Correspondence

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Writers who do not make themselves totally available to everyone, all the time, are frequently tagged with the “recluse” label. While I do not consider myself a recluse, I have found it necessary to place some limits on my direct interactions with individual readers. These limits most often come into play when people send me letters or e-mail, and also when I am invited to speak publicly.

Neal Stephenson, “Why I Am A Bad Correspondent

I like correspondence. I enjoy answering emails. I like writing letters.

But I also like doing the things that matter most. And correspondence can take a lot of time. For writers, the best way to continue connecting with readers might not be email. It might be more books, articles, and essays.

Stephenson adds:

There is little to nothing that I can offer readers above and beyond what appears in my published writings. It follows that I should devote all my efforts to writing more material for publication, rather than spending a few minutes here, a day there, answering e-mails or going to conferences.

Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all. Likewise, several consecutive days with four-hour time-slabs in them give me a stretch of time in which I can write a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours spread out across a few weeks, with interruptions in between them, are nearly useless.

I’m thinking about ideas like this one a lot, because I’m thinking about the things I want to do in the next few years and how most of those things require blocks of uninterrupted time. That means there are other things I will need to say no to. Maybe not emails. Maybe not letters. Maybe other little things, even good things, that subtract from what would be otherwise.

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