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May I ask for your help supporting Month of Letters?

February 5, 2016 in Journal

Support a Month of Letters. (1)When I started Month of Letters, it was just a 2 rule challenge on my website. Now we have a vibrant community and over 7000 people participating. This is fantastic. It also means that the Challenge needs more infrastructure and people. Last year, I upgraded to a new site in order to handle the traffic. Now, I need more people. Currently, Month of Letters has two people running it. Me, and K. Tempest Bradford, who is our community manager. I need a webmaster.

Desperately.

You’ve probably noticed some things are wonky this year. So I’d like to ask for your help. I’ve made a Patreon page, which is a fundraiser that allows people to offer support on a regular basis. I want to be clear that Month of Letters is free, but if you want to help support the website I would really, really appreciate it. To put it really bluntly, maintaining the site at the bare minimum that it is now costs about $3000 per year, and that’s without a webmaster on staff. And then there are things I want to do, like:

  1. Making badges automatic
  2. Bringing quests back
  3. Building an app, so you can play on your phone
  4. Paying contributors
  5. Mail scholarships for people who want to play, but can’t afford stationary and stamps
  6. A penpal matching system

And I need help to do that. I’m the child of Depression era parents, so talking about money or asking for help does not come naturally. But this is a community. I would counsel a friend to ask that community for help, and so I am now asking you.

If you have questions, I’m happy to answer them. Meanwhile… here’s a sample of one of the rewards that comes with your patronage. Downloadable stationary that you can print out at home. Or I’ll send a thank you note. Or recipes. In the mail!

If you can help, please check out the Patreon page for Month of Letters

A month of Letters letterhead for Patreon

 

[Guest Post] The Little Tin Box – Ellen Kushner

February 5, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is author Ellen Kushner, who still has a shelf full of beautiful and quirky stationery she’s saving for special friends. She is the author of the Riverside series of novels and stories, beginning with Swordspoint, and now including the collaborative serial Tremontaine from Serial Box. Her bottomless need for constant communication with friends is horribly enabled by her accounts on Twitter and Facebook. She only pretends to understand Tumblr.

Tin Letter BoxI won’t be sending hand-written letters every day this month.

Because I’ve done my time.

When I met my best friend Kate at summer camp, I was 13; she was a wise and wonderful 11. I lived in Cleveland, she lived in Detroit – 3 hours apart by bus (and in those days, your parents let you go on a Greyhound by yourself for visits. . . Just sit up front near the driver, dear). We couldn’t talk on the phone much, because long distance was so expensive that we actually had to invent a special code: one placed a collect call to the other from Alfred Quigley Birnbaum, the (anti-)hero of a song I had written; the call would be refused, of course (because who wants to talk to that wastrel?), but then we’d know the other was home and wanted to talk for as long as our parents would let us.

And so we wrote. Letter after letter, pouring out our hearts about the miseries and small triumphs of junior high and then high school, about books we’d read and people we had crushes on and mystic dreams we’d had and how much we hated our parents, sketching velvet dresses with long, hanging sleeves, or the lutes and harps we’d buy if we had the dough. . . Kate was great at decorating the envelopes, too. Often I’d come home from a bad day at school to a beautiful letter from her, and take it up to the quiet of my room and read it, and then write back immediately. Of course, it took 2-3 days for my reply to reach her, and 2-3 more days for her response. But meanwhile, we were acquiring even more to write about!

In summers, all my high school friends and I must needs write to each other, as family vacations or jobs or camp took us away from the 24/7 anthill of communication that is the lives of teenage girls. When Linda went off to college a year ahead of the rest of us, she wrote of her strange and wonderful adventures there. And when I followed suit, I did the same.

After graduation, the letters flew thick and fast. Nobody had the money for long-distance phone calls, but there was so much happening, and so quickly your pen could barely keep up with it!

I hate the fact that I don’t know what any of my newer friends’ handwriting looks like. Handwriting was as much a part of my friends’ identity as their faces were–maybe more.

