Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011: a year in mail

Letter logs for 2011

I've been wanting to do this for ages now, and the start of a new year seems the perfect time to do it, so hear ye, read ye: I give you one heck of a massive blog post chock full of information on exactly how I keep my correspondence records, complete with monthly and yearly statistics at the end. (Beware, this may be a frightening glimpse into my quirky depths. But isn't that why we all read blogs anyway?)

Every day I record my mail, both incoming and outgoing. I haven't settled on a good name for the books yet; I refer to them as letter journals, mail logs, correspondence records, letter logs, and mailbooks, depending on my mood. I have come to favor the small lined Rhodia Webnotebooks for this task, for a variety of reasons: they're the perfect size for my needs, the paper takes fountain pen ink beautifully, they travel well, I like the weight and color... I could go on and on. Sometimes I think about switching it up, but for now I like this habit. Also, the month/year labels just fit on them so darn nicely.

I just started a new one recently, and I average about 4 months of mail per book. (I recommend Rhodia Webnotebooks from Goulet Pens and Jetpens; they do not endorse or sponsor me in any way, I am just a very satisfied customer of both fine online retailers.)

I record incoming and outgoing mail separately. For incoming, I do all the day's mail (or multiple days, if I've been away or - gasp! - so busy I can't make it to the mailbox) in one sitting, logging it as I read it. All received mail gets recorded with a Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen, refilled with Noodler's Heart of Darkness (black, black, very black and permanent) ink. Outgoing letters get logged as they're written, using the last color ink I used for the letter.

Letter journal / mail log

Here's a fair sample page with personal information blurred out. In the received section, I note the sender, location/US state or country (with Postcrossing ID if applicable; other notes, like swaps or misc info like background on the sender, I list on the facing page), postmark date or note illegible, item date or note undated, and postcards get listed first and noted as postcards.

A while back, I started satisfying some of my own curiosity with statistics. Nothing mathematically fancy here, just plain counting. It greatly facilitates my own tallies if I designate letters and postcards numerically by month. I did this all through 2011 for sent items by month, and it made counting the entire year's output exponentially simpler. In 2012 I shall do this for received items as well. That is what the designations before each entry, such as P29 or L14, mean. On this page, P29 is the 29th postcard and L14 is the 14th letter written in November. (One little statistical note, now that my etsy shop is a year old, too: although I write a note with every etsy order, I do not tally those in statistics or log them in my mailbook. They are not personal correspondence.)

So today I went through and counted them all manually. At times like this I wish I kept a fancier spreadsheet; it would be handy or at least interesting, for example, to find out how many things I sent domestically vs to foreign countries (that info is in my written records but I didn't tally it for this), or, perhaps more daunting, exactly how much money I spent on postage in a year. But I really enjoy the ritual of writing in a notebook filled with quality paper, using fountain pens or other fun writing instruments. It's a part of the process that I enjoy, and I would not enjoy keeping a spreadsheet nearly so much.

4 Rhodia Webbies: correspondence journals for 2011

Enough nattering. Here are the numbers by month. Because I noted letters and postcards separately as I sent them, but not received them, they are broken out thusly as follows:

January 2011
Sent: 39 letters, 48 postcards = 87
Received: 71

February 2011
Sent: 37 letters, 39 postcards = 76
Received: 69

March 2011
Sent: 32 letters, 56 postcards = 88
Received: 74

April 2011
Sent: 39 letters, 56 postcards = 95
Received: 83

May 2011
Sent: 20 letters, 46 postcards = 66
Received: 88

June 2011
Sent: 48 letters, 104 postcards = 152
Received: 120

July 2011
Sent: 36 letters, 83 postcards = 119
Received: 126

August 2011
Sent: 32 letters, 75 postcards = 107
Received: 147

September 2011
Sent: 18 letters, 45 postcards = 63
Received: 92

October 2011
Sent: 12 letters, 50 postcards = 62
Received: 89

November 2011
Sent: 20 letters, 51 postcards = 71
Received: 53

December 2011
Sent: 44 letters, 41 postcards = 85
Received: 69

SENT TOTAL: 377 letters, 694 postcards / 1071 total

Letter journals for 2011

Postcrossing is also great about emailing monthly and yearly stats. I am not including those numbers in the monthly totals, because Postcrossing doesn't count a postcards as "sent" until it is registered, and it could be registered a month or even two after I sent it. But the yearly totals are fun, so I'll note that of the totals listed above, 326 of the sent items and 333 of the received items were Postcrossing postcards.

