Why you should be writing postcards: 8 forgotten reasons why they’ll always be better than email (and how to start today)

Sunflowers are the perfect thing to cheer someone up

The first postcard was sent by a dude to himself.

That was by an English gent named Theodore Hook in 1840.

But it wasn’t until an American, by the name of John P. Charlton, copyrighted the first American postcard (how American of him), that they really took off and became popular with collectors, known as deltiologists.

Since then our communications have become quicker than instant noodles and the value of each piece of communication has gone down.

I mean, how ofter do you print out and store an instant message on a bookshelf?

Gone are the days when only the privileged could read and write and afford precious things like paper or vellum.

Don’t get me wrong, access to learning and good literacy rates are a necessity for an equal opportunities society, but there are a few drawbacks of digital communication.

Like, we no longer think before we write.

And we’re swooshing off single letter messages without a second thought.

The one that incites instant fury in most people is ‘K’.

K? K what? The letter after J and before the letter L? JK stands for ‘just kidding’, so are you saying simply ‘kidding’? And what does that even mean when I asked if you want to meet at 3 pm? Or do you mean K as in potassium? Do you need some Special K in your breakfast? Or K as in K/O? You’re asking if you can knock me out and feed me to hungry sharks? Sharks has K in it.

My pet peeve is lulz.

Or rather its incorrect use. And that’s because I have Pakistani in-laws, who much like their Indian counterparts, don’t use this corruption of LOL correctly.

They simply use it to replace LOL, even though the two have different meanings. And once the first genius did that, then the rest of them took the formula for corruption and spread it to every 👏 other 👏 damn 👏 word.

And this results in me having to wade through line after line of illegible messages from aunties that read like they were written by horny teenagers, including “words” like ‘noooozzzz’, ‘plzzz’, ‘sooo butyzzz’ and ‘thanxx’.

The ironic twist with the abundance of communication options we have today is that it has resulted in a decline in actual communication skills.

SMS language is to the detriment of language overall.

Research designed to understand the effect of texting on language found that text messaging is negatively impacting people’s linguistic ability to interpret and accept new words.

It suggested that reading traditional print media – books, newspapers, magazines (remember those?) – exposes people to variety and creativity in language that isn’t found in the colloquial peer-to-peer texting.

Ergo: reading encourages flexibility in language.

And it raises your use and tolerance of new and different words and helps you to develop skills that allow you to generate interpretable readings of unusual words.

Not to mention that reading increases empathy, builds resistance to bullying and reduces crime!

Though this isn’t a one-to-one correlation; literate societies still have criminality. But the correlations are very real.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

– Neil Gaiman, Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

So, despite these quick and easy communication methods – or maybe because of them? – postcards are still one of the most thoughtful things you can send someone.

And I think we should all be writing postcards every chance we get!

1) Postcards show you care

An email only takes a few minutes to type out. And what do you get for it?

The most common length of an email response is just 5 words. Five!

Here’s your five word reply.

That’s it! That’s all you get.

And the quicker you get your reply, the shorter it tends to be.

Not to mention, that only 30% of emails are longer than 100 words. For reference, 100 words are about 1-2 paragraphs worth of text.

So, we’re not exactly talking about corresponding with J.R.R. Tolkien who, if you’ve ever read any of his works, really loves to describe things in minute and historical detail. I’ve yet to find anyone to rival him when it comes to writing about lore!

2) Cards are the perfect keepsake

When you make the effort to actually pen a card, it means something to the receiver. And, if you’re anything like me, you keep the cards you get.

I put them on shelves, use them as bookmarks, put them in notebooks and even frame the ones I love the most!

And as I receive new ones, I can easily rotate my collection of cards to change the mood of my decor. I also buy nice cards as mementos for myself, like I’ll grab a card from a museum gift shop to remind me of the exhibit I went to see, and every time I see the card, I remember how much I loved the experience.

When I see cards that were sent to me, it makes me smile to think that someone was thinking of me and wanted to wish me a happy summer or remembered my birthday.

3) Writing a card makes you stand out from the crowd

Back in the late 19th, early 20th century everyone was sending picture postcards. In addition to being a simple way to communicate with someone far away, they were fun to collect.

Personal handwritten notes grow rarer by the day. According to the U.S. Postal Service’s 2011 annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987.

A recent study indicated the average corporate email account sent or received more than 100 emails per day, and Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now send or receive nearly 100 texts per day.

So, believe me when I say that receiving a handwritten note is special.

Because nothing captures a moment like putting pen to paper.

When you want to stand out from the messages and emails flooding everyone’s lives, send a postcard. The uniqueness of the gesture will capture anyone’s attention.

4) You might get a postcard back!

There’s nothing like the delight of receiving an unexpected postcard in the mail.

Since cards have a limited space in which to write your message, you can’t write as much as you would in a letter. So, when you send off a postcard, you don’t send it with the expectation of getting something back.

Back when I was a kid, the only way to reach someone was to go to their house and ring the door or call them on the landline. If they didn’t pick up, you left a voicemail (if they had a machine).

It could take anywhere from hours to days for your queries to be answered – and that was okay! Life went on even without instant replies.

Today, that’s unimaginable.

Since technology has made it so easy to reach people, we now expect people to respond immediately. And take it as a personal slight if they don’t!

