so where are all my letters? – a perspective


So here we are.  It’s mid-February and the annual question begins to arrive  ..if there are so many people on the list, how come my mailbox isn’t stuffed to overflowing??

This is a conundrum that has puzzled every participant at some time or another.  It seems so simple on the surface and yet the answer is as difficult as finding the glowing Philosophick Mercury.

In an attempt to sidestep mountebanks and charlatans of all stripes, we recently spent some time with a learned mathematician who shed some very clear light on why this might be the case (an empty letterbox).

Put quite simply, there is no way of knowing who will get what. And while it may seem pretty straight forward that a generous volume of mail should be cluttering up our post box; this can’t be assured by the number of participants.

In fact their response ran something along the line of  “Yah, it would seem to make sense (pause-beat-pause) but wait a minute  (pause again) there’s no way! There are way too many variables! The only way it’s going to happen is if you reduce the variables and then it’s up to whether you want everyone to get one letter or someone to get a lot of letters”.

They then went on to use a great deal of numbers to explain in detail the several legitimate ways you could increase your odds of getting mail. And for anyone vaguely familiar with this way of thinking, you’ll understand that it has to start with a perfect sphere in space. You’d then have to assign everyone who they wrote and who replied to what. All of this making us remember why people think science is no fun.

Knowing this would be a hard sell to people who love plunking handwritten letters in the mail we started pressing for a more practical approach.

It turns out as a modern social media, handwritten letters have their built-in algorithms too. Time tested and proven, they don’t rely on big data and only need a little patience, willingness and a big smile on your face.

And while the complex part of neural networking continues to evade the grasp of science, the hands of letter-writers possess very refined tools for dramatically increasing their odds of getting mail.

First of all –participate.

This simple fact is like actually purchasing a lottery ticket. Instantly your odds increase from zero. And  every day you write a letter seems to increase them too. Which explains why so many participants continue to write throughout the year. In fact, many of us have found the most rewarding months of incowrimo are May and April.

Write lot’s of letters.

Sometimes this isn’t possible, and one a day is our goal. But hey, no one’s going to stop you. A prolific persimmon eventually winds up in a happy grove.

Sometimes you just have to ask.

Obviously there is a right and wrong way to go about this, but it is OK to let people know you welcome a reply.  Even better, you can offer a reason. A question, a comment, or the chance to share is often a welcome invitation to someone who loves handwritten correspondence.

Offer an invitation.

Letting someone know you reply to any and all letters can open the door to an ongoing exchange of letters that will keep your mailbox full.

Reply to everyone.

When someone has taken time out of their day to write you a letter, taking a moment to respond with gratitude is not only the right thing to do but it also makes the world a better place to live in. No other form of social media allows for this in such an affirming and satisfying way. This is only one of the things that makes writing letters by hand so special.

And finally –Smile.

The more you smile, or even think of smiling, the more relaxed the world becomes  ..and the more relaxed, the better the chances that incowrimo will be a pleasurable success worth every bit of your effort.

None of the above guarantees an overflowing post box, nor a gratifying month of letter-writing but they dramatically increase your chances.

Always keep in mind what is easily the most seriously overlooked part of incowrimo involves letter-mail.

This is a process that takes gobs of time. Easing yourself into the idea that letters lack a one-click response can help set up your frame of mind.

Some letters can take six weeks or more to reach a destination and equally long to come back in reply. Your little missive may be making its way through snowstorms, gales, sunshine, typhoons, snarling traffic, harried airport security. Or languishing in bins and bureaucratic inefficiency. Handled by confused carriers and read by someone who may not share your sense of language or humour. It may take some time and thought before the person can write a response. And then it makes its return in a manner  similar to how it arrived.

This is truly a marvel of communication. And every bit you contribute makes it richer and more enjoyable so take heart, and pen in hand, enjoy the rest of the month. Happy writing everyone!


