I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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Writing in Email Dear Reader,

I have friends who write effortlessly like superheroes. Crank 500 words in 2 seconds? No problem. Others sweat uncontrollably, hyperventilate, and tremble at the mere thought of writing.

If writing stirs a panic attack in you, try this: start with an email.

Instead of launching an imposing behemoth like Microsoft Word, call up your humble email program and begin your next writing piece as a simple email.

Most of my articles start this way, as lowly emails addressed to an imaginary persona. It’s my favorite psychological trick for fooling the brain into thinking a writing task is less critical than it is.

Here are the benefits:

  1. It’s convenient
    We use email every day as part of the drudgery of work. Most of us have an email perpetually running in the background”a terrible habit. But since it’s always open, you have the opportunity to write at anytime. No waiting for Word to launch and crash later.

  2. You feel less pressure
    None of us have problems writing emails. Longer written pieces, however, awaken our inner critic. Is that sentence structured correctly? Hey, are you putting those periods in the right place? You get so worried about perfection, you can’t even start. Creativity stops. Procrastination becomes tempting, and you go off to play Dance Dance Revolution or Sudoku instead. Email lowers the standards. It’s intentional informality reduces the fear of imperfection. This helps you generate more words, more quickly. Remember, quantity is quality.

  3. You’re more conversational
    Emails are casual, like everyday conversations. It shouldn’t sound like an college paper. If you’re writing for a blog, starting in email ensures your articles have an easy and informal tone.

  4. You’re more concise
    Even formal papers benefit from an email approach. Email forces you to be brief and understandable, because you have to keep it short. Earlier this year, MIT Press published a little academic paper I co-wrote in the journal, Design Issues. How did I start this paper? As a teeny tiny e-mail on my Sidekick.

  5. You can get feedback quickly
    Feedback is imperative for improving the quality of any work. Using an email program to write makes exchanging feedback super easy. Just fill in the address field and hit Send. No attachments. No Mess.

Okay, you get the idea. When you’re stuck on a writing project, put your words in an email. If it doesn’t work, send me a message about why it didn’t. ;-)

Warmly,

Chanpory

Trouble writing? What are your favorite tricks for easing your writing woes? Please share in the comments

21 Comments

  • chris

    gravatarDec 18, 2007
    12:39 pm

    Good tip. I usually use pen and paper when I’m stuck. I feel less pressure because there’s no way it’s going to be polished on paper. In Word, Google Docs, etc, as soon as I have a paragraph down, I can begin worrying about the presentation of the final thing. I can see how email might help one avoid the temptation to polish while writing as well.

  • n0s0ap

    gravatarDec 18, 2007
    12:42 pm

    I also use a program called WriteRoom(http://ryanfait.com/sticky-footer/) for my copy writing needs. It’s super lightweight so it takes no time to launch and comes up faster than my email client does. It also has a full screen edit mode so you can block out all those distractions. It is very useful and has helped me out a ton.

  • pmc27

    gravatarDec 18, 2007
    3:23 pm

    I use TextEdit, is always open to write what comes to my head. It´s very usefull.

  • doane

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    10:38 am

    Great Tip Chanpory. That’s exactly how I write all my blog posts.

  • Fazed Reality

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    10:55 am

    I recently discovered a neat little trick: I go into my RSS reader and comment on as many blog posts as possible! That kicks my brain into gear and even sprouts an idea or two. I like your tip a lot – email editors are designed to be as straight to the job as possible, no unnecessary functions other than those needed to compose a message. And that’s what writing is all about after all – sending a message to someone.

  • Julian Schrader

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    12:38 pm

    Thanks for the tip –” I’ll try that soon–¦

  • Christine

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    5:37 pm

    Great tip! But I can’t help but comment – shouldn’t it be “Unstick”?

  • Chanpory Rith

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    5:51 pm

    @pmc27. Ah yes, I also use TexEdit sometimes to write articles. Launches quickly and just more “bare bones.” But I’ve also grown quite fond of WriteRoom, because of its ability to block out all distractions on the screen.

