"No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide."
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996
I'm starting to believe that email is a writer's worst enemy. It could be the enemy of anyone who works at home, or on a computer, but I think writers are the most vulnerable to its stealthy attack.
Here's why. If you are a writer, answering email feels like you are working. You are typing, after all. And sometimes it is work, but other times it's just conversation. And even if it is important work, it's still a distraction.
For writers, who love to communicate through writing, its an incredibly tempting distraction. In fact, it's much more fun to answer email than to remain stuck in the middle of a scene that isn t working, or wrestle with a feature story that's overly complex. I'm fairly convinced I've acquired ADD (attention deficit disorder) from checking and rechecking my email.
Clearly I'm lacking in mental self-discipline, so I've tried other solutions. With my old computer, I could take out the wireless card and put it in the basement. With my new computer, the wireless is built in. I've tried disabling the software, but it's too easy re-enable to be an effective deterrent. I've even tried unplugging the modem and shutting the whole system down, only my neighbor's wireless isn't secured, so my computer automatically started picking up my email through her system.
When people buy Blackberries or the I-Phone for the ability to connect to the web, I think they are insane. The last thing I'd ever want is mobile access to my email.
So is email a problem for anyone else, and if it is, have you found a solution?
HANK: There's no question I'm addicted to email. I always think: there might be good news. And I can't wait to see it. I physically miss it when I don't check. It's ridiculous.
So. When I'm writing, I turn off the little music that comes up to announce I have new mail. I've realized I'm a perfect Pavlovian specimen when it comes to that little sound. It bings, and I can't stand it. I have to look. So I just turn off the sound.
I also set a time. When I'm writing, I can only look at the email once an hour, and I choose the time, very specifically. It's now--4:16. I can look at my email again at 5:16. I obey myself. This actually works.
My email has a little indicator where you can put a red flag on stuff you absolutely must respond to. Every one of mine is flagged, so that doesn't work at all.
Because it's true: the amount of time you can spend on email expands to fill the amount of time you have. I could do it all day, every day. And not be finished. Never, ever be finished.
And sometimes I power through a bunch of correspondence...and feel very virtuous. Then I wonder--did any of that matter?
Gotta go. I heard a bing.
RO:It's very easy to convince yourself that checking email, or Myspace or voicemail or whatever is "working." I think of it as working "light". It's not really working, but it's closer to it than going shopping, or kayaking or any number of things that you might be doing. It may be a problem if you do it every day or for more than an hour a day but, I think I have it under control. I can quit anytime I like, as they say....
HALLIE: Sure you can.
Actually email is like "research," or Marbles (my husband got me hooked on it after I took Solitaire off my system) -- the thing I do to put off writing. Then again, maybe email addiction is nature's way of keeping us from pouring too much dross onto the pages.
Related question--how come the more I have on my plate, the more I get done? I open email nine thousand times on a day when all I have to do is write fiction. When I've got an article due and training materials to write and work for a client and and and...I may not open email at all.
Do you check the mail that gets automatically shunted to your SPAM or SCREENED mail folder?
If an email shows up in your SPAM or SCREENED MAIL folder with the topic GREAT NEWS, can you NOT open it??
If you get an email dated three minutes ago, do you put off replying because the person will think all you do all day is email???
RO: Yes, yes, no. But, uh, did you just post this...does that mean all I do all day is...
HANK: Yes. Yes, easy to ignore. (But if one says: 'Congratulations!' That's harder.Also if one says: 'Why did you miss the meeting?' I generally fall for that one. And, no. (I feel great if I happen to be able to answer quickly. That's one more thing I "accomplished.")
JAN: No. No. (always skeptical) Yes. You think there's a 12-step program that can help me?