  1. sinistral51 says:

    I do not stress over the lack of incoming mail. I’m having a blasting writing to people, I think the fun part is to write a letter to someone new.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Diane Jones says:

    I’ve participated in mail exchanges at Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders. We say how many people we want to send a card to (almost all of the connections are international so the postage can get expensive). We then get matched and sent a list. This ensures that you get as many letters as you sent our. It feels pretty darn good.

    Another thought is that since this is my first year of incowrimo, I’m thinking back at all the people I’ve lost touch with and I’m writing to them. I’m using incowrimo as an introduction (excuse).

    As I look over the list, it’s hard for me to choose someone. I’m in my sixties and I don’t think 20-somethings want to hear from me. I can’t tell if some of the listings are male or female. I think we need a bit of information to go along with our names. Age, gender, where you’re from, what you do, and so on. I think it would help people choose.

    I’m happy to say that at half way through, I’ve received two letters from people on the list. Thank you!

    Diane Jones

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Diane Jones says:

    I too have a blast just writing the letters. I love a reason to pick a fountain pen, ink, and paper combination and watch the words flow onto the page. Even if I don’t get a response, I know that the person I wrote to had something different happen in their day. I think it makes a difference in the quality of our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Some of my best penpals have come about because I didn’t know much about them – little or no profile, age unknown, gender perhaps unknown. Just a name and address (e.g. from past February projects). You start with no prejudice (you might avoid writing to someone who supported a different sports team, or a different genre of music – could there be friendship between a Justin Bieber fan and an Iron Maiden fan, for example?). If you are concerned about gender, how does LGBT affect this? I’ve seen penpal adverts elsewhere only wanting the same gender because they are married.

    Through somewhere else, I was writing to a teenager – I thoroughly enjoyed her letters, but we lost touch now she is at university. I also write to people in their 60s and 70s. Several hobbies and interests can span the generations. I think it is good to communicate and be friends with people of all ages.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sandra says:

    I know what you’re saying, Diane, about not knowing much about the person, but I think that’s part of the fun, also. I have written to some people because they live somewhere I’m curious about, or because we have something in common or in response to letters they’ve written.

    These days I seem to notice so much discord in the world that boils down to people’s perceptions of who other people are based on their place of origin or their gender or age or beliefs; I think there’s something wonderful about just picking a name and writing. No matter who they are, I know that whoever I’m writing to is an individual, who is interested in writing and is interested in learning about other people. In these dark days this gives me hope! We all have something to share and something we can learn from one another.

    Having said all of this, I will drop you a line this week :)


  6. Bruce says:

    I have been lucky enough to have travelled a great deal from a young age onwards. One of the greatest gifts that was given to me early on was the advice and observation that in life “it’s important to understand that people are more the same than they are different”. I find this advice to be of real help in writing letters too.


  7. Diane Jones says:

    I wouldn’t like to be misunderstood in this discussion. I didn’t say that I wasn’t interested in different groups of people. I’m interested in everyone. I was talking about younger people not being interested in older people. This is my personal experience out in the real world now that I am older. I understand that this is a big topic for discussion. In this self-selected group of letter writers, however, I think there is open-mindedness about writing to all sorts of people. In response to Amy @Fairy_Foot, I don’t see how LGBTQA is any difficulty at all. I mentioned gender in a broad sense, not addressing sexual/romantic orientation. My experience is that I have a different sort of relationship with female pen pals than with male pen pals. Neither is better than the other; they are just different, in a similar way that my face-to-face relationships are different.


  8. Sandra says:

    I hear you, Diane, I hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression (or let you think that I’d gotten the wrong impression). You’re right, of course, I can only speak from my own point of view, that of a middle aged lady… :) I have yet to receive a letter from a male during InCoWriMo, and I know that my husband has mostly writing to other males…he wasn’t sure how a letter to a woman from a strange man might be perceived. This is our first InCoWriMo, so we’re playing it by ear and seeing what comes of it!


  9. Miss Oodles says:

    You make so many good points here! I love to think of where my letters might be, even the less sentimental bits like getting churned through machines and chucked carelessly into boxes and sacks like they’re just any old letters and not my lovingly handmade creations… 😂


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