The Gift of Gratitude: Getting the Hang of Thank-You Notes

(A post in honor of Mary Robinette Kowal and the Month of Letters)

Dear Friends,

Here we are, about to launch another Month of Letters. For the first time, we are setting sail with a new captain (or two), and we owe a shipload of gratitude to Cooksterz and Ronda for taking the helm. But I want to dedicate this post to Mary Robinette Kowal, the one who built the boat and took us on as crew. It’s been a marvelous voyage so far and we’ll keep cruising through these Februaries, thanks to Mary, who is still providing us all with her support and the means to keep the site and community viable and vibrant.

~~~

My Great-Aunt Lillie was a champion of the thank-you note. She expected us to have one in the mail the moment her letter or parcel was relinquished to her local post office. And once she had received our cards, she wrote us thank-you notes for the thank-you notes we had sent to her. There are still a number of Aunt Lillies in this world, but for many of us, the thought of writing a thank-you note causes anxiety and cold sweats. It needn’t. The art of writing thank-you notes is an easy skill to acquire, and I am here to share the secret formula.

I think most of us want our letters of appreciation to sound gracious and heartfelt, but let’s face it — most thank-you notes are stilted and sound insincere.

Dear Tia Esperanza,

            Thank you for the nice socks.

Love,
Jose

We can do better, and without tearing out our hair. We don’t even have to use the words “thank you” — some people even maintain that one ought not employ them. The basic thank-you note has six parts that will result in a decent missive of gratitude that does not sound grasping, but does come off as thoughtful.

  • The date
  • The greeting
  • An initial expression of gratitude that does NOT include the words “thank you”
  • A comment on the object or act for which one must express thanks
  • A final expression of gratitude
  • An appropriate closing

That said, I should mention that my mother once received a one-word thank-you from a somewhat pretentious friend of the family that read merely, “Magnifiqué!” But generally, a thank-you message should go something like this:

 

Date

Dear Aunt Lillie,

I was so pleased to receive the letter you sent in response to my thank-you note. I am always amazed at how much family history you are able to pack into only five or six pages. The story about my grandfather was very amusing, and I am so happy that you shared it with me. I send this with

Love,
Ruth*

A slightly more formal example might read like this:

Stardate

Dear Mr. Kenobi,

Running into you in the desert the other day was a real delight. We should do it again soon. And I certainly was not expecting you to entrust my father’s old light saber to me. I can’t imagine a more meaningful gift. I’ve put it on the coffee table; it’s a real conversation starter.

R2 and C3PO send their regards and ask whether you will come for tea next Tuesday? Allow me to add my voice to theirs, and to say, once again, how pleased I am to have the saber. I am

Deeply grateful,
Luke Skywalker

One to a good friend can be more casual:

Sometime in the Recent Past

Dear Bruce,

I just had to dash off this note to tell you how much I love the shorts. Where did you find something so trendy with that artful distressed look? With the right suspenders, I’ll be able to wear them with everything.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at dinner this weekend. Tony says to ask if the Hulk will play on our team for the volleyball game.

Thanks again for the shorts. They’re just smashing.

Love,
Pepper

Remember that even if your note is short and follows a form, it can still be sincere. The point is to let the person who gave you the lurid socks or who wrote the glowing letter of recommendation for you know that you received the gift or are aware of the effort and appreciate the thought and time that was expended on your behalf. (It doesn’t matter whether you really appreciate the socks or not; while you are writing the note, you do.)

A final admonition regarding thank-you notes: unless you have a true disability that precludes holding a pen (and some of us do), thank-you notes should be written by hand, on paper, and sent through the mail. All the e-mails in the world will not take the place of a holograph missive composed in the most legible script the writer can muster. Handwriting still conveys a personal communication that nothing else can match.

So let’s practice. Take a moment and think of

  • Two people who have a
  • Relationship, and an
  • Object given by one to the other

For example: two guys, cousins, and an invitation:

Prehistory

Dear Noah,

Dude! You always have the best ideas for our family re-unions. A cruise sounds awesome, but the whole animal theme doesn’t work for me — my allergies to fur, dander, and hay are way too gnarly. But you have a great time and tell me about it when you get back. But I really appreciate the invite — I can always count on you to keep me afloat.

Don’t worry about me. I heard there are some killer waves coming our way, so I’ll be on my board, thinking of you stuck on that boat with the fam and critters. But, Dude, I am still, like,

Totally grateful,
Lamech III

(There’s a discussion about gratitude and thank-you letters here. Do share any good notes you compose, if you are comfortable doing so.)

Here’s another way to get some practice. On page fifty of Write Back Soon!** there’s an article entitled “Three Hundred Sixty-Five Thank Yous.” It tells about John Kralik who, at a low point in his life, spent a year writing a thank-you note every day and managed to turn his life around. I’m not suggesting that if we all write a note of gratitude every day that all our problems will miraculously melt away. But doing so will probably make us much better thank-you letter writers.

So here’s what I hope will be the first of many expressions of gratitude that I make during this Month of Letters, and my last offering in this post:

29 January 2018

Dear Mary,

I never foresaw how much the Month of Letters would come to mean to me. I’m not very good at keeping up with answering letters from Letter Monthers the rest of the year, but every February I feel connected to the world in a way that sustains me through the other eleven months. The Month of Letters community is an incredible gift that you gave us all, and I am proud to help continue what you started.

I also want to let you know that your courage and honesty about your depression have made it easier for me to be upfront about mine. That you were able to ask us to help you now when you need to take care of yourself is also admirably brave and I honor you for it. You are an inspiration in so many ways, and for that I am

Profoundly grateful,
Ruth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I should be clear that Aunt Lillie was one of my favourite relatives and I genuinely treasure the several letters I have from from her containing some very interesting perspectives on family history.

** Karen Benke, Write Back Soon! (Boston: Roost Books, 2015).

Ruth Feiertag is the owner of PenKnife Writing and Editorial Services (http://www.penknife-editing.net), the Senior Editor for Regal House Publishing (https://regalhousepublishing.com), and an independent scholar who writes about Medieval and Early Modern English Literature.

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.
    http://www.postsnap.com
    https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/postsnap-best-postcard-sending/id650814139?mt=8
    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
    Founder
    Postsnap

  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 love Tomoe River paper for letter writing. I buy 100 sheets at a time and print my own mermaid stationery. I found an envelope that I like and ordered a mermaid address stamp and finish it off with mermaid washi tape.

  6. 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

  7. 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
    14:55
    26/07/2017
    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.

  8. 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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