the deep satisfaction of snail mail

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One of my favorite projects at Carrot Condo right now is my Customized Letters: two handwritten pages, both illustrated, and tucked into an envelope (also illustrated) and mailed once a month for five months.

So far, most of the letters have been purchased as a gift to someone. The customer tells me a little about the recipient: they like coffee, their non-profit work keeps them busy, they love books and the beach. Then, I write.

The recipient receives cheerful, fun mail each month and an excuse to put their feet up and read for a few minutes. No need to write back. All the fun of a pen pal without any of the obligation.

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What is not so simple to describe is how deeply satisfying these letters are for me to create. I have a real audience to write to (not a vaguely imagined editor), a real purpose (letter due February 5th), a prompt (he loves dogs), and a length limit. And, once the letter is created, I send it off. It’s not tucked away on a shelf or on my hard drive waiting around for a place and purpose.

Sometimes the illustration inspires what I write; sometimes the other way around, but the process always begins with looking at the recipient’s name, reviewing what I know about them, and just thinking about them for a few minutes before I start.

And except for one subscriber, I’ve never met any of the people I’m writing to.

A 70-year-old man named Tim Johnson recently wrote and mailed 108 handwritten letters in 108 days. He’s the first to come close to describing my experience (and I read four books about letter-writing before putting Customized Letters in my Etsy shop).

He says a lot of great things, but this was spot-on: “these letters demand more time, thought and effort than the typical email, but my reward is a sense of creative satisfaction as I come up with a soliloquy custom-made for a particular person.”

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Creative satisfaction, yes. And because each letter is unique and shared only with that recipient (the most anyone else sees are the pictures here), I don’t draw the same thing or tell the same story more than once, which gives me a rewarding creative challenge.

Fascinating how such a simple thing, a handwritten letter, can be so fulfilling. If you want to give it a try, egg press organizes a letter-writing challenge called write_on every April. Keep an eye on egg press’s blog for details. Taking part last year is what inspired my Customized Letters, and I plan to take part again this year.

Perhaps this Customized Letter project is only beginning …

Happy writing! (And, as always, thank you for reading and for your interest in Carrot Condo; I’m so glad you’re out there!)