How To Write Your First Letter To A New Pen Pal

John BosleyHow To 9 Comments

Writing letters can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding ways to use a fountain pen. It gives you a chance to choose a pen, ink and paper that highlights your personal preferences and write something that someone else gets to enjoy. The first time you sit down to write to someone new can be a little daunting, though. When you don’t yet know someone and aren’t sure what you have in common, a blank piece of paper is a very intimidating thing.

Over the years I have had many pen pals and have faced this first-letter dilemma often. I have also received quite a few first letters and know what I enjoy reading. Going off of my personal experiences, I want to offer this guide to writing your first letter to a new pen pal.

Choosing Your Pen, Ink and Paper

As with any type of writing, us fountain pen users get a lot of pleasure out of using our fountain pens. When writing a letter, you’ll want to think not only of yourself, but of the recipient of your letter as well. The actual pen that you use doesn’t really matter, as the reader of your letter can’t see the pen, but the nib choice will influence how your writing looks. Using an extra fine nib will look a lot different than a stub. Choosing a nib that works well with your writing style will help make your letter more attractive.

Choosing a nice ink is also important. The color and properties of your ink will affect the first impression your letter makes, as well as how easy it is to read. If you use an ink that has a very light color, it can be difficult to read. Similarly, if you use an ink that has extreme shading, it may be hard to read. With that being said, most inks will work just fine. Inks with extreme sheen are fun to look at, but be careful to avoid smearing.

first letter to a pen pal hard to read ink

The pink ink is very light and has a lot of shading, making it much harder to read than the red ink.

Finally, the paper that you choose to use for your letter matters. If you’re using an ink with sheen or shading, you’ll want to use a paper that accentuates those qualities. You may want to use a paper with a bit of decoration like the Life L Writing Paper or some texture like the G. Lalo Verge de France. You’ll also want to make sure you use the correct envelope size for the paper that you use so that you don’t have to fold the paper awkwardly.

first letter to a pen pal folded paper

Making sure you use paper that fits your envelopes will ensure you don’t have awkward folds.

Writing Your First Letter

Now that you have your pen, ink and paper picked out, it’s time to write! One think to keep in mind is that the person reading your letter has never see your handwriting before. You’re not writing a grocery list that only you are going to read, so be sure to slow down a bit and make sure your writing is legible. I can say from experience that it is very frustrating to receive a letter and struggle to read it.

Depending on where you found your new pen pal, you may or may not know if you have any common interests. If you know that you have common interests (like fountain pens), it makes it a lot easier to write your first letter since you already have something to talk about! If you don’t know anything about the person you’re writing to other than where they live, you’ll have a bit more difficulty with your first letter. Here are my suggestions for both scenarios.

If You Know You Have Common Interests

Sometimes you may know that you have common interests before you ever write a single word. If you met through a forum or group, be it fountain pens, plants, travel or anything else, then whatever the theme of the group is will be a common interest. This is important because you can dive in and talk shop with someone else who shares your passion.

In the case of fountain pens, my first letters to other fountain pen users have discussed the latest pens and inks I have purchased, how I started using fountain pens, the last pen show I attended and vintage pens. I am also sure to ask questions so that they have something to write back about. For example, I’ll ask if they’ve ever been to a pen show or if they have any vintage fountain pens. This can often spark a great conversation that can last for many letters.

If You Don’t Know If You Have Common Interests

Sometimes you don’t know if you have any common interests. If this is the case, I like to give a general description of who I am: where I live, what I do for a living and my hobbies. I also like to give some general tidbits of info that most people will relate to: the last vacation I took, what kind of food I enjoy, or favorite/recently read books. At a minimum, you know where the person lives, so if you’ve ever traveled there (or want to travel there), that could be something to talk about as well.

Again, you should make sure to ask questions and not just give information about yourself. This way people have prompts to write about in their letter to you. For example, if I was writing to someone who lives in Boston, I might say, “My brother lived in Boston for a few years. I was able to visit him and really enjoyed the city. We even got to go to a Red Sox game! Have you ever been to Denver before?” This opens up multiple responses: bragging about how awesome Boston is, talking about baseball, and whether they’ve been to Denver or not.

What To Expect In Return

One of the most exciting parts about having a pen pal is having a letter show up in your mailbox! In the first letter you receive back from your new pen pal, you should expect some mirroring of the letter you sent. It will typically have a brief intro of who your pen pal is, will answer questions you asked and then build on those by asking new questions or going into more detail on things that you have in common.

first letter to a pen pal beautiful handwriting

You never know what you’ll get when you open an envelope!

Sometimes you’ll know right away that you have common interests and it will be easy to have a conversation through the mail. Other times, you may get a sinking feeling and find that there isn’t any spark. If this is the case, I always write back and do the best that I can and see what they write back in their second letter. It may take a few letters to find a rhythm and figure out what to write about.

Sometimes the next letter never comes. Don’t be offended if this is the case. People don’t write pen pal “breakup” letters, they just stop writing. It happens to everyone and is nothing to take personally. You never know what is happening in someone else’s life and writing a letter to a stranger may be low on the list of priorities.

Get Creative

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your letters. I enjoy using a different pen and ink combination for each page. Of course, when writing to other fountain pen users, I note what pens and inks I am using so that the reader has that as a reference.

first letter to a pen pal multiple fountain pen inks

I always enjoy seeing multiple inks and pens used in a letter.