We all wanted to be writers. And so we began submitting manuscripts, short stories in manila envelopes, with the requisite SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) enclosed. Then the vigil over the mailbox began in earnest! Not only might that little tin box on the wall with all the others in the lobby of W. 110th Street contain the latest comfort from a friend, but it might. . . just might. . . not be your return envelope at all, but a slender white one with a magazine’s return address, your SASE no use to them because THEY WERE TAKING YOUR STORY!

And so, to this day I check my mailbox often. Even though the doorman in my New York apartment building insists–helpfully, he thinks–on informing me that the mailman hasn’t come yet, or that my wife Delia’s already been and brought it in.

He doesn’t understand. It might be something wonderful. Something life-changing!

Or at least, a letter from a friend.

[Guest Post] Kids and Snail Mail

February 4, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is LetterMo Community Member Sara Glassman, a bookseller, school librarian, jewelry maker, and passionate letter writer. She has a stationary and postcard addiction that she is not trying very hard to recover from. This is her third year participating in LetterMo. Be sure to check out her blog, Twitter, and Instagram.

The accepted wisdom nowadays is that the younger generation will probably never send a letter. They have texting, email, Snapchat, and Facebook messages. Do they even know what a stamp is?

Maybe it’s because I work as a librarian and a bookseller, but I never believe in the imminent destruction of the things I love like the postal service or physical books. And, luckily, my job seems to be bearing me out. I’m still selling plenty of books every day and I got to watch two classrooms full of students get genuinely excited about writing letters.

As my second job, I work as the librarian at local Montessori school. One of the annual student projects is to write thank you letters to their parents or guardians at Thanksgiving. This year I offered to come in and do a special presentation about the wonders of the mail. And almost forty kids were enthralled with the various artifacts I brought to show them.

I showed them my Letter Writers Alliance membership card, various stamps from my collection, and then I showed them all the things I had to decorate their envelopes.

Now, I am not very skilled at mail art, but I AM enthusiastic. I arrived with a basket of washi tape, a Spirograph with plenty of markers, and an assortment of wax seals.

"Maybe it’s because I work as a librarian and a bookseller, but I never believe in the imminent destruction of the things I love like the postal service or physical books." --Sara Glassman

And then I spent over an hour sealing letters while other students used the Spirograph or washi tape to do their own decorating. We discussed other people they might want to write letters to and the idea of starting up a Pen Pal club. We are now actively looking for another school the students can exchange letters with!

The kids were excited that they could use letters to express their creativity. There were choices they could make, not just about the content of the letters themselves, but about how they were presented. The idea that there were stamps beyond the basic flag stamp seemed like a revelation.

"The kids were excited that they could use letters to express their creativity. There were choices they could make, not just about the content of the letters themselves, but about how they were presented. The idea that there were stamps beyond the basic flag stamp seemed like a revelation." --Sara Glassman

The teachers and I were able to take a yearly assignment in writing a letter and turn it into an adventure. And it’s an adventure that many of the kids want to have again.The teachers and I were able to take a yearly assignment in writing a letter and turn it into an adventure. And it’s an adventure that many of the kids want to have again.

To make things even better, the letter writing lesson came with a song!

(To the tune of The Addams Family theme song)

The five parts of a letter
Are easy to remember
Heading, greeting, body,
Closing, signature

Parts of a letter (snap, snap)
Parts of a letter (snap, snap)
Parts of a letter, parts of a letter, parts of a letter (snap, snap)

If anyone is curious about the seals, the Stormtrooper seal came from MisterStamp on Etsy and the crossed quills seal came from the Letter Writers Alliance.

What is your favorite quote about writing letters?

February 3, 2016 in Journal

“All my life I have written letters - to our mother, our relatives, a wide circle of friends and acquaintance, to my husband, to you. Correspondence has always been as necessary to my happiness as a well-cooked dinner, and I've found it more sustaining for its generosity: an act of charity that returned to me a hundredfold...”  by Delia Sherman from The Porcelain Dove

[Wayback Repost] Do you save a copy of your letters?

