All posts by K. Tempest Bradford

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

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?

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

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?

[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.

Month of Letters 2016 and the Wayback Machine

February is almost upon us and the Month of Letters challenge is coming back for its fifth year! Wow. That’s a lot of letters and also quite a few blog posts.

Though blogs are eternal (one hopes, anyway), it’s easy for great posts published long ago to languish in the archive of time, not seen or appreciated as new and shiny posts come along. And over the years there have been many awesome posts on this blog.

This year we’re going to re-post some of our favorites alongside many new posts and guest blogs. You’ll be able to tell which posts are from the past as they’ll be marked [Wayback Repost] and have a special tag. You can still comment on these posts, pick up conversations from before, or give us new insights.

We hope you enjoy both the old and new posts coming your way and we’re very excited to see all the mail you’re going to send next month!

Best Postcard Apps For Smartphones

Though the Month of Letters is over I know for a fact that many of you taking this challenge will continue to send out letters and cards and postcards throughout the year. Maybe not so many as this month, but more now that you have the letter writing bug. For those of you who particularly enjoyed sending out postcards, I have one final post for you.

Last year I talked about how much I love being able to send custom postcards right from my smartphone. I still do, and I still use Touchnote to do so most of the time. When this year’s challenge rolled around I decided to try and determine if Touchnote is really the best app for this purpose. The cards cost $1.99 and come from Europe, so they take some time to arrive. Were there any worthy services doing it faster or cheaper?

Throughout this month I tested postcard apps to find the answer to that question. The answer? Not really.

mypostcard app

Touchnote is still one of the best smartphone postcard apps out there. The only one I like better is MyPostcard, which is not cheaper or faster.

How did I go about making this determination? I started with some basic culling. There are a little over a dozen apps and services that offer the ability to create and send a postcard from your phone using your own image. Before I started testing, I whittled the list down by eliminating apps that are iOS only (no app can be the best if it ignores Android) and those that have really low ratings and terrible reviews.

That left me with four contenders: MyPostcard, Popcarte, Postino, and Touchnote.

Next, I used the apps to create a postcard to see how easy or difficult the process was.

Postino had the most unintuitive interface of the four. No Back button, no guidance on whether you’d saved the text or image or address, and no help text at all. It also withheld key information from me until the very last step in the process: how to pay. Trying to send a postcard brings up an error message, yet gives no clear instructions on how to solve the problem (i.e. how you buy the postcard and postage). This process is too convoluted. Once you stumble through that the card finally gets sent.

When it arrived the postcard looked the same as the preview but the card stock was not as high quality as i’d hoped. Plus it took longer than stated. Postcards cost $1.99 to send one, but if you buy in bulk you get a slight discount. It’s not worth it.

The Popcarte interface is slightly better than Postino, but not by much. As you move through each step of setting up a card there is no easy way to go back and change an element. You have to keep hitting the Back button until you’re where you need to be. This was very frustrating because the preview of the card did not match how I positioned my image. Thinking it might just be a bug, I sent the postcard, anyway.

It arrived looking like the preview image–i.e. kind of jacked up. Not worth $1.99.

Touchnote has an intuitive interface that is well-designed and easy to navigate. I like that I can choose a picture from my gallery and Share it to Touchnote instead of starting from inside this app. Also like that there’s a generous character allotment for the message on your postcard. The only thing I don’t like is that I can’t choose a font face or size.

The card I sent arrived in the stated time frame and looked as I expected.

MyPostcard stands above the rest for several reasons. The first is that you can put multiple images on one postcard. Choose either one photo to fill the frame, three photos, or a six photo grid. When you type out your message you have 450 characters to work with, but when you’re done with text the app will warn you if the current font size means the whole message won’t fit. The app is easy to navigate. Postcards cost €1.99 and you can pay via PayPal.

The card arrived looking better than I thought it would and within the stated timeframe.

So there you have it. If you’d like to send postcards from your phone using your own images, Touchnote and MyPostcard are your best bets. I hope you enjoy doing so!

