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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