If you'll permit me some more characters (in an already lengthy post) of reflection, I have to note that I'm fairly cheered that my sent total is only slightly behind my received for the year. I am many months behind in responding to mail I've received, and I dare not even count the numbers in my current "needs response" (NR) pile, but the total of letters and postcards in that daunting NR pile always seems to hover around 100 or so, dating back for those many months. I don't stay on top of it by any means (obviously!), but I try to keep up a steady stream. And an average of nearly 3 mail items sent per day, with at least one of them a letter, is pretty respectable for me and my crazy schedule; it's what I'd hoped I'd achieved, and I'm pleased and proud that I have managed it. You can tell a lot about my schedule by the month's outgoing tallies; I'm a bit surprised, though, because I always feel the busiest in the winter months, but the lowest outgoing months were actually September, October, and May. Those are also busy months for me, and this year was especially skewed since I got very sick in October and did far less mail than usual that month.

2011: a year in mail

Blah, blah, blah. Numbers are fun, but I hope I can maintain some credibility, after spouting all those figures, when I attest that the spirit of my postal journey is far more about quality than quantity. Postcards do tend to be quicker than letters, but for those items contained in an envelope, I may spend 10 minutes on one or I may spend 6 hours. At the end of the day and the end of the year, I am very happy with the year in mail for 2011. I wish I weren't so behind, but I've been behind for two years now and I doubt I'll catch up anytime soon, so I've given up worrying about that too much.

I'll also err on the side of being a little preachy and note that the months of and following my most productive send numbers were also the richest in received numbers. Here you go, folks, numerical proof: to get a letter, send a letter!

2011: the mail logs

This post has become more loquacious than I ever intended, but I guess some of my favorite posts end up that way. Thanks for bearing with me. It's been a great mail year, full of postal joy and fulfillment... what about you? Was 2011 a good mail year for you, too?


  1. Wow thank you for posting all of that and you have now given me something else I will think about starting in the future mail logs :) but this year is going to the year of getting back into ballroom dance so perhaps maillogs will be a 2013 goal for me :)

    I had a pretty good year in 2011 I felt, despite not sending any mail at all in Jan due to being sick I sent 830 bits of mail, now I did not do a nice neat split of post cards to letters like you but I think they will be close to even as I like to try to keep them that way.

    I do agree and love your proof of Sending a letter to get a letter :)

  2. What a lovely post of numbers! Thanks for sharing your process for recording correspondence. I think I'm going to adopt some of your methods for tracking and classifying mail.

    2011 was the year I returned to letter-writng with renewed energy. (Not that it had gone completely by the wayside, but 3-1/2 years of graduate school put a damper on non-academic writing of all sorts.) I also dug out my own correspondence log, which I hadn't been keeping up, and started blogging about letter-writing. It's a project I am thoroughly enjoying. So, yes, 2011 was a good mail year and 2012 looks very promising. :)

  3. All I can say is WOW !!!!! You rock ! :):)

  4. Wow! was my reaction too. You are amazing.

  5. I'm amazed by the awesomeness of this post!! Wow, what a cool organizing lady you are! :) I also keep a mail log, but I don't fill it even not half so beautifully as you do! You inspired me to be more careful while logging. If I could I would steal your logging skills, seriously!

    P.S. A little something was mailed towards you today. ;)

  6. I love the retro Dymo tape labels!

    I assume you're familiar with Lewis Carroll's Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing in which he describes his letter register. He also notes that the edging of postage stamps makes a capital sticking-plaster, which I recommend for all your sticking-plaster needs.

  7. Thanks, everyone... you are very sweet.

    Annie - good luck with your project! I just linked your blog here.

    1. Thanks so much! I'm having such fun with my blog. Before I started Scribbling Glue, it never occurred to me to look for blogs on letter writing. It's been a delight to discover your blog and the large online community of "slow communication" fans. :)

  8. Thank you so much for your blog post! Now I have a clear idea on how I want to record my incoming and outgoing mail! :)

  9. It's funny you should post this today, just a few days ago I started keeping a log of my outgoing correspondence, the first of any sort of correspondence log I've attempted. I think I may try a few of your ideas!