February 3, 2016 in Journal

This post was originally published on February 6, 2014. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

One of the charms of writing letters and sending them off via snail mail is that it takes some time for the recipient to get your letter and for you to get one back. The difficult part of this for me is that I sometimes forget what I wrote to people all those weeks ago, and so I might not grok what they’re referring to right away. The solution is to make a copy of the letter and file it away, right? But then there’s all this paper everywhere and I am digital, baby. (Except when I’m writing letters…)

Lucky for me, there is a digital solution. How many of you use Evernote? I’m slowly getting into it, but millions of others can’t live without. One feature I do use regularly is Page Capture. With it you can snap a picture of a piece of paper with writing on it and save it as a note. Not so revolutionary, right? Any camera can do that. What makes Page Capture extra special is that it will look at the text on the page, translate it to digital text, then index it to make your captures searchable.

evernote page capture

This works with handwriting, and your handwriting doesn’t even have to be super neat. The neater it is the more words Evernote can recognize, of course. However, you might be surprised at how many words it picks up.

I don’t necessarily need Evernote to index the whole letter. I just like having a readable digital copy of my letters, all sorted neatly into folders by correspondent, so I can reference them later. This year I will probably save the letters I get as well just in case something happens to them or I decide to truly go all digital and eschew all paper forever.

This process works best if you have a well-lit area and can hold your smartphone steady for the shot. Since I do this a lot (I also save my journal pages) I use a $20 scanner box for the purpose. Check out an in-depth comparison between the scanbox I have and a more expensive one if you’re interested in purchasing. There are several examples, including one of handwriting.

Do you save a copy of the letters you send? How do you save them?

[Wayback Repost] Why do letters seem more daunting than email?

February 2, 2016 in Journal

This post was originally published in January of 2012. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

image source unknownOne of the things that I’ve found interesting in the response to the Month of Letters Challenge is the notion that mailing something everyday is too much. The idea that writing a letter, postcard, addressing socks… what have you, is somehow more difficult than other forms of communication.

How many tweets, status updates, and emails do you send in a day? I’ll grant that you do not need to look up an address for those. You do not need to  scrounge for paper, put a stamp on a page, or walk to the mail box. I grant that it is easier to click “Send” than any of those.

I suspect, however, that the physical is the smaller of the difficulties. Because the only personal things that come in the mail now are Things of Import, like wedding invitations or birth announcements, we’ve attached an unconscious weight to mail. If one is going to send a letter, then it seems like it should be something significant.

Not really.

I mean, that’s nice and all, but the significance is the connection and the fact that it is tangible proof that you thought about someone specific. Where a tweet expresses my thoughts about me, a postcard is for someone else.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a heavy social media user and I love twitter. This Month of Letters Challenge is not about dissing anything modern. It is about finding out what the archaic medium of postal mail is good for. Much the same way photography did not replace painting, but taught us what painting was uniquely good at, postal mail is good for something different than electronic communication.

Do you still feel daunted?

Then, let me put this into perspective for you.

  • A postcard is a slow tweet or status update.
  • A letter is a delayed blog post or an email.

It’s just that it is for an audience of one.

Welcome to the 2016 Month of Letters Challenge!

February 1, 2016 in Journal

This repeats the text of the challenge in graphic formAs we start off the fourth year of LetterMo, let me talk a bit about what I’ve learned about the Challenge.

It’s really not about getting letters, it’s about reaching out. A lot of folks sign up, hoping they’ll get mail. While that does happen, it’s ultimately not the goal of the challenge. The goal is to make a connection. If you get an email back, or a text, or a phone call, or a facebook/tweet/tumblr/thingie, then you’ve made a connection. That’s the important part.

An audience of one.  This month, I want you to slow down and really think about who you are writing to. So many other parts of our lives wind up being a performance because the internet (which I love) is a vast public space. Physical mail is intimate and designated for one person. Think about that person when you write.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. You know in December, when that first card arrives? There’s a moment of joy, because someone thought of you. The card maybe just has their signature, and it doesn’t matter that there’s not a fancy three page letter with perfect penmanship, because they thought about you. When the challenge says that you can send anything, we mean it. You’re mailing tangible proof that you thought about someone. That’s special enough.

