Writing a beautiful letter or Mother’s Day card with Naomi Bulger
In the run up to Mother’s Day we caught up with writer, illustrator and teacher of creative letter writing Naomi Bulger to find out what inspired her to start sending letters and to discover her tips for creating the perfect Mother’s Day card.
What first inspired you to start sending more cards and letters?
I started sending cards and letters as part of a fun project on my blog, but I don’t think I realised at first how special a letter can make somebody feel. As people began telling me what my letters meant to them, I discovered how powerful a tool a letter can be for spreading joy – to loved ones and strangers alike!
When faced with a blank card or piece of paper, people often don't know where to start. What tips would you give them?
I like to encourage people to start with a story, to take the pressure off. Do you know the movie You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, where she shares a little anecdote about seeing a butterfly on the subway? Stories like this are lovely in letters, sharing moments of your life with the reader: “Today on the way to work I saw…”
As Mother's Day is coming up, what advice would you give for creating a really special Mother's Day card, note or letter?
I think the very act of writing a card or note is lovely in itself, and one your mother is sure to appreciate. But while it’s special to say “I love you”, it’s even more so to say “I love you because you do this, say this, teach this…” So, for example, in your card or letter, you could:
- Recount something she once did or said that made you laugh
- Tell her about something she once said or did that made you feel loved
- Describe your favourite thing she cooks, and what you love about it
- Tell her something about her that you admire
- Remind her of a happy memory from holidays in your childhood
- Tell her something she taught you that you really appreciate
- Ask her about something she does, that you want her to teach you
Does creating a beautiful letter or card always take time or have you suggestions for something you can create if you are more rushed?
No, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time! (That said, even a five-minute card or letter is extra special because it is five minutes that you have dedicated to someone you love, versus the two seconds it takes to hit “like” on social media.) In just five minutes, you could:
- Decorate the envelope with washi tape, stickers or rubber stamps. A wax seal always looks fantastic and is so tactile
- Use colouring-in mail-art templates, where the design is done for you and all you need to do is add an address and colour it if you want to (I send these for free in my newsletter each month)
- Write your message on a postcard – it has less space so you won’t feel the need to pen an epistle
- Turn a photograph into a postcard (you can make these yourself if you have hard-copy photos by pasting one to some paper, or there are smart-phone apps that will do this for you, and even post them if you want them to)
- Slip in some inclusions to make your letter or card feel extra special: pressed flowers and leaves, found feathers, vintage stamps, cut-outs, recipe cards, a poem, a child’s drawing…
It's been shown in studies that both giving and receiving flowers brings joy and improves wellbeing – does letter writing have the same benefits?
Absolutely! There are all kinds of studies that show the psychological and health benefits of writing letters.
First, letter-writing is an exercise in mindfulness. The very fact that you are writing by hand slows you down and makes multi-tasking impossible, forcing you to be present in the moment and to give your attention to the person you’re writing to. Psychologists call this “reflective functioning” because we first feel the experience as we write it down, and then start to make sense of it as we read it back.
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of diaries and journals for this kind of reflective thinking and creative expression, particularly during difficult times in our lives. Letter-writing takes this one step forward, because of your intention in writing: to share how you feel about yourself, your relationship or your situation with someone else.
Moreover, scientists now link the habitual expression of gratitude with better moods, reduced stress, better sleep, improved health and the likelihood of showing kindness to others. But in order for these benefits to be experienced, the gratitude must be regularly written down, making a compelling case for writing a series of thank-you letters to Mum to show her you appreciate her.
Tell us about your Meals in the Mail project?
Meals in the Mail was such a fun project. I’ve always thought that recipes make lovely gifts to include with letters: they are lightweight, free, and can be deeply personal. Food shared between friends is always hyggelig, and sharing recipes by letter makes that possible across great distances: the food, the stories behind the food, even the person’s own handwriting create a lovely sense of communion… the feeling of cooking together in the kitchen, even if we are apart.
So I came up with the idea of inviting people to post me family recipes, alongside a few lines about what made them special. The plan was to gather all the recipes together and turn them into a booklet to post back to all the participants. I expected to receive around 20 recipes but instead got more than 250, from all over the world. There was every kind of recipe, and every kind of story: recipes that represented first love, beloved grandparents, cultural traditions and grand adventures. And most people took the trouble to decorate their letters or enclose ephemera – I even received original pages torn from handwritten recipe books and black-and-white photographs of family members.
There were so many recipes that it created a bit of a problem – far from the little booklet I had imagined, this would now be an enormous book of more than 250 recipes, stories and artwork. So it has become a longer-term goal (when I can work out how to make it affordable) and in the meantime I’ve started publishing the recipes and letters on a blog (naomiloves.com/meals-in-the-mail).
Why did you decide to create the e-course Your Beautiful Letter?
I launched my letter-writing and mail-art e-course last year, basically in response to questions I was asked all the time about writing letters. In particular, we cover four key areas: how to write a lovely letter (including the art of storytelling and beautiful stationery); how to make mail-art; the connection between letter-writing and slow living (and how to find time to write letters when life is busy); and all kinds of community aspects of letter-writing, like pen-pals and advocacy.
The course sold out in less than two weeks, and is now on its third intake. It’s super encouraging to me that more and more people are discovering the joy of writing letters – both for themselves and for the people to whom they write.