How to Write a Letter a Little at a Time; or It’s Okay to Be a Slow Letter Writer

June 25, 2013 § 12 Comments

I recently received a letter from a dear friend.  She said she’d been meaning to get around to writing for months and noted, “I need some kind of Scribbling Glue post on how to write a little at a time.”


I started this post with a misleading statement.

When I said “recently received,” I actually meant “received and haven’t yet replied to.”

The letter in question arrived 57 days ago.

I know that casts doubt on my credibility to offer advice about being a more efficient letter writer.  Let me add to my dubious credentials by saying something that may be seen as letter writing heresy: it’s okay to be a letter writer who does not reply immediately.

A few weeks ago, PostMuse lamented:

I respectfully disagree — I ask you, who wouldn’t want to write to PostMuse after admiring her amazing orphaned postcard database?!  Besides, letter writers love to write letters.  And that feeling of guilt over a letter that sits and waits for attention?  We’ve been there, too, so we don’t mind waiting a bit for replies to arrive.  We write to share and to connect.  We write because we enjoy it, not because it’s an obligation.  Taking the time to contemplate a response or wait for creative inspiration is okay.*

Now–having fessed up to my own sometimes slowness and shown my solidarity with everyone who’s ever agonized over a letter languishing in the “reply to” pile–on to the requested post!

How to Write a Letter a Little at a Time

  1. Keep your pens, papers, and other necessaries easily accessible.  If you know you’re going to have to run around finding supplies before you can start, it might feel like too much work for just a little bit of writing.

    Portability is part of why this works for me.

    Portability is part of why this works for me.

  2. Make sure you have space to write.  My desk currently has a sewing machine sitting on it which renders it useless as a writing surface.  While I can (and do) write on the couch, sitting on the floor, and at the dining room table, clutter or other projects-in-progress can derail my intention to write.


    Lovely in its own right, but not conducive to letter writing.

  3. Find and make use of odd minutes here and there.  Before you check your email, fold the laundry, read your book, or put on a movie, write a little bit of your letter.  Even if you only get down the salutation and your first two sentences, you’ll have accomplished the goal of writing a little bit at a time.  Repeat regularly.
  4. Start, then start again, and again.  Eventually, you’ll find the rhythm of a little bit here and a little bit there that works best for you.

And now, I’m off to take my own advice.


* Are there letters that should be answered promptly?  Yes, of course.  Should you strive to send celebratory notes in advance of special occasions?  Absolutely.  But it’s also okay to cut yourself some slack when you fail to be a perfect and prompt correspondent.  Are there people who will be affronted at a slow response?  Sure.  As in any type of relationship, not every letter writer will mesh with every other one.  If a discrepancy in response time exists and distresses one party, it may be best to address it frankly and make a decision about whether or not to continue corresponding.  It’s nothing against either writer, just a gracious acknowledgement that the correspondence isn’t mutually agreeable for both people.


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§ 12 Responses to How to Write a Letter a Little at a Time; or It’s Okay to Be a Slow Letter Writer

  • Jackie says:

    I agree. I would rather wait and receive a letter which was written because they want to write, rather than one written out of obligation that contains little more than “Hi, how are you? I am fine. Weather is great.” I hope my pen friends feel the same way. I do feel guilty when I have letters waiting for a response but if I don’t have much to say or simply cannot get the words out, I let it wait. Unfortunately, I tend to reply to 5 or 6 at once and as a result my mailbox is empty for a while, instead of sending one here and there, spacing them out a bit. But I enjoy every single letter I receive and look forward to my mail delivery every day!

    • Annie says:

      Jackie, it’s great to know that I’m not alone in my feast or famine approach to letter-writing. Thanks to Scribbling Glue, I have come in contact with several people who write fantastic short letters, but I am not (not yet, at least) one of them, so I wait to have time and space and ideas for a few pages worth of lettering. May your mail delivery continue to be a delight!

  • orianahh says:

    Reblogged this on Oriana's Postal Network & Blog and commented:
    something for all of us to enjoy :)

  • […] How to Write a Letter a Little at a Time; or It’s Okay to Be a Slow Letter Writer ( […]

  • Lindsay says:

    Really hit home! Thank you!!! I’ve discovered that as my life gets filled more with family stuff, the other stuff seems to take longer to get around to doing…. not an excuse I know. That being said, I use a box that once held a wine, cheese and summer sausage assortment for my letter writing accoutrements. It has two locking clasps and a somewhat sturdy handle. This however, also means when it’s put away, it’s out of sight and hence, out of mind.

    • Annie says:

      The “out of sight, out of mind” scenario is a continued stumbling block for me (for all sorts of creative endeavors) and is the main reason my desk is often filled with various projects. I won a gorgeous little case from a giveaway the lovely Limner had during the winter. I originally thought I’d use it to store supplies, but realized that using it to hold love letters was a better fit for my style of creating things.

      As for life being full, I say just don’t let taking a while to get around to it make you think that it’s not worth writing or that it’s been too long. There’s no time limit on connecting with friends. :)

  • Gina Mitchican says:

    Fun post, thanks! I like the supplies caddy. I recently put my stuff in a drawer, which helps.

    • Annie says:

      You’re welcome! Thanks for the inspiration. ;)

      The supplies caddy works better some days than others, but it’s a good start for me because it strikes a workable balance between organization, accessibility, and functionality.

  • PostMuse says:

    I’m just catching up with my blog reading and want to thank you for this post. I really was feeling blue about the huge backlog of mail I have. My OPP mail doesn’t usually overwhelm me, mostly because it is postcard mail, which I can respond to very quickly. But the letters … I just can’t keep up. However, I have found a couple ideas that seem to be helping.

    First, what you say about having things out and ready is so very important. Storing letters in a box may be pretty, but, like Lindsay writes, the “out of sight, out of mind” does make it easy to let letters pile up. Last year I started adding incoming mail to a database that has a formula for keeping track of the days the letter has been in my possession. I use the database everyday (Google Doc) so I see those numbers go up. It doesn’t mean I’m responding any quicker, but at least the letter isn’t truly out of sight.

    And, I also annotate incoming letters when I first read them so that when I do respond, sometimes a month or so later, I remember what I first thought when I read something.

    Mostly I’m trying to not be so rigid in my writing habits. I’ve always been “first in, first out” and that is not working, no matter how much I want it to. Some letters are easier to respond to, and I am just going with that now. So far, that has alleviated some of my angst. Mind you, that has only been within the last couple weeks, so it remains to be seen if that will continue to work for me.

    • Annie says:

      You’re welcome, PostMuse. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I, too, struggle with the “first in, first out” approach. On one hand, it seems like the fair thing to do. On the other, as you say, some letters—due to subject, tone, sender, or the phase of the moon—inspire in a way that the response practically writes itself.

      I definitely bring bits of mental composition (and sometimes a “note to self” or two) with me when I sit down to write letters, but have never annotated while reading received letters for the first time. I’m going to try that technique! I’m intrigued by your description of the document you use to track mail. I might have to explore that idea, too.

      I’m glad you’ve hit on an approach that is working for you right now. I hope it continues to suit you, but if it doesn’t, don’t despair. You’ll find something else that works. I should’ve put flexibility on my list — it is such an important part of keeping letter writing (or, for that matter, most pursuits) enjoyable long term.

      Happy writing!

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