In a way this is a sort of liberation, as I said in my last post here... but it still has me bummed out. Every time I think I have started to put it behind me, I remember another particular bit of email -- incoming, out-going, or waiting to be finished -- that is now lost to me, and I get morose all over again. It's a rotten way to start the year.
I am doing a lot of thinking, however. I have to make some serious changes in the ways I handle email. As traumatic as this loss has been, it was ridiculous that I ever allowed myself to get into a position where I HAD more than three thousand unanswered emails in my filing cabinet. Some of them dated as far back as 1998 (the last time AOL treated me to one of these crashes, and wiped out my files). I kept them because, well... many of them were long, thoughtful, moving emails from my readers than I felt deserved replies, and I kept telling myself that one day I would reply to them, but then...
The problem did not occur overnight, of course. There must have been a time in 1998 when I had only ten unanswered emails. And that night I answered five of them, and the next day ten new ones came in, and... well, I did my best to keep up, by fits and starts, but I could never quite do it, even when I resorted to half a dozen different form letters, so over the years I just started falling further and further behind. At one point in 2004, I recall, the number had climbed to over 2500, and I got alarmed and girded up my loins (painful, that) and by hook and by crook got it down under 1600 in less than a month. Then I went away on a trip, and by the time I came back it was over 2500 again.
Of course, I shouldn't give the impression that all of the mails I lost were fan letters. Far from it. I also had personal correspondence in there, hobby stuff, and lots and lots of business emails. I need a better way to handle those as well.
Right now the thing is too fresh and I don't know what I am going to do, but I do feel that I have to make changes. If nothing else, the psychological pressure of an ever-increasing amount of accumulating email is enormous... even on nights where I answered fifty letters, I would go away feeling guilty because I knew damn well that another month would pass before I found the energy to answer the next fifty, and during that month I'd fall another three or four hundred emails behind.
There were times early in my career when it felt as if I was publishing my books only to check them down a well. Months and years would pass without me getting a single fan letter of any sort. Maybe it's the memory of those days that has made me so appreciative of all the readers who have taken the time to write me about my books.
Even so, I can't go on the way that I was going.