Postcards: What to write

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A regular postcard is around 4″ x 6″, with a dividing line in the middle to denominate where the address of the recipient should be, along with the postage and airmail sticker as needed. The lines on the right side of the dividing line show us where to write the address — although I usually ignore those.. To the left, there would be the caption or description of the photo on the reverse, and some space to write something.

With roughly 3″ x 3″ of space to work with, a lot of people still find themselves in a quandary about what to write in that post-it size space. And should you actually be working with a bigger card, like say, 5″ x 7″, that becomes even more daunting for some! So below are a few essentials and writing prompts, in case you are at a loss as to what to write..

Date your postcard. Whether you will write it or use a date stamp, you are doing the recipient a favor by giving them a sense of when you wrote whatever you will write. As a collector, I’ve been thrown off track by vintage postcards whose postmarks are not easily discernible, either because the original was not that good an imprint, or because time has caused part of it to fade.

Affix a return address label, or write your address in smaller print, somewhere on the far left. Do not make the mistake of affixing a label right next to your addressee, because sorting machines and the humans who sort will sometimes make the mistake of returning your postcard to you. I use many of the free address labels that are used for fund raisers here in the US, but trimming it to its absolute borders so it doesn’t occupy too much space. If you will print, do it in 8pt or less. If you will write it, make it smaller in print than the body of your dedication.

This will also help the recipient identify the actual sender– more so if you tend to sign with a scribble or you have a nondescript nickname unfamiliar to the recipient. You also cannot presume that you are the only John or Ces sending to that person, and you’d want him or her to know it was you.

Introduce yourself in 10-15 words. I always like to know who sent me the card even if it’s a random swap like those we do on Postcrossing. In my case, that would be “I’m a Filipina who moved to New York 20 years ago.” (10 words). If I have space, I mention that “I’ve been collecting postcards for almost 40 years now.” (+9 words). If I have the space, I will put my collecting interest next, or if I’m sending a card based on a collecting profile, I make reference to what I collect in common with the recipient.

Another relevant fact to mention would be your family or work. I sometimes mention I’m a mom to a 17 year old or that I have a 17 year old son. If you have pets, and you know the recipient has them or is collecting postcards of those animals, you can put it in as well.

Say something about what’s on the postcard. I usually send a postcard of Times Square which is, literally, a hop, skip and a jump away from my place of work — and I mention that. “Times Square is just a few blocks away from where I work and is walking distance.” If you’re sending a landmark or iconic tourist spot, explain it in one sentence. “Mayon Volcano is a few hours away from me, and is a perfect cone volcano we are all proud of.” If there is a caption describing the front of the postcard, no need.

Postcards available for trade/Seap
Mention something you know about the person’s country or location. More so if you’ve already visited that place or province. It makes a connection — and makes the card you send out more personal. For recipients in France, I always mention I collect postcards from there because Paris is my favorite city outside of the US, having visited twice. Or if it’s a destination that you’ve always wanted to visit, again, it makes it personal.

I always smile when I read that the person sending me the card has been to New York or has always wanted to visit New York. It makes the connection.

If you will mention the temperature, please indicate in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. Again, thinking about the recipient who might be on the Fahrenheit scale as compared to your Celsius or centigrade. You want him or her to appreciate how hot or how nice it is where you are.

Embellishments vs. more words? My preference is the latter. The washi tape and stickers are fun to assemble on a postcard as artistic expression, but the truth of the matter is, I like receiving meatier and wordier dedications. I like hearing about the person sending me the postcard, because for the most part, the postcard speaks for itself.

When you write me, I want to hear about who you are–

  • Are you a young postcard collector or like me, a golden girl who works and has a grown up son? Maybe you’re a stay at home mom or do you work and if you do, what do you do?
  • Do you live in the city or in the suburbs or a small town or village? (I have a personal curiosity about the latter..)
  • Where did you get this postcard?
  • Do you collect a specific category of cards?
  • Do you collect stamps? (I don’t but sometimes it explains the fancy stamps on the postcards.) Stamp collectors tend to be more deliberate about the stamps they use.
  • How is the weather where you are as you write — how is the season going?

Think of 3 words that would describe you and build on that. Mine would be

1) crafty, “I like to do crafts like crochet, jewelry, journaling and sewing.” ;

2) chocoholic, “I love chocolates! Do you?’ ;

3) blogger, “I blog at pinaynewyorker.com”.

Have a personal tag line that is self explanatory. Mine is “I am a perpetual tourist in NY.”

And if you are a postcrosser, don’t forget the Postcrossing ID!

I tend to write a lot into that little space even if I know it will be a one-time swap or send. It’s my way of sending a piece of me beyond the postcard that will carry my thoughts and words across the oceans. So next time you’re tempted to load on the stickers, try writing more than you usually do. Think of what you would want to receive and read if this postcard was being sent to you instead.

Don’t be scared of that empty space. The words will come and before you know it, you’ve filled up the entire card. I hope these postcard writing prompts help you to write with more ease, next time you find yourself sitting down to write on a postcard.

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