Category Archives: Fun Things

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.

2017 LetterMo explanation cards

Several years ago, Tempest Bradford came up with these business cards to tuck into your correspondence. Here’s the updated 2017 version in a couple of formats. If you want to support the website, and don’t want to bother with the hassle of printing and cutting yourself, you can order them from the LetterMo store on Zazzle.

Or… You can download this PDF of the 2017 LetterMo cards and print them out yourself.

The 2017 LetterMo postcard

For 2017, I’ve got a brand-new postcard design for you AND it’s a small way to help support the site, which receives 10% of the sales.

You’ll also notice that I cleverly did NOT put the year on it this time, so you can reuse the card next year if you don’t send them all this year. One of the things I do with these is use the ability to customize it, and add my return address directly on the back of the card. It’s super-handy.

 

(Or, if you just want the card, and can’t afford to spend the money, here’s a pdf so you can print your own. Postcard 2017 pdf)

[Guest Post] Month of Letters Planning Calendar

Today’s guest blogger is LetterMo Community Member Elizabeth Janes, who is a big ol’ F&SF nerd. She needs to spend more time drawing, making jewelry and garden art, and cleaning house. She lives in upstate New York, mere minutes from the Massachusetts border.

I was lucky enough to stumble across Mary’s Month of Letters challenge in time to allow me to participate from the get-go. I look forward to the challenge every year, and though the LetterMo experience hasn’t yet transformed me into a model correspondent I do send more cards and letters throughout the year now than I did before. Thanks for the inspiration, Mary!

I’ve chosen to concentrate on writing to people within my small circle of friends, rather than signing up to find new pen pals; it’s way too easy for me to spend hours writing letters while neglecting waiting tasks of greater importance. But even given my short MoL address book, since my life isn’t what you’d call brimful of excitement (“utterly devoid of incident” probably wouldn’t be accurate, but it wouldn’t be that far off the mark, either) I usually wind up writing about the same things to more than one person. And I usually have a hard time remembering what I’ve written to whom.

To help me keep track, I’ve taken the idea of the LetterMo planning calendar and turned it into a record-keeping calendar. In the blank days at either end of the month I list the people I want to be sure to write to, with a box for checking off each person when their first piece of mail goes out. (I love boxes for checking.)

After I finish writing a card or letter, in the calendar’s day on which that item is sent I make brief notes on subjects covered, along with (because I can be somewhat obsessive) coded reminders on the type of mail: C for card, P for postcard, L for Letter, E for decorated envelope, A for a no-envelope sealed-with-wax Jane-Austen-style letter.

LetterMo calendar

On the back of the page there are lines for recording mail sent to people I don’t know (fan mail, constituent mail to elected representatives, praise or complaints to companies with which I’ve had good or bad experiences), and for keeping track of mail received. Because I’ve found that I’m apt to forget what the postcard rate is several times a month, and to help in making use of my small-denomination stamps, this year I tacked on a line of rate reminders.

By the end of the month the calendar is a scribbly mess, but it’s fun to be able to look back at mailings from previous years and remember writing about my runaway ink-sample-buying habit (curse/bless you, Goulet Pen Company!), or the day I locked both house and car keys inside the car with the engine running. (That provided subject matter for a six-postcard serial mailed over sequential days. I did write them all on a single day, but made sure to write and mail at least one additional piece each day to keep to the terms of the challenge.)

Sadly, my brief notes aren’t guaranteed to connect me to detailed memories. “Kirk/Spock never stuck next to loud talker or had to take selfies with Khan” probably made some kind of demented sense a year ago, but it’s a bafflement today.

Click here to download the 2016 planning calendar (PDF), which is invitingly empty. Print it out and have fun filling the days!

[Wayback Repost] Make Your Own Stamps (Or Grab Some LetterMo Stamps!)

This post was originally published on January 24, 2015. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

zazzle custom stampThe Month of Letters is nearly upon us! Time to make sure you have all your supplies–pens, stationery, stamps. I’m more pleased than I should be that the post office has Batman stamps available right now. But hey: Batman!

Of course, if I wanted a stamp with Batman on it I don’t have to rely on the USPS. It’s possible to make stamps with whatever image you desire via Zazzle.com. And while grabbing an image from a comic panel is probably frowned upon (copyright and all), it’s just fine to add an image of your own.

The Zazzle stamps come in multiple sizes, in first class and postcard denominations, and are fully sanctioned by the Postal Service. You don’t need a Zazzle shop to create custom stamps for your own use. You can either just upload your own image or start with a template and customize from there.

Zazzle also has a pretty extensive stamp shop with several designs and beautiful artwork that you can purchase as is, if you like how they look.

Month of Letters Stamp

And, if you’re so inclined, you can also purchase Month of Letters stamps from the LetterMo Zazzle Shop. Mary created them, and you can get a bunch of different sizes and values from postcard all the way up to Priority Mail.

If you order stamps right now you’ll have them in time to use for Month of Letters. Imagine how cool it will be for your letter recipients to get something in the mail that’s not only a treat on the inside, but personal and unique on the outside?

Zazzle isn’t the only place that lets you create custom stamps. Do you have experience with and like using another? Please share in the comments.