Thanks to Letter Moian Renée for writing this insider’s look into a starting up a club!
I’ve been a letter writer for a long time – more than a few decades. I was 11 when I wrote to my first pen pal. If I wasn’t writing to a pen pal, I was keeping a journal, which I consider to be nothing more than a letter to myself. I have experienced the benefits of letter writing that we all have read or heard about at one time or another. If you are reading this, chances are you have written a few letters in your lifetime and experienced and know the benefits too. And, if you ask around, you are not alone.
A couple of years ago, I started working from home and had more time to surf the internet. I discovered a variety of online pen pal organizations, stationery aficionados, pen clubs, and letter writing communities. The abundance of postings of images of letters being sent out and/or received made me gleeful to know I am part of a broader community of letter writers; so much so, that I wanted to know who in my immediate community is a fellow epistler, and could we have regular meetups much like any other social club?
There are numerous letter-writing societies around the world. If you are interested in finding a local society, check out the Directory of Letter Writing Societies’ website. The listings are by country and by state. You can also search on Meetup for a group near you. While I discovered there are many groups and all with a variety of agendas, there was nothing in Arizona. Hence, I decided to start my own society and named it the Arizona Correspondence Society, an organization whose mission is to facilitate the enrichment and deepening of human connections via handwritten letters. We received our nonprofit status in December of 2019.
And up till this March when we began following social distancing guidelines, we were pretty productive. We were holding two letter socials a month, facilitating letter writing at an elementary school, answered ‘Dear Santa’ letters, and held our first calligraphy workshop. We had plans to work with a local adult care center for letter socials, but for now, we are providing letter writing supplies for their use until we do have their first letter social. We have been fortunate to receive donations of letter supplies, fountain pens, and stamps which have kept the letter socials free. I maintain our website and our Instagram account to promote our events. Not all letter writing societies are nonprofits, but many are facilitated by businesses that specialize in writing supplies. There are plenty of community groups that are facilitated by neither, but all of the letter societies are facilitated by someone passionate about letters.
While we are uncertain when letter socials can take place again, the Arizona Correspondence Society will be ready when it becomes safe. Until then, letters will still be written and delivered, and letter socials may be happening online.
In the meantime, you may find yourself with some extra time to spend on research. So, drawing from my own experience, allow me to share the steps taken and lessons learned to start a local correspondence society. It is a long post, but if you want a successful group and events, you need to consider all the angles.
How to Start a Letter Writing Group
Find your squad, your posse, like-minded people:
I started posting on my Facebook page to get an estimate of how many people would be interested. I posted on my page and also various community pages such as neighborhood groups, women groups, fountain pen groups… you get the idea. I received a very positive response from letter writers and from those who were interested in starting the practice.
Set a date and time:
Here is where I made a big mistake. I queried those who responded to my posts regarding a date and time. The response was all over the calendar. Trying to figure out a date and time that would work for the majority just wasn’t happening. After a month of trying, I had to become the “PostMaster” and choose the time and date that worked best for me (especially since I was going to have to facilitate the group). If some people could not attend, I figured they could attend a future letter social.
Find a location:
Since I did not have a budget for this endeavor, and I wanted to make it as inexpensive as possible, I started calling libraries, local bookstores, and free community rooms. I was looking for a place where I could hold a meeting regularly. I learned that if you schedule far enough in advance, this was a possibility. I was lucky to find my local library had a community room available. My back up plan was to utilize a coffee shop or an eatery, but some places will expect you to order a minimum amount of food or drink – something to consider when choosing a location. Other things to take into consideration are travel time, public transit, and parking availability. Sometimes a location will dictate your time and date. You will have to be flexible. I choose time and date based on my schedule and the availability of the library room.
Publicize the Letter Social:
Publicizing really is the key to success, and there are many ways to go about it. I posted on all my social media accounts and then some. I sent out personal invites to everyone who had previously said they were interested and to some of my business acquaintances. I also did a bit of advertising at local stationery stores, libraries, coffee shops, and community calendars, as well as creating a Meetup group. Keep in mind that there is a cost to Meetup, but I was able to find a discount code to make it a bit more affordable. If you publicize blindly via all avenues, you don’t really know how many people will show up. That’s why, for the first two letter socials, I asked for RSVPs. While I wanted to be prepared for the potential stampede of people, truthfully, I figured for every ten people who said they would come, maybe one would show up. I received 10 RSVPs, and four showed up – not including the librarians that came in and out of the room. Once you’re established, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect for numbers, and then I don’t think it’s necessary to have an RSVP unless you have room restrictions. For example, if you are at a coffee shop or such, you are going to need to know how big a table to reserve.
Meeting fellow epistlers:
I always make sure that all attendees sign my address book. I will send them a snail mail and an email reminder of future socials. I always get questions as to what happens at letter socials. It is just a bunch of people who get together and write letters typically in silence. Every now and then, there is small talk about stationery, writing tools (we have someone who writes entire letters with a dip pen), where to find interesting postcards, and we all “ooh” and “ahh” over vintage stamps and washi tape. Some like to showcase their handwriting and envelope art. Every now and then, someone brings a typewriter for people to use, and we have jokingly said we will have a speed typing test at a future meeting. I may not get a chance to do a lot of letter writing at the socials. I make myself available to help anyone with letter writing prompts, or a letter recipient, or formatting an envelope. I will bring a few books to inspire letter writing.
Since we were at the library, I brought light snacks and bottled water. I also brought supplies for anyone in need of them. As a thank you for coming, I gave them a stamp for their first letter written at the social (something I do at every social). I am sure none of that was necessary, but I was taught to feed your guests. There was always someone offering to share their supplies too.
After a while, I noticed a general waning in new faces at the letter socials, so I took a break from the library scene to figure out what it was I was genuinely trying to obtain from this. I didn’t give up letter socials completely, as I held a “pop-up” letter social at coffee shops and eateries whenever I could. I considered it research. What I discovered was people enjoy receiving letters, and most think letter writing is a “cool” notion. But not many want to invest in the art form by purchasing supplies, or they just prefer the instant gratification of electronic communications. I have also discovered from the community letter socials that some people don’t know how to write a letter, or how to address an envelope, or didn’t have anyone to write to. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that letter writing might be a dying form of communication (yes, I said it).
If you have any questions, you can contact Renée here.
Perhaps in this time of social distancing and isolation, people will pick up the pen again. Instead of another Zoom meeting or hours of screen time, they will discover or rediscover the art of letter writing, whether it is to a friend or family member that could be far or near away, or perhaps some kind words to a senior that is socially isolated during this pandemic. Reach out to your local seniors centre or care facility to see if you can help by sending a letter.