A Pen That Lasts Forever?

4.Ever Pininfarina Cambiano pen

Pen aficionados, this one is for you. Last year design firm Pininfarina unveiled a pen they claimed would last forever. First called the 4.Ever and now sold as either the Forever Pininfarina Cambiano or the Pininfarina Cambiano Everlasting Inkless Pen, this marvel of modern etching doesn’t require ink and is not made from graphite or any of the other usual materials.

Pininfarina, which is known for high-end car designs but does create other stuff as well, makes the tip of the pen from Ethergraph, a metal alloy. The marks it makes look more like pencil/graphite yet are as permanent as a pen. From the shape of the tip it looks like you have choice in line thickness. But no sharpening or changing the shape, apparently.

The pen itself is quite beautiful with walnut inlays and a grey or black aluminum body. At 39 grams it also appears to be a nice weight, though I haven’t touched it myself to judge the balance. Overall, it looks like the kind of upscale pen people regularly pay $100+ for, making the price of $119 (or 89 Euro) not at all out of line. From the pre-launch description I assumed it would cost a lot more (my guess was $3,000), if not because of the materials than because of the uniqueness factor.

If the claims are true, this pen will never run down or run out. I doubt any of us will be around long enough to judge if that’s true. Perhaps Pininfarina knows that it would take so long to wear down that you’ll be dead before it happens or they figure you’ll lose the pen.

Imagine what an heirloom this would make. Pass it down to your grandchildren along with your fountain pens and watch them marvel over old timey writing instruments.

I’m not quite as tempted by this as I am by some fountain pens because I’m a fan of glide and I’m not convinced this would glide the way I like. Still, considering the not-crazy-expensive price, I have a feeling that one of you may have one ready for next Month of Letters. Am I right? If you buy one, be sure to tell us all about it in the forums.

Have You Ever Written A Fan Letter?

Up until last year I hadn’t written an actual paper fan letter since I was a kid. And, if you must know, I sent it to Leonard Nimoy. Anyway, during the last Month of Letters I decided to write another fan letter to a cellist whose music I adore. I got a really lovely note in response that made my day.

This year I’ve sent and planned to send several more fan letters. Some to musicians, some to writers, and a couple of actors. I don’t expect a response from all of them, but I have high hopes that my letters will actually reach them. I’m not writing to anyone that famous.

TLC FanMail

Thanks to social media and the Internet, it’s actually rather easy to find direct or mostly direct digital contact info for artists. Snail mail addresses are a bit harder to come by from a search. In most cases you have to ask.

What I usually do is look for a contact form on a website or, as a last result, pinging on Twitter. I let he person in question know I’d like to send snail mail, I tell them about Month of Letters so they know why, and ask where they prefer to receive mail (such as through an agent, manager, publisher, etc.). Most of the people I’ve contacted got back to me with an address, usually for their agent or a PO Box.

Have you sent any fan letters in recent memory? Did you get a response back? I always wonder how often people get responses back from the actual person they wrote to and not just some assistant with a signature stamp.

Send It, Frame It

Just after Christmas, my aunt was putting away all of our decorations and gathering up the many cards we’d had out on display. One card in particular she set aside and said she intended to frame since the art on it was so beautiful. I agreed, and it got me thinking about the cards and postcards I send.

art cards
These are going in the mail soon

I send a lot of postcards from my smartphone since it’s easy to use services like Touchnote to create one with one of my photos on the back. (Later this month I’ll put up a post comparing all my favorite apps.) They’re often pictures of me or some cool thing I think the recipient will appreciate. They’re meant to be saveable on the fridge or in a photo album, for people who have such things (and for people who wish to look at pictures of me now and then).

I really like the idea of sending art worthy of a frame or at least displaying beyond that courtesy period most cards get. Such postcards and cards may be found in the usual places if you search thoroughly or stumble on a great gallery or poster store. If you don’t have anything like that near where you live, or the selection isn’t all that interesting, here are some suggestions for places to look online.

