If I had a nickel for every time I checked my e-mail in a typical day, I’d have enough shekels in my pocket so I could fill my gas tank.
If I drove an 18-wheeler from New York to LA.
When I first started writing, I used to run to the mailbox to look for the return of the self-addressed, stamped envelopes (SASEs) I’d sent along with my article or script submissions to editors. These SASE’s contained the editor’s verdict on my work: a fat envelope meant they were returning my manuscript to me with a rejection letter; a thin envelope contained a contract. Once a day, I would stand at the mailbox, grope the SASE, and, whether the envelope was fat or skinny, take a big, big breath before I tore into it.
Even though the fat envelope meant rejection, the rejection letters kept improving over the years. At first, they were almost always form letter rejections. Eventually, more of them carried revision suggestions or notes of encouragement about my writing skills. And the thin ones were always a party!
But e-mail has changed the rules of the waiting game for writers. E-mail means that an editor may reply to my query, article or book proposal at any hour of the day or night. (And they have!) This any-hours launching capability means the recipient gets that e-mail durn near instantly into my inbox. Which means that I can check my e-mail at 6:57 a.m., 7:19 a.m., 7:21 a.m., 7:40 a.m., 7:41 a.m, 7:49 a.m., 7:53 a.m. and so on. And some days, I do.
The ability to do so is not always a gift. It is a time-waster, and says much about my own pitiful lack of discipline. Business efficiency experts suggest checking e-mail only during specific times of the day. This is a good idea, and will require me to slowly break some really bad, almost compulsive habits.
What is in me that allowed these addictive habits to shape my writing time so easily? E-mail is a way to connect with another human being somehow. Writing can be a very solitary pursuit. Even though e-mail is a far cry from a flesh-and-blood relationship, it is a small marker I’m not alone; I’m worth someone’s response. (I am also worth being marketed to – diet aids, porn, people from Nigeria looking for help procuring their dead aunt’s inheritance.) Just often enough to reward my bad behavior, I get a response. It keeps me going back for more.
Too much of my writing career has felt like I’m standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, whispering my longing for God’s Life into a fierce wind. During seasons of discouragement (I’m kind of in one now), the sound of that wind mutes the sound of my whispered words. An e-mail tells me that maybe someone is listening.
And I forget. And remember.