Email is the Magic Key

Earlier this week I read an excellent post called How to Make a Book and it’s a collection of advice from writers and novelists about how to get started with a book of your own:

A book can be inspired by nearly anything: a seemingly stray thought you can’t shake, a lyric, an overheard conversation, another book. Whatever it is, turn it over again and again and again in your mind. Watch it. Listen to it. Be skeptical of it. Let it bother you. Most importantly, take notes.

“Let it bother you” is the sort of advice that this anxious type Pokémon can certainly get behind. But I particularly liked Robin Sloan’s advice here, where he writes a tiny love letter about email:

Of all the followings you can accrue—on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and platforms yet to be invented—one is more important than the rest by an order of magnitude. It’s the group of people who have given you their old-fashioned email addresses and agreed that they would, from time to time, like to hear from you. Even if no one quite loves their inbox, everyone has one. Across generations and geography, through digital fads and fascinations, email is the common denominator, the magic key.

Email lists grow slowly, but their growth is sturdier than social networks. It’s exciting to see the sharp little bursts of attention on the social networks when something you write takes off. But it’s easy come, easy go; as quickly as attention finds you, it moves on, eager for the next thing. Email lists are sturdier and stickier. There is a real sense, you’ll find, of building them one person at a time.

It’s weird to think that it’s 2018 and I spend pretty much my entire weekend writing email, what with Adventures and the CSS-Tricks newsletter, and so I have to concur with the other Robin on their value and utility here as a writer.

Although! There’s something a little detached from writing them that I still find unnerving. I think perhaps because there’s no immediate buzz of the likes/faves/hearts/retweets and there’s no casino-like thrill after you hit the publish button. After an email goes out there’s often nothing but radio silence from the other side and then I begin to worry for half a second whether anybody is reading them at all and if this is merely flattering my ego. I think in situations like this you have to remember that every social network has been training us, for the better part of a decade now, to be dependent on those likes and faves and retweets for our emotional well-being. There’s too much of our self-esteem locked up in social networks and not everything we write ought to stir people off their seats or bring them to tears.

Anyway, Robin’s advice about email reminded me of Chris Coyier’s ever-so-excellent micro-blog called Email is good where he collects all of this thoughts about why email is a lovely, wondrous, and utterly frustrating thing. Chris writes:

Email is a big deal. Yet almost everyone I know struggles with it.

That’s what this site is all about. Let’s talk about email. Let’s figure out what’s hard about it and where the struggles are, so that all the great parts of email shine even brighter. Success in today’s world, in almost any way you want to define that, is going to involve you being good at email. So let’s get good at email.

I suppose this is where we can slowly nudge the conversation towards one area in which email is particularly frustrating: typography. I have no idea how typography works in email. Not a clue. Why do some emails look as if they were written by a giant, with great thundering letters? When we make websites we have at least some small guarantee that the user on the other end will read something remotely close to what we’ve designed, most of the time at least.

Email typography is the wild west; I can never be certain that my message hasn’t somehow been murdered by masked bandits along the way. And yes, there’s certainly no irony lost on me as I try to figure out what good typography is and then publish those notes via a medium which has notoriously horrendous typography.

And so yes, I guess email is the magic key for writers, but boy oh boy do I wish it didn’t get stuck in the lock so dang often.

Links to Things That I’ve Been Oooing and Aaahing over Lately But Haven’t Had Enough Time To Write About Just Yet

  • Marcin Wichary made an impossibly brilliant game (?) called Segmented Type where you can make “segmented” letters, just like the ones you might see on trains, buses or old displays.
  • Scott Kellum’s Typetura.js is one of the most impressive variable type / fluid text examples that I’ve ever seen.
  • For some reason I’ve never sat down and read Bethany Heck’s Font Journal Review but I’ll be sure to make time for it this weekend. It’s a lovely site that reviews typefaces and has truly outstanding typesetting (just the sort to make me fume with jealousy in fact).