There is no money in answering letters.
I try my best to answer correspondence, but when it comes to email, I feel very much like Donald Knuth:
Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.
I’m not interested in being anyone’s boss, so I don’t have an assistant. Everything you see online from me — the newsletter, the blog, etc. — it’s just me. This means I have to make cuts somewhere, and that often means not answering all my email.
Here’s how Neil Gaiman puts it in Make Good Art:
“There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.”
(My friend Hugh MacLeod put it even more succinctly.)
On the weekends, I get fewer emails, so I try to take an hour or so and get through my paper mail. I usually enjoy answering paper mail more than I enjoy answering email. It’s an excuse to buy lots of stamps and use my typewriter. But it’s even more time-consuming than email, and sometimes I get to it all, sometimes I don’t.
I think the connectivity and access we’ve gained to artists in the digital age has skewed our perspective of what counts as generosity and what doesn’t. Sharing work in itself is an act of generosity. Anything on top of that — teaching, correspondence, etc. — is just another layer.
A commenter on Instagram yesterday noted how disappointing it feels when you take time to write to an artist and the artist has their assistant respond or doesn’t write back at all.
I encourage you to think of it this way:
Do you want the artists you love answering emails or do you want them making the work you love?
Because it’s hard to do both.
(I know which one I prefer.)