  • Chanpory Rith

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    5:52 pm

    @Christine, by “Unstuck” I mean undoing the state of being “stuck” while writing. The title is lifted off of Stone/Yamashita’s book, Unstuck.

  • darryl ohrt

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    8:05 pm

    Awesome advice. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I’ve proudly eliminated MS Word from my life. Think about it – what do you really need to compose in Word anymore?

    Almost everything I write will fit into an email. Or some of the web-based tools our firm uses. I love that I can pop open an email document in a split second. By comparison, it seems as if it takes five minutes for the ‘microsoft word machine’ to crank into open status.

    I now resent Word documents that come attached in emails. 99% of them are less than a page, and could have easily been composed in an email.

    Hooray for the email editor!

  • Terri Ann

    gravatarDec 19, 2007
    10:35 pm

    Like pmc27 I always start in a text editor. I have so many .txt files in my in-progress/ideas to blog about folder on my desktop cause some days I come up with so many ideas. when I’m stuck I peruse through there.

    There’s text documents with paragraphs or useful (or useless) ramblings, notes to myself, ideas to try and links to all kinds of web pages. A lot of it is trash, but every now and then I stumble on an old idea of mine that is really relevant and that I have more information or passion to put into it to make a good post.

    As a coder my text editor is often a place of peace and serenity when starting from an empty screen. Especially since you don’t have to troubleshoot or hunt for bugs in blog entries!

  • Barbara

    gravatarDec 20, 2007
    5:56 am

    Sometimes there is something I absolutely have to say before diving into the material. Often, it’s not something that has a place in, say, a peer-reviewed journal. I write it anyways. Often it says snotty little things about previously published material. I call it my throw-away paragraph. It seems to work better for me if I don’t “pre-edit” my writing at the outset.

  • Randy Place

    gravatarDec 20, 2007
    9:32 am

    Great idea. When I wrote radio news, I learned to read UP and AP copy, then turn the copy over and just write the story from my head. Translated to blogging, I write directly on the blog site when I’m in a hurry. Then I don’t fuss as I do when composing in Word first. I also set time limits for the day’s writing. I learned that in radio, too, where we had 50-minutes to write between newscasts. Deadlines help generate more product and creativity.

    I just realized, this can be a piece for tomorrow’s blogging. I’ll link the article to you. Thanks.

  • Kristi Holl

    gravatarDec 22, 2007
    7:21 pm

    I’ve been writing and publishing for 27 years, but only started a blog a couple weeks ago. I think this is a brilliant tip! I intend to use it immediately as a quick way to find that “conversational voice” that’s needed. I love coming across things like this–I hate to waste time re-inventing the wheel.

  • Rob

    gravatarDec 23, 2007
    2:38 pm

    Yes, sometimes I start an idea in MS Outlook, then save the draft message in the Outlook draft message folder for fast retrieval later. And sometimes I write ideas in Notepad and save on my desktop. I use autohotkey to launch Notepad quickly. To save ideas while driving I use jott.com. I have not yet found a way to save ideas when I’m showering.

  • muriel

    gravatarDec 25, 2007
    9:23 pm

    Cool post, great tip! I am using a private wiki to collect my ideas for blogposts, papers and even important emails. Like this I don’t loose any of them and I can even go back to an older version if I need to.

  • Lizzie

    gravatarJan 10, 2008
    8:25 am

    This is a great idea to approach writing, unfiltered, unfettered. I hate staring at a blank WORD page. I know I’m late to post – I love this site.

  • gutenmter

    gravatarMar 26, 2008
    3:22 pm

    If you’re an avid PS3 gamer, then you know the importance of saving your progress for future game play. Pls, help me!

  • Mark

    gravatarApr 10, 2008
    1:28 pm

    Cool idea… it feels so business like sitting down to MS Word but starting out in an email mode allows me to let my true self out… not so stuffy. Thanks for the tip.

  • sandrar

    gravatarSep 10, 2009
    2:33 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  • Panic Attacks

    gravatarMay 13, 2010
    3:17 pm

    Ha… I like the way you put it that writing stirs a panic attack in you. By the way, good tip on the email writing.