Friday, May 24, 2013

Eleven Ways to Shorten the Distance Between You & Your Pen-Pal (Guest Post by Nikki Derouin)

Hey folks! I had my sister Nikki write a guest post for us about how to be a better pen-pal. I love getting snail mail letters, don't you? Hope you enjoy this & maybe we'll see more of her writing in the future!

One of my best friends and I have been pen-pals for over 14 years.  A mutual friend thought Beth and I would be good friends and encouraged us to write.  Thankfully, we both loved writing real, pen-and-paper letters and unlike most long-distance friendships, this one stuck.  We still live over 1,500 miles away, and we still keep in touch.  It wasn't until 3 years ago that we reluctantly went to email over snail mail.  However, we still send random letters, just to keep the nostalgia of letters and stamps alive.  

Over the years I've kept up a pen-and-paper correspondence with several people.   Here are my Top 10 Tips {and a BONUS 11th tip} that I hope will help keep the snail-mail experience alive for you. 

1) Try not to be boring.

Enjoy the process of writing. Write like you talk. Find ways to bring humor to your writing. If you don't want your letter to sound like a list of things you did last week, write about how a certain situation made you FEEL. This will keep the letters from getting redundant. 

2) If all else fails, keep writing. 

Even if you think your letters are boring, keep writing. Even if you don't have a natural knack at being conversational, you still have something to give. I don't mind reading “boring” letters because there is still so much to glean and enjoy. 

3) Write in a journal like fashion.

My favorite letters to receive are the ones that take 4 pages and cover twice as many days. Sometimes seeing the stop and start of how a person corresponds is extremely revealing about their day-to-day life. If you can't dedicate a long amount of time, then write in short spurts, and date each time you change days. 

4) Be willing to learn more about writing.

There are so many books about letter writing. There a websites and classes. Look into these things. Recently, while trying to write a sympathy card, I started to wonder if I could express myself more sympathetically. I did a search and found a funeral home that had a specific page dedicated to writing sympathy notes. I was so grateful for the perspective that was offered. Take time to improve the way you communicate in writing.

5) Remember you don't live next door – be descriptive. 

This is especially true of international pen-pals. Yet, there are so many cultural and demographic differences even in the same country! Try to be aware of ways in which your writing could expand your pen pal’s perspective – if in no other way then mentioning the weather. Beth is already telling me of days that almost reach 90* while I'm still sitting here in wool socks and sweaters hoping it will get to 32* this afternoon! I love to imagine what it would feel like to be in the same place! 

6) Remember you don't live next door – put a little more into it. 

If you lived next door to your friend, you would most likely go out to coffee, bring over a dozen muffins or share something you read in a book or magazine. Value your pen pal as a friend, not as a letter. Try to find ways to make the letters personal or add a little something extra. This can be a simple as a tea bag, or a bookmark, or an article you clipped out of a magazine. Show your pen-pal that you thought of him or her outside of the letter and in your day-to-day life. 

7) Remember you don't live next door – be realistic about problems. 

This is not where I encourage you to be positive and not negative. Some of the most important letters I've ever received have been in response to a “negative” letter I've sent. Some of my pen-pals have helped me through the most difficult times in my life. A letter is a powerful tool! But be realistic. If the person is not fully aware of the situation, do not expect them to be fully sympathetic or fully capable of offering healthy and correct advice. But on the flipside, asking a close pen-pal for advice may be exactly what you need to do. He or she will be removed from the situation and may be able to offer clear-headed advice.

8) Don't assume the worst – write out of turn.

Pen pals take turns. I write, I get a letter, I write back. But life is crazy. Realize the other person has more priorities than just returning a letter. Every once and awhile write out of turn. Don't ask, “So, why haven't you written??” Just write a short little letter or postcard mentioning that you thought of them or had something to share. This will usually jump start their response and give them a good opportunity to write back. If you find that you are always writing out of turn, perhaps the other person is not a good letter writer and being pen pals is not their strong suit. If you enjoy the other person’s conversations, try another form of communication. If you have found little common ground, then perhaps you need another pen pal. But don't give up too soon!

9) Be encouraging.

This is where I say, “ don't be negative all the time”. Make sure that you are giving in this relationship and not just taking. Share something that encouraged you. Be uplifting. Be sincere, but be as positive as possible. I hold on to every. single. letter. And I'm amazed at how much strength I gain from these letters. I hope that the same can be said of the ones I have sent.

10) Motivate without harping. 

Like any friendship, you want to motivate the other person! Find ways to motivate each other. Beth and I both enjoy yarn crafts, and we will ask about each other’s projects … thankfully, she’s kind enough not to mention how many projects I’ve started and never finished. Yet, we still like to ask, motivate, and encourage each other to try new things and to finish what we've started!

BONUS TIP: 11) Do the same thing a thousand miles apart! 

One of the most fun and exciting parts of my friendship with Beth is our attempts to “do things together a thousand miles apart”. How? Well, we both took up jogging at the same time {part of the ‘motivate without harping’ tip} and found 5ks to run on the same day! Even if we had been at the exact same race, we would not have run side by side, but having this “run day” together was so motivational, fun, and just plain silly! She and I also take the same online classes. We encourage each other to do the assignments and we send pictures of our completed coursework. This year Beth and I set a goal to work on memorizing Scripture – we are memorizing the same book of the Bible and using the same memory program. I would never have kept up on my end without her motivation. Other ideas would be – working on the same type of project, listening to the same podcast, reading the same book, or watching the same movie. If at all possible, shorten the space between you and your pen-pal! :) 

I hope these tips will motivate you to keep up a correspondence the old fashion way – but with the blessing of modern technology. If you don't have a pen pal, write a letter to someone who needs encouragement or someone who would love to get a letter from you. It doesn't need to be fancy – it just needs to be heartfelt.

Nikki is an author, part-time babysitter, and full time crafter. She recently published a book for women called Singled Out, which you can purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or CBD.  


  1. Owch. Got stung in that one. Sorry I'm not better about writing. :'( great post though keep em coming!

    1. Hey... I think we all have fallen short on this one! I don't write nearly as much as I should!

  2. Karen, just wanted you to know that I have ALL your letters! :) And I've always known I could call you and ask for advice and encouragement - and I've been truly thankful for that lately!! ~Nikki

    1. Any time sweetie. I mean it. Btw I have a draft of an email for you just been busy.

  3. What a tremendous article! The talent of the author just shines through! I bet she is as adorable as she writes! What a pen pal!