You’re expected to respond now, or at least soon, even if you’re busy at work, don’t feel like engaging or your phone’s dead. Because as soon as the status of the message turns from ‘delivered to ‘seen’, that countdown timer starts ticking down.

So, when you eventually do receive a postcard in the mail because you sent one out in the first place, it’s an unexpected joy!

You might even end up exchanging postcards on a regular-ish basis and as the years go by, you build up a personal library of correspondence.

5) You can use cards to chronicle your travels

When you travel, you can use postcards as a kind of travel journal. You can send cards to yourself or someone else when you reach a new destination or experience something memorable.

If you send them to yourself, you’ll have a whole colleciton of memories to look through after your trip is over.

And write a personal note, a few words about your experiences on your journey or describe the place you’re in, or something you want your future self to remember.

6) Relieve stress and make space for creativity

Take some time from rushing to complete items on your to do list to write a card.

You could create your own card to send, or if you’re not feeling artistic, simply journal a little on the back of a ready-made card.

As little as 45 minutes a day of focused creativity is enough to reduce stress.

Plus completing a small task like writing a card will give you a sense of achievement, which is especially great if you’ve still got lots of things undone.

7) It’s the perfect way to say ‘thank you’

Is there someone in your life that deserves a big thank you? Someone who works hard or maybe helped you out?

Letting someone know that you’re grateful for them and what they’ve done for you is important.

‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.

– Alice Walker

Instead of writing an email that will only drown in a crowded inbox anyway, make it much more intimate and personal by writing a card.

Since there’s only so much space on the back of it, your words will mean that much more to the person receiving them.

8) It’s a unique way to connect with someone

At the very least, a nice card with a personal message will make you stand out.

At its best, that little paper rectangle will cross time and space to connect you with the person receiving your card.

If they love it so much they’ll put it on display – such as on a bookshelf, on their desk or on the fridge – every time they see that card they’ll think of you and your message and the friendship that you share.

So, a well-chosen card is one of those gifts that just keep on giving – even well past the one time the recipient is surprised and delighted to receive something special in the mail.

If you aren’t sure what to write on your card, consider choosing one with a quote or inspirational message on the picture side. That way the main feature of the card is this beautiful message that you wanted to share with your friend and you can just write a simple greeting on the back!

I have several hand-lettered quotes on cards in my shop.

What to consider before you send your card

When you know the recipient well, choosing a card with a design they’ll appreciate should be easy. Think about the colours and imagery they appreciate when you’re looking for the perfect card.

You could choose a colour that they love or one that’ll sit well with the rest of their decor if you know that they’ll wish to display the card somewhere in their home.

If you’re looking for a card to use in a professional capacity, choose an understated card and favour a simpler design. Save the busy, hectic or sarcastic designs for your BFF.

When you want to send a card for a special occasion, think about the colours on the card as well. Obviously, you shouldn’t be a slave to this and choose a card that you feel is the best. Trust your instinct.

Before you start writing on the card, test your pen on a piece of paper first to make sure it’s writing well. And think about what you want to tell the other person.

Since the message has limited space, consider what’s the most important thing you wish to say. Opt for simple, direct language and try to avoid rambling.

Use a pen that writes easily so that you don’t end up pressing too hard and embossing the writing onto the picture side of the card.

How to write in a straight line on a postcard?

If you’re not confident of your handwriting and worry that the lines are going to start drooping down as you write, there are a few tricks you can use to make your writing straighter.

The easiest trick I like to use is a paper in a contrasting colour, usually the darker the better.

You just put the edge of the paper on top of your postcard and use it as a visual line for your eye to follow as you write.

Don’t use it as the “bottom” line on which to write upon, because that’ll give your letters a funny cut-off look on the bottom.

Place it a bit below where the bottom of your line is and use it as a visual guide. Just having it there as you write will give your eyes enough guidance to keep the line straight enough.

What to write on a postcard?

There’s obviously no need to have a big reason or special occasion to send a card to someone.

Here are a few general tips to consider when writing your postcard:

  1. Start with a greeting. Totes cash for friends, and a bit more formal in a professional context. When in doubt, go with a simple ‘hi’.
  2. Say why you’re writing. Let the recipient know why you’re thinking of them and why you’re sending this card. If you’ve picked a card that already says “Greetings from Greece!” on the picture side, you can skip right to the descriptive part of your message and describe your experience.
  3. Be more descriptive and add some detail. Add a thought about the other person or why you’re writing the card, a detail, comment or compliment to the receiver. Pick a real-life nugget, like “I tried your chicken pot pie recipe” or “I saw a lamp in the bazaar that would have been perfect for you if it wasn’t five feet tall!”.
  4. Reaffirm your relationship. Just a little reminder of why their friendship matters to you, “you make me smile” or “can’t imagine life without you” or anything in between.
  5. Repeat why you’re writing. Circling back to why you’re writing in the first place ties off your message neatly. You can repeat congratulations or your gratitude, or simply wish they have a happy day if it’s a special occasion like a birthday.
  6. Sign off. Sign it in whatever way feels right for you:
    • sincerely
    • yours
    • best wishes
    • love
    • xoxo
    • cheers
    • yours truly
    • wish you were here
    • your friend
    • warmly

Finish with your name (or your signature if the other person is familiar enough with you to recognise it), and you’re done!

The really great thing about the postcard is that you’re using this third piece, to make a connection between your and someone else, to remind them of a memory or create a new one.

See all the amazing cards I’ve got in my shop here.