Ink Dragon by freeminds

DeviantArt has more beautiful art than one person could ever comb through in a lifetime. Even better, DeviantArt has a Print Shop. Artists opt in to allow people to buy their art in multiple formats, including as postcards and greeting cards. You can browse by subject or start at an artist’s page–just click the Prints tab at the top to see if they’re offering any of their pieces.

Other art print shops that do postcards and/or greeting cards: Society6, Redbubble, and Pomegranate (check out their 100 mystery postcard box!)

Printsagram will create blank inside greeting cards from your Instagram photos (or any of your photos through Print Studio). The card stock they use is lovely and you can write a short or long note depending on which size you choose.

Zazzle also has a custom postcard and greeting card (both traditional and big sizes) creation tool. You can upload any image from your computer for these, and the image will fill the whole front instead of just a square, as with the Printstagram ones.

I know some of you must have received some beautiful cards, postcards, and letters over the years. Have you ever kept them out for display long after the holiday or special occasion? Framed them? Share pictures in the comments or using the hashtag #LetterMo on your social network of choice. I’d love to see!


P.S. In case you’re wondering, the cards from the top image are: Santoro Eclectic Selection (hummingbird and tortoise) found at B&N, a National Geographic photo card, A is for Alice promo card for the Wonderland Alphabet (art by Janet K Lee), a postcard from the Susan Seddon Boulet Bestiary, and Fairy Tale Woman by Alethea Kontis.

Sharing the #LetterMo Love (And Your Favorite Stamps)

At the beginning of February I started keeping track of the #LetterMo and #InCoWriMo tags on Instagram because I love seeing the pictures of mail being sent out. I’m particularly impressed by those of you who make a crafts project out of mail and create and/or decorate your own envelopes and such. So amazing.

If you don’t know about the communities on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and the Forums here, you really should check them out. You’ll see some great pictures and stumble upon some interesting discussions. Plus more folks who might want to be your pen pal.

Below are some of my favorite images from the #lettermo hashtag to give you a taste of what you’re missing. Before we get to that, I have a request for those of you who are already participating.

Today through the weekend I’d like you to share pictures of your favorite stamps. Whether they are going on one of your letters or postcards or they’re a stamp you collected or a stamp used long ago and can find a picture of, I want to see them! Share using #lettermo on any social network you like.

adinamonsterktempestbradforddovbeedovbee
lostart_revivedspost2knowmrshungriaomnivoracious
brightparlormedusasjewelryadamihasegawadinoriot

And please keep sharing pictures of your letters, envelopes, packages, and feline helpers!

Reading Other People’s Letters

Good old letter to Luke Skywalker by Stéfan on Flickr
Good old letter to Luke Skywalker by Stéfan on Flickr

This past weekend NPR’s Code Switch ran a piece I wrote about letters and Black history that you all may find very interesting. In it I suggest several collected letters books, mainly by African Americans, and talk about different ways of understanding and exploring history. I find letters to be one of the most valuable.

Reading other people’s letters inspires me to make my own more eloquent and engaging. Plus, I was never a regular letter writer when I was young, so I find myself in need of great examples of how good letters flow.

The other side of the coin is that reading letters from fabulous people can be seriously intimidating. Could I ever write a letter as beautiful as some of Emily Dickinson’s? As passionate as Anais Nin’s? Yipes.

I have to look at it the way I look at my fiction. Becoming a great writer is just as much about writing and writing and writing some more as it is about reading, reading, and oh look more reading. Samuel Delany says that a writer can only write a book as good as the last book they read. Continually feeding my brain good books makes me better able to write one. Same with letters.

Beyond improving your letter game, there is something wonderfully delicious in reading the private words of a public person. Getting a glimpse into their inner selves. It’s a bit voyeuristic, and I feel no shame in indulging!

In my NPR piece I restricted myself to letters relevant to Black history, but when I first started I was thinking about collections of letters in general. I got several great suggestions for collections across the spectrum and wanted to highlight several that I like or were suggested to me. Since I couldn’t get them all in that piece, I’m sharing them here.

Add your own favorite letters and collections in the comments!