From: “Patrick Sullivan Jr.”
Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2009 07:00:00 -0700
To: “Roy H. Williams”
Cc: Karin Sullivan
Conversation: How about a reply?
Subject: How about a reply?
I went to Wizards of Web and brought 5 people from my company with me. I brought Skip Moen to Advanced Thought Particles. I brought my sister Karin to Davinci’s 40 Answers. I sent Karin and Rebecca Theaumont to Magical Worlds. I’ve forwarded your MMM to hundreds. I’ve blogged about you. I’ve quoted you. I remixed a new version of “Windmills of Your Mind” for you. I’ve hired Jeffrey, Bryan, Tim, Jeff, and almost Michele but she was too busy. (Isn’t she always.)
You made me an honorary member of the Worthless Bastards club at Davinci, but……………you’ve never replied to any of the emails that I sent you over the years.
You’ve had an un-effing-believable impact on me (start the rabbit hole at Hello World), my businesses, my friends, and my family. (You’ve now blown the doors off Karin’s car — see attached).
I don’t want to be trophied in the rabbit hole. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I just want to know that YOU know the impact that you’ve had on me. I can’t figure out why you’ve never bothered to respond back to me.
# # # #
You ask why I don’t respond to your emails.
Please know that you’re not being singled out for exclusion.
I don’t answer my telephone.
I don’t answer my front door.
I don’t send thank-you cards.
I rarely buy birthday gifts and
I never read the newspaper.
All these things are true.
My own business partners know better than to expect me to respond to their email questions.
I am a horrible dinner companion.
In short, I am socially absent.
Yet people ask, “When do you find the time to do all your writing?”
Patrick, I’ve learned that to answer an email is to begin a dialogue. The recipient believes that he/she can reasonably expect to “bounce things off you” whenever they want your opinion. After all, not to respond to them would be rude, would it not?
My friend Tom Grimes sends me dozens of long, fascinating emails that I read with pleasure. Tom knows that I cannot, will not, dare not take the time to answer him. Yet Tom likes me anyway. A true friend.
Thomas Mann once wrote, “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Mann’s statement is true. I've already spent 47 minutes on this response to you and will likely spend another 20 to 30 minutes before I hit the SEND button.
You, Patrick, do not suffer from my disease. I cannot put words casually into print. I speak recklessly. It’s one of my most glaring faults. Yet I write more carefully than anyone I’ve ever known. I cannot do otherwise.
“Easy reading is damned hard writing.” – Nigel Hawthorne
One of my favorite writers is Neal Stephenson. My simpatico with Neal is such that I was once tempted to write him an email. Upon visiting his website, I found a well-written warning and smiled a bittersweet smile. Yes, Neal is a writer, a man with that awkward disease.
Here is a shortened version of what I found:
Why I am a Bad Correspondent
by Neal Stephenson
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. This document is a sort of form letter explaining why I am the way I am.
When I read a novel that I really like, I feel as if I am in direct, personal communication with the author. I feel as if the author and I are on the same wavelength mentally, that we have a lot in common with each other, and that we could have an interesting conversation, or even a friendship, if the circumstances permitted it. When the novel comes to an end, I feel a certain letdown, a loss of contact. It is natural to want to recapture that feeling by reading other works by the same author, or by corresponding with him/her directly.
All of this seems perfectly reasonable—I should know, since I have had these feelings myself! But it turns out to be a bad idea. To begin with, a novel has roughly the same relationship to a conversation with the author as a movie does to the actors in it. A movie represents many person-years of work distilled into two hours, and so everything sounds and looks perfect. But if you have ever met a movie actor in person, you know that they are not quite as dazzling and witty (or as tall) as the figures they play in movies. This seems obvious but it always comes as a bit of a letdown anyway.
The quality of my e-mails and public speaking is, in my view, nowhere near that of my novels. So for me it comes down to the following choice: I can distribute material of bad-to-mediocre quality to a small number of people, or I can distribute material of higher quality to more people. But I can't do both; the first one obliterates the second.
I am not proud of the fact that some of my e-mail goes unanswered as a result. It is never my intention to be rude or to give well-meaning readers the cold shoulder. If I were a commercial best-seller, I would have enough money to hire a staff to look after my correspondence. As it is, my books are bought by enough people to provide me with a sort of middle-class lifestyle, but not enough to hire employees, and so I am faced with a stark choice between being a bad correspondent and being a good novelist. I am trying to be a good novelist, and hoping that people will forgive me for being a bad correspondent.
Partick, I differ with Neal Stephenson on only one point: Although I can afford to hire someone to “handle my correspondence,” I choose not to do so.
1. I would never allow someone to sign my name beneath words I did not write.
2. It seems to me that to be answered by an underling would be more insulting than to receive no answer at all.
Maybe I’m wrong.
If it’s any comfort to you, please know that I feel guilty and sad every time I receive a gift of kind words and choose not to respond. It’s an excruciating choice, but a necessary one if I am to continue writing ads for clients, columns for magazines and Monday Morning Memos for my friends.
I hope you are still my friend.
Roy H. Williams