I started pen palling when I was an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital and was unable to communicate with friends any other way. Having mail delivered would make my day and I would spend hours writing, long detailed letters. It was my escape. Although that admission was a long time ago now, pen palling has remained a major part of my life. Through the amazing Facebook group ‘Positive Penpals’ I now write to other people all over the world, many of whom are also struggling or are in hospital.
Here is my beginner’s guide to Positive Pen palling:
Step 1 – Join a group!
One of the simplest ways to find pen pals is to join a Facebook group. As an admin of Positive Penpals (created by the lovely Chloe Cullen in 2016) we get lots of lovely people joining the group every week looking for people to write to. Although the majority of us are young females based in the UK and suffering from some kind of mental or physical health issue, we are an accepting group and anyone can join.
Once you’ve joined a group, you can begin by posting an introductory message. This is an example:
‘Hello everyone! I’m Rosie (20) from the UK. I love reading, blogging, and I suffer from BPD. I’m looking for some more pen pals – UK and female only please!’
You then wait for others to comment. Often comments come flooding in. Usually if you’re a first-timer others will write to you first, but sometimes they will ask you to. You can also ask to chat a bit on Messenger before you start writing.
Step 2 – Write your introductory letter
Although you can find lots of pretty writing paper and cards on the high street (check out Paperchase, Hobbycraft, The Range, The Works but also Pound shops!), you can also just use any plain paper. You can made this look fancy by creating a border with fancy tips, and writing ‘Dear *enter name* in italic font.
I usually start off my introductory letters in a similar fashion. They go something like this:
‘Hi *enter name*,
It’s lovely to meet you! Thank you so much for wanting to be pen pals. It’s my favourite hobby and distraction, I can’t wait to get to know you. How are you and what have you been up to recently?
I’ll let you know a bit about me!
- I’m 20 years old
- I study English at university
- I suffer from complex mental health problems
- I love reading books
- I have two sisters and a brother
Please tell me all about you and feel free to ask me any questions. Can’t wait to hear back from you.
I then make sure to add my address so that the recipient can write back to me without all the Facebook messenger hassle.
Step 3 – Decorate your letter
The basics for this could just be coloured pens or some doodles. Stickers are great (again, check out Paperchase!) and I also like to add sticky-notes with positive messages in. You can find all sorts of cool sticky notes in stationery shops, and they can be peeled off so the recipient can stick them somewhere else to remind them of the positive message.
Step 4 – Add some positive goodies!
The big thing about Positive Penpalling is that it’s more than just penpalling. We acknowledge that everyone is struggling and therefore, when we can, we like to send little bits too. This doesn’t have to be expensive and in my experience, hand-written quotes are the most thoughtful things sent in my letters.
Here are some things I like to send in my letters:
- Hand-made positivity quotes. Take a piece of card, put some washi tape along the bottom (or just a colouring pen border design) and write a positive message in nice handwriting.
- Printed off recovery quotes. You can save posi quotes from Tumblr, Pinterest or just Google and then print them off. I like to use Freeprints and also Aldi Prints.
- Pages from a colouring book. You can buy colouring books full of sheets for £1 in Pound land. Tear/cut them out and send them to your pen-pals!
- Pen pal tag. This is where you include a small piece of paper/note with questions for your pen pal to answer. For example ‘What’s your favourite movie?’.
- Stickers! Everyone loves to grow their sticker collection, and I frequently enjoy exchanging stickers with my pen-pals.
Step 5 – Seal your letter up and decorate the envelope
I have quite a distinctive way of decorating my envelopes. I like to put a strip of washi tape at the bottom of the envelope, and two strips over the folds on the back. Where the envelope is sealed I always write ‘Open with a smile’. On the front of the envelope I write the name of the recipient in a coloured pen, and then their address in normal biro. I then add a collection of stickers to the bottom right hand corner with the caption ‘Happy mail!’. Of course, everyone does this things differently. But coloured pens, washi tape and stickers certainly don’t go amiss!
Step 6 – Stamp up your letter and take it to the nearest post box
When taking pen palling seriously, it’s usually best to stick to Second Class stamps as things can get quite pricey. You can buy books of stamps from any post office and most supermarkets, card shops and book stores. Make sure that your letter isn’t too big or too thick before putting a stamp on, as there are restrictions which mean the other person could have to pay extra to receive your mail if you put on the wrong postage.
You can find your nearest post box here:
Have fun and happy pen palling!