Is Your Email a Help or Hindrance to Your Writing Time?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
What I mean by this question is: do you spend hours reading and answering emails each day? Does time get away from you when you are "checking your email?" or Do you use email to follow up with contacts, keep up with the latest markets and writing trends, or submit queries and manuscripts? I have found that email is both a help and a hindrance for me, and here are a few ways that I am trying (Really, I am trying!) to cut down on email time and do more writing when I am sitting at my computer.

With listservs and email groups, get your emails as a daily digest, or even check them on-line.
I used to get an email from four different email lists each time someone, from the list, sent a message. I had hundreds of unread emails every time I opened my inbox, and this totally distracted me. OR I would hear the ding of a new email, switch from Microsoft Word back to my email, and read this message, which usually was never urgent. So, I changed the way I received messages from all my lists by going to the home page, clicking on options, and finding the daily digest option. I also know writers who go on-line once or twice a day and read the discussions directly from the group's home page, instead of having them sent to their inbox. These online writing groups are important and valuable, but they don't have to take up a bunch of your daily writing time.

Don't read every forwarded email from Aunt Betty.
You don't have to feel guilty if you delete these emails before you even read them. You will not be cursed if you don't send them to ten people. No one will even know unless you tell them that you never read these jokes or sob stories or urban legends. I will, every once in a while, open and read one if it is from my husband or another friend because they never forward them unless they know I will really like the content.

Skim email newsletters for important information.
I also subscribe to email newsletters, and I try to read them in a timely fashion. Most of these have a "table of contents" at the top of the email. I skim this first to see if there is anything that will pertain to my writing career, and then I jump to that topic instead of reading the entire email newsletter from top to bottom.

Clean out and file old emails.
I know some people leave every email in their inbox. They can never find an old email they want to read again, and they have trouble keeping track of which emails they've answered or which ones they still need to answer. I only keep emails in my inbox that I still need to deal with or that I haven't answered yet. Otherwise, I file them away within my email system. I usually use aol, so my old emails are saved on aol in different files such as WOW!, writing work, editor 911, and so on.

I hope these four tips can give you more writing time and less time with your inbox. Make email a help for you and your career--don't let it waste your time!

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill


Marcia Peterson said...

Yes, and now I'm stepping away from the inbox to get some actual writing work done before I leave the house!

Annette said...

I'm an email junkie/inbox slave. I seriously need to step away from the email accounts. I have three tabs open at all times with my different accounts and I check them like a circus juggler: WOW, writing business, publishing business, and back to WOW again.

My worst habit is reading email, thinking about responding, then not doing it, flagging the email to respond later; those emails get buried by new emails, and then I forget to go back to them because I get distracted by reading the new ones. Current inbox totals: 1008 emails that need to be dealt with.

What's that shiny thing over there? LOL

Anonymous said...

When I start reading emails, they lead to a link I want to check out and that leads to another and another. Sometimes its a good way to find a very helpful writing site, but more often it leads to my brain loosing all focus and my eyes skimming junk for an hour (or more).

I hate to ask, because you're probably swamped with questions like this, but what's going on with the contest? I had a crazy few months, so I didn't enter this time and am out of the loop. But I still love reading the winning entries.

Annette said...


We had some amazing entries (as usual). Unfortunately, we under estimated the time it would take to do all the critiques (that was an option we offered this season), so it put the whole process behind schedule. The entries are in the final judging phase and we hope to have them up for everyone to read soon.

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