Life Writing

History of an Email

Like most people, I get a lot of emails every day.

Like… a lot, a lot.

Some of them are spam and some of them are sale notifications and some of them are requests for interviews and advice. Some of them are from my agent or editors.

And the truth is, I’m not as good about answering them as I used to be. When I first sold the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy in 2007, I had a big gap between projects. Prophecy (book one) had some revisions, but the second book in the trilogy wasn’t due for a whole year, and I was prohibited from selling another YA project for the duration of my contract with Little Brown, which meant until 2011. I was still a single parent. Still busy. But I wasn’t up against multiple deadlines, lined up like planes on a tarmac, gunning for their turn.

Times have changed. I’ve worked on seven contracted projects in the past year alone (not all of which have been announced) plus juggled multiple editing projects for my freelance editing business while running a household with four kids alone. It’s required an almost-militant devotion to schedule. And since I do receive emails from many of you — some of which take me a very, very long time to answer — I wanted to explain.

First thing every morning (I get up at 6am on school days) I open up my computer and stare forlornly at my Inbox. I start by deleting obvious Spam, sales I can’t afford to shop, and other miscellany that just isn’t important to me at the moment. Then I look at what’s left. If there are quick and easy questions to answer, I tackle them right away just to feel like I’m making some prgress.

But then I’m left with the other stuff. Offers to attend conferences (which require me to look at a calendar and plot out the next 6-12 months in my head), requests for interviews, favors from writerly friends (most of which require more emails sent to editors or agent, or at the very least, lengthy replies on my part), questions from my editors, updates from my agent.

To be honest, I just can’t get to them all. And I know what you’re probably thinking; it only takes a minute to send an email. I know you’re probably thinking it because that’s what I used to think when someone took a long time to get back to me. But here’s the thing, my writing schedule — the only thing holding my life together right now — is non-negotiable. It has to be. So when I go up to my office promptly at 9am, 3:30pm, or 7pm (the start of my usual writing blocks), I know that I have a finite time to work, usually an hour or two. And if I open one email, the temptation is to keep clearing my Inbox. I’ve already eaten into my writing time anyway, right? Or maybe the reply is more lengthy than I anticipated, and all of a sudden, my one hour writing block is down to half an hour. I’ve lost between 500-1,000 words in that half hour. It might not seem like a lot, but if I lose 1,000 words every day for a month, I lose 30,000 words, which tacks an additional 2-4 weeks onto any project.

And that’s just something I can’t afford at this point in time. Especially when none of this accounts for the “soft” tasks of writing — website upkeep, research, reading, etc.

So I’ve developed a hard and fast rule; I do what I can while I’m having my morning tea. But when it’s time to write, it’s time to write. Not tweet. Not post on Facebook. Not even answer emails. It’s hard. It’s meant forgoing the level of social networking that was once routine. It’s meant blogging less. It’s meant an Inbox that constantly hovers around 30 emails (when I’m as on top of it as I can be). It’s sometimes even meant losing touch with people I care about for longer periods than I would like. It is tempting to “take five” minutes and clear my Inbox a bit. But I’ve learned the hard way that it adds up. Which is why I activate Freedom right when I get to my office and get down to business.

All of which makes this one long-ass apology. If I owe you an email, I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m ignoring you. I’m doing my best.

And writing always has to come first.