless you’re writing about online chat or some such thing you want to project a professional image. That means no smilies too.

In the end sell yourself and don’t be too modest. What makes you the right writer for this job? How can you (especially) bring this story to life for their readers. Enclose your writer’s resume if you have one and it seems relevant enough.

Don’t forget the letter writing basics. Add your return address and the date to your letter. Start and finish your letter with salutations, something suitable, not too personal. Don’t forget to proofread and proofread without using spellcheck on your computer. Be meticulous, even down right nitpicky, check your spelling, punctuation, grammar and the typo factor. Don’t ever send a query letter you haven’t checked more than a few times and don’t ever write one when you’re too tired (or just not in the mood) to check it as well as you know you need to.

Letter Writing

When was the last time you wrote a letter? A real letter to a friend or family with news and other idle chatter? Letter writing is a skill. These days it’s becoming quaint, old-fashioned as email and typed notes take over.

There is a little formality to letter writing. You start with the date and then add a greeting. It’s easy to forget the date and it may not seem important when it’s a casual, personal letter. But, the date gives it relevance for when they read it later. Even now, it shows when you wrote the letter and how long it took to get through the mail.

The greeting is also known as the salutation. It’s a fancier word for hello. Standard salutations for letters start with Dear. But, that’s quite old now. I think even Emily Post would be ok with an update there. You could write Hello, just the person’s name or something else which would mean the same to the person you are writing to. After all, this isn’t a formal business letter, it’s allowed be personal, friendly and intimate.

The body of the letter is freewriting. Write news, updates about past news, how your day is going, what you’re thinking about, the town you live in, what you did on vacation, whatever comes to mind. Keep it in paragraph format. That just makes it easier to read. Everyone likes a break in reading now and then. Add a double space between paragraphs. Not everyone does this and it’s only become the standard since letters started being typed. But, I think it’s a very practical practice. The clever use of white space can only add to the presentation whether it’s a magazine layout, a website or a family newsletter.

At the end you sign off. This is a time to be really creative. You can wind down your letter with comments about hope you write back soon, hope you are well, how was your vacation, etc. Or this could all be included in the body. But, there should be some sort of wind down to the closing. Still, every letter ends with some version of good bye: “Take care, Laura” That is my standard close to a letter or an email. It’s polite, slightly formal and works for just about anyone I’m writing to. But, I don’t have to stick with that and either do you. Be informal, be memorable or just be personable, it’s up to you. Don’t forget to sign your name though. I once had a letter from a penpal who didn’t sign their name, didn’t mention who they were in the letter and didn’t add a return address to the outside of the envelope. I guessed who they were; the postage was a help since I was writing to people all over the world at that time.

So we come to the last part of writing a letter, the envelope. If you have used fancy stationary you may need to choose the best spot to write the addresses and stick the stamps. Some stationary doesn’t leave space in the right places. The post office likes everything done just the same for their machines to read the letters. This also gives your letter an edge in delivery time. If the machines can handle it all the way it goes through the system faster. If humans have to take over it will be delayed. Anyway, the standard is to put the stamps in the upper right corner, which I’m sure you know well by now. But, did you know they actually like the address and postal code on the low side? I’d usually write them in the middle of the envelope so that the whole address was centered. But, I found that the postal machines are set up to read lower on the envelope, they pick out the postal code and sort it that way. (At least that’s what I was told when I asked here, if someone works for the post office let me know if I’m mislead about this). Don’t forget a return address. You can write it across from the stamp on the front of your letter, the upper left corner. Or you can write it on the back of your letter where there is more space. However, if there is a chance your letter won’t reach your intended destination write the return address on the front. This makes it easier for the letter to be returned to you.

I feel like I’ve just written the Martha Stewart guide to writing a letter. Though this is simple stuff to most people I expect there are some people who have never written a personal letter. You’re missing out on something. Letter writing is a great way of keeping in touch with people and with yourself. When you write about yourself, your life and your feelings you let go of some things and hang onto others that are good. At times it’s like getting to know yourself. It’s therapeutic and it’s almost free.