If you enjoy doodling, you can include small doodles on each page to make them more visually interesting. I have received many letters with stickers on the letter and fun decorations on the envelope as well. You can include small pieces of paper such as post cards from a recent vacation or a separate page with ink samples from new inks you’ve purchased.

first letter to a pen pal blue black ink

One of my pen pals sent a sample page of blue-black inks he had.

first letter to a pen pal fun envelope

Receiving a fun envelope in your mailbox will brighten up anyone’s day!

One of the more random and thought-provoking series of questions I was ever asked in a letter had to do with senses. They were spread across two letters and were, “What is your favorite sound?” and “What is your favorite smell?”. This could easily have continued with favorite taste, favorite thing to touch, and even favorite sight. Random, thought-provoking questions that are unique to everyone are always fun to ask and fascinating to have answered.

Wrapping Up

If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you know how hard it can be to walk up to a complete stranger and have a conversation. Writing your first letter to a new pen pal is so much easier than that. Sure, initially you’re mainly just talking about yourself, but due to the physical nature of both a handwritten letter and the time involved in sending and receiving letters, it isn’t self-centered, it is just a slow-motion conversation. The other person will write about themselves, answer some questions and ask some new questions. You’ll write back with a bit more of each and before you know it you’re writing to a new friend. Don’t let that first letter intimidate you. Sit down and write it today!

If you want to know which letter-writing papers I recommend, don’t miss my blog post about the papers I recommend for writing letters.

Comments 9

  1. Good advice about choosing ink color. My friends in my age bracket may have eyesight challenges as do I. Although I like an ink color such as Apache Sunset or Herbin’s Rouille D’Ancre, I don’t use those on letters as they don’t provide enough contrast on the page.
    I also like to buy commemorative stamps from the USPS to put on the envelope. I would like to use melted wax and a wax stamp, but don’t want to start a fire on my desk and drip wax all over the place. I need to practice in a safe place. In the meantime, I use gold toned stickers that I purchase from an office supply store. I’m not sure if a wax seal would be problematic for USPS in processing through their machinery.

    I often don’t get responses as it seems many people would rather bang out an email, but I keep writing. Writing a letter is a communication tool, but it is also an expression of myself, so I keep on writing.

    Thank you for your articles.

    1. Post

      Thanks, Joy. That’s a great point about eyesight in different age brackets. It’s very likely that pen pals will be in a different demographic than the writer.

      I have received quite a few letters with wax seals and, surprisingly, they hold up pretty well in the mail! Every once in a while one will be a bit smeared, but they have never broken or fallen off.

  2. John, I’m consistently blown away by the quality of your recent posts. You’ve picked a deep and really interesting topic, given genuinely helpful and thoughtful advice, and illustrated it with your usual amazing photos. Speaking as a fellow blogger, thanks for the huge amount of time I know these posts must take you. Keep up the great work. And maybe write me a letter one day 🙂

    1. Post

      Thank you for the kind words, Anthony. It means a lot coming from you, as I feel like you are always coming up with unique topics and well thought out blog posts as well. If I can track down your address, I’ll definitely write you a letter one of these days!

  3. I love this post. As a long time fan of crafted pens, I am new to the world of Fountain Pens. As such, i find myself searching endlessly for interesting content to help me dig into this rabbit hole. Like many, 2020 has influenced me in some dark ways, so I am hoping that moving forward, a return to all things Analogue will help me to move forward in a positive way. Writing letters with printed photographs to my friends and acquaintances is tops on my list, so this article hit home for me. Thank you!!

    1. Post

      Glenn, I’m glad to hear that you have discovered the world of fountain pens and hope that you are enjoying your time writing with analogue instruments. I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t be happy to receive a letter along with some printed photographs. What a great way to reach out to people in your life and let them know you’re thinking of them!

  4. Hi Joy, I always secure my letters with a colourful string, wrapped and tied around the folded letter. I then seal the string with sealing wax and my favourite seal. You don’t need to worry about starting a fire; the best way to handle sealing wax is to use a glue gun (for 7mm size sticks). Buy sticks instead of either the pellets or the wax sticks which have a wick. Using a gun is clean and safe with great results. Today’s sealing wax is much improved. It is now flexible and sort of “bends” and won’t break up when hit. When buying wax, be sure to buy the flexible wax; Etsy is a good source. Because I use string with my seal, I don’t want any trouble with the post office so I put the sealed letter into an envelop and I never put a seal on the outside of the envelop.

    Often, I receive an email in reply to my hand-written letter. I don’t mind. But, I’m kind of sad that the person will not know the joy of using a beautiful writing instrument with colourful inks on high quality paper. They won’t know the satisfaction of taking the time to make the penmanship pleasant to read and to put personal thoughts onto paper. And, finally to buy the stamps and then to put the letter into the post box, sending it on its way.

    But, they do get the joy of finding a real letter in their mail box!

  5. Hello John, I’ve never seen a pen enthusiast/reviewer/blogger write on this topic. This seems strange to me since the goal of owning a fountain pen is to use it for a good purpose – like communicating with another person. I have 2 pens which are in constant use. I love them for their beauty, practicality and style. I don’t collect pens – I write with them. Thanks for putting this practical and useful post on your blog!

    1. Post

      Hi Jesse, I guess it is strange that this isn’t a more popular topic amongst fountain pen users, but maybe, as you say, more people “collect” pens and don’t use them for writing letters. Either way, I’m glad you found this post and enjoyed it!

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