Friday, June 24, 2005

I E-Mail, Therefore I Am

I had lunch yesterday with my friend David, who is in the process of writing a book. He already has a publisher waiting for his book to be finished, so David is about to leave for Oregon, where he will spend three weeks in a house that sits 150 yards from the Pacific Ocean, writing. He will not have Internet access.

Three weeks with no e-mail? What??

I actually have several friends who have written books, or chapters of books. I would like to write a book. I’ve taken writing classes to learn how to write a book. A few years ago, in one of those classes, the instructor told me not to write e-mails, because they don’t count as “writing,” and will distract me from the creation of works of any real artistic value.


Either she was correct and I have ruined myself forever, or she was wrong and I am a freaking genius, because while I regularly compose e-mails of astonishing brilliance and wit (ask anyone in my Contacts list), it seems that I am constitutionally incapable of writing anything longer than that. I simply don’t have the attention span. Or the time.

E-mail isn’t just a creative outlet any more, either. I’ve come to rely on electronic communication as my back-up brain. I can’t retain anything unless I’ve sent or received it in an e-mail, which, if you think about it, is BETTER, because that way I can archive everything and read it again later to remind myself of just how astonishingly brilliant and witty I am, as well as the exact dimensions of that freezer that my co-worker is giving me and the directions for how to get to my sister’s friend’s house. I never have to actually think at all any more, which is great, because I wasn't all that good at it to begin with.

But alas, to date, I have produced no book. Not even a really good idea for a book. Not even a really BAD idea for a book. So the question is, which came first, the e-mail or my brain’s limited ability to function? Has the Internet destroyed my potential as an award-winning novelist, or does it provide the perfect forum for people like me, who can’t stay on task at anything for more than twenty-two consecutive minutes?



TheLuminator said...

Uhhhhh, I think your instructor led you astray. E-mails are a fine forum for keeping your writing honed until it's time for the short story or the novel. Otherwise, how and when would you regularly be challenged to work with words during the course of the day? Memos? Snail-mail letters? Hallmark cards? Customer-service surveys? E-mailing takes over your brain only if you let emoticons, abbrvs and alt-spellingz dominate your correspondence. The people who rely on those would just be talking on the phone if they didn't have e-mail. At least even they're doing some writing.

Amy said...

Sure, you love email, but you didn't give me an email address to respond to your wise comments on my blog...the skanky Skeins is gone? Really?

Katie Burke said...

I think the latter (perfect forum). As "theluminator" pointed out, email forces you to write more than you otherwise would. I mean, really ... how could more writing HURT you? You have to email anyway, to get those driving directions and freezer specifications, so why not provide your friends with some brilliant and witty reading while you're at it?

I think that your former instructor was wrong. Her feedback was akin to a marathon coach advising her student to stop walking to work.

Besides, if a memoir is what you have in mind for your book, you surely have some GREAT raw material, between your blog posts and your "sent mail" box.

Oh, and from what I am told, most novels are written in short stints over a good period of time. I mean, who else besides your friend with the sweet publisher hook-ups can afford (financially or timewise) to sit on a beach in Oregon for three weeks and just write?

I so envy David.

So, keep writing ... emails, post-it notes, blog posts, whatever. The book will not be harmed by any of it.

JB said...

I also teach writing for a living, so I’m going to presumptuously set myself up as an authority figure and weigh in: “All writing is good writing, and the more you write, the better.”

In fact, you might say that e-mails encourage a heightened sense of audience awareness since most of the time you’re writing with a specific person in mind.