    I have to ask on earth do you send so many letters? I haven't been following your blog for long, so maybe you've mentioned it elsewhere. I just don't see how, 3 a week is a lot for me! I do tend to write medium-long letters though.

  10. Joseph, I have seen Carroll's "eight or nine wise words" etc but am perhaps not as familiar with it as I should be.

    Emwall, glad I can inspire some good ideas. How do I send so many letters? Hmm... longer explanation than can be made in a comment. I will note that a lot more folks do even better than I do, so I'm hardly the expert.

  11. So enjoyed this post and getting a behind-the-scenes tour of how you manage it all. Thanks!

  12. I think I would feel a nice sense of achievement if I had such a pile of notebooks to look back on after a year of letterwriting. My question would be: how often do you refer back to the notebooks? Does it help you to remember that you've already mentioned something to a particular correspondent, or used a particular kind of stationery? (Those are the things I forget.) I tried to keep a mail log this year but gave up, probably because the format was not pleasing. (I didn't allow much space to describe what I had actually written or received.)

    I think the eight or nine words are wonderful, but I confess the part about registering letters is the part I least understand. (Maybe because I've only seen it in a computer transcription, never as a printed work.)

    In any case, all good wishes for another year full of mail.

  13. David, sometimes I do refer back to the notebook, mostly to see when I sent or received something, or what stationery or stamps I used (such as when someone writes, "I LOVE the stationery you used on your last letter!" but doesn't give any details what it was, so I check back). No, I don't keep track of what I wrote about. Trying to summarize the letter seems daunting, and I don't think I'd keep that up, as useful as it could be.

  14. I am sitting here with a huge smile on my face because it is comforting to know that my keeping a log of letters sent and received and creating lovely little bar graphs at the end of the year may be somewhat insane as people kept telling me, but that I am share my insanity with wonderful people like you.

  15. Writing Goddess - Bar graphs? Oooooh! May I see them? :-)

  16. Congrats and good job! Very interesting post!

  17. Fun to read how a serious and well-organized (albeit very busy) epistilarian handles her correspondence.

  18. Thanks, Ralph - and oh my yes, I do owe you a letter!

  19. Very interesting! My system is as follows: I write each of my outgoing letters in full in a rough draft journal and then re-write it as a "fair copy" for mailing. Incoming mail is hole-punched and filed in a large circa system binder with sections marked off for each correspondent. to each his/her own obsession!

  20. This is such a cool idea! I really appreciate the shoutout, too, thank you for the link. :)

  21. I use a page-a-day (except Saturday/Sunday share a page) diary for recording incoming/outgoing correspondence. Occasionally I forget to do it straight away. If it is for Postcrossing, I write the ID codes (I used to also write the countries they were going to).

  22. I've been trying to figure out a good way to log mail and your method sounds wonderful to me! The volume I send and receive isn't quite as high as yours (yet!) but I do love your organization. Kudos to you for being so thorough and for sharing this quirk of yours with the rest of the world. :)

    1. Thanks, Denise - I'm glad seeing my system was helpful to you. Just saw your letter blog and will be adding it to my list, too.

  23. Thanks for stopping by my blog and for adding it to your list. I think your blog is my favorite or darn tootin' close to it!

    1. I'm deeply honored! Your blog looks great, have fun with it.

  24. Thanks for sharing this. I may try something similar this year. I had an excel spreadsheet but I found that by the time I opened up the program, got to what I was looking for and logged everything, it took longer than needed. I also would forget to log things if I was busy- maybe if I used some kind of notebook I could put the undocumented mail in the notebook for the next time I took it out. Hmmm.. thanks for giving me some new ideas.

  25. I really like this post. I found it through a link on the Letters & Journals blog. I had just started using index cards to keep a bit of a record last fall, but am already not liking it as much as I thought I would. I may just take your advice on this and go with your system. Have you done an update on this post to see how much mail went out and came in in 2012 or 2013? They would be fun to compare.

    Thanks for sharing your idea.


    1. I'm glad this was useful, Sharon - thanks for your feedback. I have not posted any statistics for 2012 or 2013.