It’s like time travel. No really, bear with me for a minute. When I write a letter, Present Me is writing to Future You. When you receive it, Present You is reading something from Past Me. So that means that what you are capturing with your mail is a specific, concrete moment in time. It’s okay to share the small details of that moment. For instance, as I’m writing this, my cat Sadie is curled up on the chair next to me. She’s snoring. I wish you could hear it, because it is adorable.

There is no wrong way. With the challenge a lot of people write to me. A LOT of people. I’ve seen things written in pencil on paper torn out of a notebook, letters typed on the computer and printed, incredibly gorgeous mail art, postcards with three words on them, and once, a pigeon. Every single one of those represents the moment when someone thought about me. I love them all. There’s no wrong way.  (I mean, besides the things that the federal government won’t allow you to mail. So don’t get arrested okay?)

Send mail to people who never get it. It’s tempting to just send to people who will answer you, but think about the folks who never get mail. Which brings me to the final thing, which is kind of weird. I’ll be here all month, writing along with you, but I have a favor. Don’t write to me this year. I know. It’s weird, right? Here’s the thing. I love getting your letters, but Rule 2 means that I have to respond to them. I realized that because of that, I’ve never had the real Month of Letters experience. This year, what I really want is to write to folks that probably aren’t going to write back to me, like my nephew and my aunt and my mentor and my friend with brain cancer and my favorite author and… you get the idea. BUT there a ton of people in the forums who want penpals. I get a lot of letters. Why not share the love and write to someone who doesn’t?

[Guest Post] Month of Letters Planning Calendar

January 31, 2016 in Fun Things, Journal

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] If my handwriting is terrible, can I still participate?

January 29, 2016 in Journal

This post was originally published on January 6, 2013. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

Yes!

I can assure you, with a great deal of confidence and a wide representative sample to choose from, that lousy handwriting is a) not unusual b) not nearly as bad as the writer thinks it is, and c) still welcome. Typed letters are also welcome. I get a number of those in which the only time a pen touches the paper is to sign the sheet. I still enjoy them.

The purpose of the Challenge isn’t to avoid the computer at all costs. It’s to slow down and give yourself permission to think about just one person at a time. Also, to hopefully seed your mailbox so you get mail in return, but that’s a bonus.

Join the Month of Letters Guild and Challenge on Habitica (HabitRPG)

January 28, 2016 in Journal

HabitRPGOne of the reasons the Month of Letters is such an engaging activity (besides the copious use of fountain pens) is the gamification elements. Quests, Badges, and Achievements are fun to do and acquire, and it’s very satisfying to see how each letter, postcard, or card gets you closer to a goal.

Gamification is proving to be an excellent way to get people motivated in many different arenas, including tackling the stuff on your To Do list and keeping up with daily tasks. This is why I find Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) so amazing. It helps me get stuff done and keeps me engaged by offering me little virtual rewards for keeping good habits.

A couple of years ago Month of Letters participant LaShawn Wanak wrote about how she used HabitRPG to keep on track with sending letter. This was such a good idea that I asked Mary to lead us to MoL/RPG glory again with a Month of Letters guild and challenge.

If you’re already signed up for Habitica, click this link to go directly to the guild and join. You’ll see the challenge there, too.

Not signed up for Habitica yet but interested in how this works? I’ll walk you through it. There’s in-depth information on how the site works here, and it’s a good idea to read that before you join. Guilds are kind of like forums–you join one and chat with other people around the same subject.

Once you’re in a guild, you can participate in the Challenges the group owner sets up. A challenge adds specific items to your task list. It can be a habit (something you should do regularly), a Daily (a thing you have to do every day or on certain days of the week), a To Do (one-off task), or a Reward (something that costs in-game money). The Month of Letters challenge adds just one Daily: Mail Something. It also adds two Habits: Mailed Additional Items and Replied to Mail.

At the end of the month the guild owner can declare someone the winner of the challenge, usually based on how well they did.

Even if you don’t win, the challenge items still give you experience points and help you level up, get new items, and more. Trust me, when you get your first little pet egg and hatch it, you’ll be hooked.

If you’re intrigued by all this, sign up today. It is free, after all. And you’re already challenging yourself this month. Why not get (even more) virtual rewards for it?

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