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[Guest Post] Why Seanan McGuire Mostly Sends Postcards

Today’s guest blogger is author Seanan McGuire, who lives in Northern California (for now) with two enormous blue cats, a large assortment of creepy dolls, and an unnerving number of books.  She writes things.  We aren’t sure she sleeps.

When I was little, I was obsessed with writing and receiving letters. I was a child before the dawn of email (I got my first email address when I was 14, and it was so exciting), but I had a typewriter, and I loved the idea that I could reach out and hear from someone on the other side of the world.

Then, when I was twelve years old, I wrote a letter to my favorite author. It was a labor of love; it said, several times, that I was twelve years old (and that he was my favorite author). Because I was twelve, I didn’t know that I needed to spell out the name of my home town in the return address. I lived in Pleasant Hill, California, at the time, and I always wrote “P.H., CA” and the zip code on the top corner of the envelope.

My favorite author wrote me back. His entire reply was him scolding me about forcing him to waste his time looking up my home town in his atlas, since apparently the zip code and abbreviation was not enough to get the letter to me.

I was twelve.*

I sort of soured on letters after that. I still enjoyed receiving them, but I was wary of sending them out, because what if I did something wrong? What if I made another mistake, and wasted someone else’s time? I became an increasingly poor correspondent. It was easier than risking error.

Then my grandmother sent me a postcard.

What was this mysterious gift? Why, it was a postcard. A colorful picture, suitable for hanging on the fridge or tacking to my bedroom wall, with a message written on the back. A mini-letter, requiring no reply—in fact, there could be no reply, because there was no return address. Gasp!

I went to the stationary store and bought a book of postcards as soon as I had a chance. I filled them out and sent them to people I thought would like them, people I thought would appreciate the pictures, people I thought might need a little pick-me-up. And they were delighted! Because everyone enjoys getting mail, and everyone likes a letter, but sometimes the feeling of obligation a letter can carry with it is more than people necessarily want.

I love postcards. I have a shelf of them, waiting to be filled out and sent to my dearest friends. I send postcards for all sorts of nonsense reasons, but mostly because everyone likes a letter, and no one likes to create an accidental obligation or waste anyone’s time. Best of all, postcards are an inherently limited medium: no matter how much time you spend on them, you know they can’t get longer than the available space.

Sometimes a little limitation is exactly what a person needs to pick up the pen.

seanan has cats
A picture of Seanan’s cats. Because.

(*Don’t do this. Just…just don’t. If he had included a note about spelling out the city in a reply that was largely about other things, like the contents of my letter, he might still be my favorite author today.)

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22 thoughts on “[Wayback Repost] Why do letters seem more daunting than email?”

  1. Having been a letter writer for several years now, I don’t particularly find this challenge all that difficult, other than remembering to do it every day instead of when the whim takes me to write. And since I may not have a penpal’s letter to answer, then I need to think outside my normal circle of penpals and write to others. I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with a few old penpals that had lapsed, family members that live outside of the city, friends I haven’t seen in a while, and strangers or persons of stature. I think it’s a great challenge and maybe it will even boost the joy of those who process all this mail and deliver it to us. 🙂

  2. I love your post. And I totally agree.

    Email, tweets n twitters, FB comments all have their place and moment in time where they are the appropriate way to respond.

    However, sending a letter, postcard, or notecard is the only way to connect with someone on a more personal, even intimate, level.

    The act of sending a missive does take time, but more importantly it takes thought. What paper will I use? What will I add (stickers, washi, etc.)? What will I say? Combined these choices will be a bright spot in someone’s day. Added bonus? It was created specifically for them.

  3. Great article on postcard apps but you should also take a look at Postsnap’s easy to use postcard app.
    The app offers a number of unique features compared to the other apps reviewed including:
    – Guest checkout with Apple Pay
    – Extensive personalization options including collage layouts, stylish borders which can be adjusted in size with a slider and the option to add editable text in a variety of font types and colors and position it anywhere on the cards
    – iPhone and iPad support
    – Apple Pencil support
    – Facebook and Instagram integration
    – US postal address verification and UK postcode lookup
    Cards are printed and posted in our facilities in the UK, USA and Australia on the same or next working day and so cards typically arrive quickly. Enjoy!
    Stephen Homer

  4. I have been writing letters for several years now. My go to paper is Rhodia Premium or Rhodia Ice pads. I also Life pads too. I like them because they are not quite as slick as the Rhodia.

  5. I too love journals to pull apart for writing. For me the most important aspect of the paper is the pattern. I love to have some colour and some design on the paper. I’ve managed to find a number of nice colours and designs at one of my local “Home Sense” discount stores in the book section. Most of the small journals are a perfect size to fit in the envelopes I use. If not I just give one edge a bit of a trim (but sometimes I really like the ripped edge look too!) ;P

  6. Hi, Christmas cards & more recently a letter (a bill) from the UK to Australia have taken 3 weeks to arrive. The exterior of these envelopes were stamped with a mark such as this from the latest envelope:
    DLC 992-4
    The example quoted arrived at the Australian address on 28/07/2017, unfortunately it contained a bill dated 06/07/2017 which had to be paid within 14 days, by 20/07/2017.
    Why is the post so slow? What does the DLC 992-4 stamp signify? Would appreciate your feedback.

  7. My letter that I wrote was in September. The person who it was for still hasn’t gotten it and it’s now November….
    I don’t understand why it’s taking this long. I live in AZ and he lives in NY. I want answers.

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