Gather your supplies.
Decide your letter-writing method and get your supplies, such as stationery or notecards.
Handwritten letters are the gold standard because your handwriting is an extension of you. It’s personal and tactile. And don’t let messy penmanship be a deterrent: No one is expecting calligraphy. But there’s nothing wrong with typed letters; Ms. Davis Kho prefers to type and then print hers. Either way, the point is to create a physical artifact that the person first enjoys as a surprise in the mailbox, and then can keep as a memento.
Think about your recipient.
Once you have decided whom to write to, think about that person and his or her role in your life. You don’t need to spend a lot of time, but clear away any distractions and focus on some of your most cherished memories of this person. Think about how you met, what the recipient has done for you at what cost, what the person said that you have never forgotten or ways you have applied his or her advice in your life. Jot down a few bullet points or even a short outline if you would like, but do not overthink or get caught up on planning. A gratitude letter need not encapsulate your entire relationship, or cover everything this person means to you. You can say thanks for just one thing.
Sit down and write.
If it makes you more comfortable, you can start the letter by detailing a reason for reaching out. Ms. Davis Kho started her letters by explaining that it was a milestone birthday year for her, and that she was writing to people who had made a difference in her life. You could say you were inspired by this article. Or, you can keep your letter-writing reasons to yourself and just start with “thank you.”
Think back to your brainstorm, and, using evocative details, tell the person why you are grateful. That could be the exact words you remember this person saying, and where you were when they were said. Add how it made you feel — then and now. The recipient might remember the event or favor you are referring to, but the person most likely does not know how it made you feel (Thankful, probably, but also, perhaps, joyful? Safe? Relieved? Inspired?) Don’t hold back. It takes a little bravery, but writing sincerely and from the heart turns a polite note into a meaningful memento.
Write in your style.
Don’t worry about crafting each sentence just so. You’re trying to get to the meaning behind the words. If you can, try to write the way you speak. Imagine the person is on the phone: What would you say?
You might get caught up in selecting exactly what to say. But Mr. Kumar suggested you remember that your recipient will not be scrutinizing your choice of words.
“They are just reading what you have to say, and thinking, ‘This is really nice,’” he said. “They aren’t thinking, ‘Well, how could it have been nicer?’”