Also, as writers, we can always use more writing to practice our skills with grammar, punctuation and spelling. More than that, we practice our skills with communicating in words. Letter writing gives you feedback in a way you miss out with writing articles, stories and such. People will reply to letters but you will seldom get feedback from any other writing you do. Another plus, letter writing feedback is tempered with good attitude and their comments about your grammar goofs will be meant well and given from a friend rather than a human dictionary who seems to just live to correct others. Don’t you hate people like that? (Not that I mind learning from my mistakes but spare me the attitude).

One other excellent thing I found about writing penpal letters was how much I learned about the world and the people in it. Other cultures, lifestyles and values are at your pen tip. I always think it’s a shame that some people cut themselves off from the world and live in a very small space inside their own head. There is so much out there in the world around us. Even if you never travel you can be an armchair traveler through your letters. Ask about things, find new ways of thinking, seeing and doing things. Make your life an expedition into the world, even if it’s only through the paper of your letters.

Cuold Tihs Bcemoe Ppoluar?

Here’s something for you to try…

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Amzanig!

Found in a blog: Michael Wood. Original credit to: JME.

Try it yourself. It will be hard to type that way, you’d have to think of each word as you spell it. It wouldn’t do to miss a letter or add one twice.

Anyway, I had no trouble reading that paragraph. It really is amazing.

Of course, it would make spellcheck obsolete. Your word processor would have fits checking all that. Grammar and punctuation would be the same. I think.

Also, it only works for words which are longer than 3 letters. You can’t scramble 3 letter words and leave the two end letters the same as usual. I noticed words like ‘keep’ can’t be scrambled cause the middle letters are the same already. Change them all you want, it stays the same.

Would it work as a secret code? Probably not, too easy to read. But it might keep them guessing awhile. Wondering what you’re really up to.

So, I don’t see much practical use for this idea. But, it is interesting.

Waht do you tinhk? Cuold tihs bcemoe ppoluar? It’s tkanig me aegs to tpye tihs. I dno’t hvae euognh ptaeicne to keep it up.

Proofreading is Boring

Proofreading is boring. If you’re a new writer I may as well give you the bad news now. It doesn’t get better with age. It’s boring even though I’ve been writing online for six years. It was boring when I began. Well, maybe not that first week when everything was new and wondrous.

Ugh! Why can’t we just get it right the first time? Is it some kind of brain blockage? Are our fingers not nimble enough? Do the words change so quickly that we can’t catch them fast enough? Is grammar really all it’s cracked up to be? I go with the nimble finger theory.

My fingers are complete klutzes. So often they aim for two keys at once. They miss the letter completely. Worst of all is when they think I mean ‘whole’ when I really meant to say ‘hole’. What’s wrong with fingers these days? I’d send them to school but I know they did that, I was right there with them, sort of watching over their shoulder. It didn’t seem to help. In fact, I remember crying over my fingers during a typing test in grade nine. We failed that course. It was the only one I didn’t pass that year. I blame my fingers.

There was that time when I had typed a whole essay for English class and my dratted fingers hit some strange key that deleted the whole thing. It wasn’t the delete key because that always gives you the chance to change your mind. I would have changed my mind, trust me! What can you do? We only get 10 fingers, no replacements, no warranties. Basically, you’re stuck with the fingers you’ve got.

So, proofread. Proofread till it hurts. Yes, it’s boring but you look like a fool if you can’t type. You see, everyone assumes the fingers are innocent and it’s YOU who can’t handle grammar or spelling. Yes, there’s the rub. No one ever assumes your fingers are the saboteurs.

Long Letter Ladies

    Long Letter Ladies (archived)

For women who like to write and read long pen pal letters. Sorted into age groups, not a new site/ group.

Welcome to Long Letter Ladies. This is a resource designed with the long letter lady in mind. Do you love long letters? Do people comment about how chatty you are? Do you often find yourself needing extra postage to send that bulky envelope in the mail? Do you type your letters because it is impossible for you to write without getting a hand cramp? Well if so, you are probably a long letter lady.

You’ve come to the right place! This page was designed exclusively for you – the adult long letter ladies. Sorry but no men are allowed and will be banished from the guestbooks. Usually women on these pages are married and are not seeking male penpals. It is truly nothing personal.

This site was designed originally in 1997 and has changed only in its appearance and not in its intent. It is still meant to bring together ladies from all over the world who have one thing in common: They love long letters. If you are seeking penpals, post an ad or come back often to see new penpal listings.