Empty emails and blank word documents

At twenty-one years old I’ve yet to send a single email that took me less than fifteen minutes to write.

After shooting off a careless email (because I’m tired and I have things to do) I sit, bleary eyed and full of regret. I’m looking at the redundant mess of a sentence that I, an alleged writer, have created. I’ve made an abomination of the English language

It’s irretrievable, of course, already sitting in their inbox. This is the future of communication! It’s not like I have four weeks to agonize over its transit via Pony Express. It’s been half an hour and I’m still thinking about it, how this is the only representation of myself I have given to another human being, who I have not met. This is all they know about me.

This is what happens when I don’t agonize over what I’m doing, apparently.

My usual email-writing process goes like this: write a list of the things I need to say and/or ask. Write a sentence or two for each item. Make sure to make a new line when I change subject so that it’s easy to read at a glance. Figure out what an appropriate salutation to use – do I Ms. or Mr. them? Can I use their first name? ‘To whom it may concern’? Does anyone really start emails with ‘Dear,’? I check to make sure I’ve spelled their name correctly. I check again. Rearrange sentences. Make sure it still makes sense after I’ve re-arranged it. Spell-check again, because I’m still a sloppy typer. How do I thank them for their time? Am I supposed to have a professional looking email signature? I should really get on that. Read it out loud. Should I thank them again or will it be too much? Never settle on what closing sounds  the least stilted – ‘Sincerely’? ‘Best’? Or is just ‘Thanks’ fine?

Give or take a few steps depending on how much I want the recipient to like me.

It’s honestly not unlike how I write in general. I double-check lines and phrases as I write them and lose steam because I should have just thrown down something, anything to get the feeling out (I think that’s why I write shorter poems – and even then I get the same feedback, that I start strong and peter out around the end). Even after all this time listening to folks expounding the importance of revision, I’m stuck with the idea that becoming a good writer, a good poet, means that someday I’ll be able to transmute things directly from brain to page in perfect form, divine inspiration-style, the first time around. It’s irrational, and can’t help but feel like it’s hurting me as a writer.

It’s something I don’t have a solution for, but I’ve been trying things out. I started in the biggest marker I have; sometimes I can’t fit more than a sentence on the page. The lines are ugly and not even close to poem-worthy, but it’s fast, ugly and satisfying. I’m going for quantity with these, not quality. There’s a specific kind of burnout I’m trying to avoid, where I sit on ideas with the intention of letting them stew, waiting until I find the best way to go about realizing them, only to lift the lid off the pot to find that they’ve boiled away to nothing.

There’s a lesson I’ve been trying to teach myself lately, one I’ve never quite managed to put into practice, both in writing and in life: something is better than nothing. Partial credit is better than not turning it in; showing up unprepared is better than not showing up at all. Trying is something. Something is better than nothing.


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