Part II of How to Start Your Own Letter Writing Group

Part II of How to Start Your Own Letter Writing Group

This is a recap of an interview with one of our Tampa Bay Letter Writers, Marilyn Zimmerman, who also started her own group in a fun and unusual way. We have been meeting virtually and in-person. Below is an audio transcript of Marilyn sharing with our group why and how she started the Leelanau Letter Writers. You can almost hear her speaking! We hope you find her story as captivating and inspiring as we do. We also hope you start your very own group and have as much fun as we both have. Thank you, Marilyn, for sharing your journey with us.

start a letter writing group

How I Started the Leelanau Letter Writers – By Marilyn Zimmerman

At the beginning of the pandemic, March of 2020, I took an online class and met Lynda.  Since we couldn't socialize during the pandemic (this, of course, was pre vaccine) it was wonderful to connect creatively. From Lynda I learned about zines and the Tampa Bay Letter Writers. In the Fall of 2020, I asked her to send me a zine she’d made that focused on things to do during the pandemic isolation so I could share it with a friend in Michigan, a visual artist who'd always been very close with her grandchildren and who was having a terrible time because she couldn’t spend time with them.  I’d also developed a fascination with zines and with the Tampa Bay Letter Writers; I just thought this was all kind of a cool.

During that time, I was dealing with a puzzling medical condition.   My doctors were sending biopsies to labs and, and before Lynda's zine came in the mail, I was diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma.  I was scheduled to go to the University of Michigan for more testing and at that point I had no idea whether I was going to live or die.  I was scared.  Besides that, I was also in a COVID funk, just tired of the whole situation.  One afternoon I went to the post office to pick up my mail. I was wearing a mask and I saw that there was a real letter in my post box from Lynda. And the envelope was decorated and it was wonderful. And I was thinking, “Oh, this is the zine for my friend, but I'm going to read it because the envelope's addressed to me” so I opened it.  And along with the zine there was a wonderful handwritten letter.  It could not have been better medicine for me. I literally stood in our tiny post office with tears in my eyes above my mask, because it felt like Lynda had reached across the miles and given me a big hug when I needed it. It was--I just can't tell you how it affected me. It was such a gift.

I immediately walked down the street to my friend’s bookstore and I said, “Pamela, what would you think if I started a letter writing group in Leelanau County?” (Pamela is a prolific letter writer). She said, “I think that's a wonderful idea.”

Lynda had told me that Tammy had filmed a YouTube video on starting a letter writing group; it was one of her, I think she calls them, Tea and Chat Videos.  Lynda suggested I watch it so I did.  One of the things Tammy said in the video is that you should decide why you want to start a letter writing group, what the purpose is.  And she talked about meetings and gatherings.  I knew from the start that I didn’t want to hold actual meetings because a) I didn't really have a place to hold a meeting, and b) I didn't want that responsibility.  I just wanted to encourage people to write letters.

I decided that my letter writing group would have a website where I could blog now and then.  And that I would send out zines periodically to people who were members, encouraging them to write letters.  I could have fun making the zines and include poetry and recipes and whatever.  I didn't want people to have to pay dues or fees. I also didn't want people to have to be a resident of Leelanau County to join.

There’s plenty water surrounding our county. In fact, Leelanau County has the second highest water-to-land ratio of any county in the United States. The first highest is Kewaunee County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where Isle Royal National Park is located.  We have some gorgeous islands in Lake Michigan that are part of Leelanau County.  Consequently, we have a lot of lighthouses in the county.  So I decided the logo should be a lighthouse. I went online and found that an artist had penned a lighthouse that had a pen nib instead of a light, which I thought was perfect. I emailed him and paid him $14 to use his artwork for nonprofit purposes. Then I had a stamp made and some stickers. And then I thought, well, now I have to do a website and, of course, I had no idea how to do that. So I called a friend who knew about website construction and said, “Can you give me a few tips on starting a website?” and he said, “Give me the information and I'll just do it.”  By the next day I had a domain name and a website.  Then I had some business cards printed, and the Leelanau Letter Writers was in business.

Then Pamela, who owns the bookstore, and is good friends with one of the editors of the county's newspaper, The Leelanau Enterprise, contacted her and suggested the paper do a story on the Leelanau Letter Writers.  I got a call from one of the paper’s reporters who interviewed me and wrote a half page article that was published in the Enterprise.  A lot of people that have summer homes in Leelanau County or vacation here regularly get the paper to keep up on what's going on here. After the article came out I started getting letters from people who wrote things like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so great. I want to join.  I can’t wait to write letters again.”  It was like people just needed this connection. 

I also decided I should join a couple of letter writing groups I’d been following to see what they were doing.  So I joined the Tampa Bay Letter Writers and a group in England called the Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society. (It cost five pounds to join and they sent me an actual certificate and I was something like member number 437 of this group, whose motto was When you feel like it, write a letter.)  I wrote to the woman who started the British group, whose name was Dinah, and told her about the Leelanau Letter Writers and that her group was part of my inspiration.  Dinah looked at my website, and then posted a link to it on her Facebook page.  Dinah’s Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society has a huge Facebook following so the response to her post was amazing. A lady from Australia emailed me and asked if she could join.  And a lady from England.  

In the meantime, I was putting up fliers in local post offices and libraries.  And I left my business cards in a few shops. There's a funky stationery shop and bookshop in Traverse City where I sometimes go to buy supplies, and I just really like this the vibe of this place, and it's not in the county, but I left some business cards there.  Soon a bunch of Traverse City people contacted me and asked to join.

After the vaccine came out and people could travel again, friends who worked in local shops would tell me that people would come in their stores and ask if they knew me.  These people were members of the Leelanau Letter Writers and, because I don’t have a current photo of myself on the website, they'd say they were hoping to run into me and say hello in person.  It felt a bit like Where’s Waldo?  One elderly woman who lives in New York but summers in Leelanau County wrote me and asked if we could have lunch.  I was reluctant.  I wanted to write letters but I didn’t want to have lunch.  However, I couldn't think of a gracious way of refusing her so I agreed and we met for lunch.  And we had a lovely time.  We connected immediately and she’s now one of my favorite people.

Another member is a local apple farmer along with her husband.  She would write and tell me I should come to the local farmers market and buy their apples. I'd be there today, if it weren't raining, and I wasn't here, but next Saturday, I'll go there and meet her in person.

When I send out a zine, I send that to everyone in the group.  Plus, anyone who joins the LLW has the option to join our Pen Pals.  It’s a subgroup of members and I periodically send out an updated list of everybody who’s a Pen Pal. 

I do all this because I remember that sense that I had when Lynda sent me what turned out to be a wonderful gift. And that first zine Lynda sent for me to give to my friend is still in my possession.  When I told my friend about it, she didn’t show much interest so I kept it.  It's a precious piece of communication I’ve saved.

I thought when the pandemic receded and the vaccine became available, people would lose interest in handwriting letters.  But I'm still getting calls or letters from people asking to join.  

The Leelanau Letter Writers now has 42 members and 21 Pen Pals. It's been such a good thing for me and for so many others.  So I say thank you to all of you, Tona especially, and Tammy who helped me start this wonderful group.

Learn all about the Leelanau Letter Writers and perhaps join their group!

Read all about Marilyn’s visit to us here in Tampa and see a Tampa Bay Letter Writers meet up:

The Paper Seahorse will sponsor your club's first meet up. We send you all the supplies to get your snail mail party started. Call or email us today! 

Read: Part I of How To Start A Letter Writing Group In Your Area.

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