The Emails I Send to Myself (I can’t be the only writer who does this)

Cat working on computer

I made a point some time ago to inform the IT manager at my workplace that I’m writing a novel.

Partly I did this because I’ve struck up a friendship with her over the years, and the fact eventually became a relevant addendum to her revelation of being an avid reader.

The other reason, though – perhaps the more pressing reason – is due to the nature of some of the emails I send.

Not that they’re offensive, or in any direct violation of the company’s Information Services & Technology user policy.  But they are … strange, not the least of which is because they are emails send to myself at my personal email address.

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time thinking about my WIP when I’m not actually writing it.  And while my day job keeps me quite busy, random fits of inspiration do occur to me while at work – anything from descriptions to lines of dialogue to entire or chapter outlines.

I’ve long ago learned to ignore these brainwaves at my peril.  Not acted upon, they almost always become missed opportunities – ghosts of forgotten prose that haunt me by never again assuming a tangible form.

At the same time, I find it equally distracting trying to hold a story idea in my head, to the point that, although 5-10 minutes end up wasted, my work productivity is restored for the rest of the day if I just take the time to write the idea down.

Hence, the emails I send to myself.

It’s true, I could instead tap out a memo on my phone.  However to a passerby, it would probably appear like I was texting.  Texting isn’t forbidden at my workplace, but I do nonetheless try to keep to a minimum, as it often conveys an air of unprofessionalism.

Besides, some of the ideas I come up require a bit of trial and error to convey them properly, which can take time.

Emailing, however is something I already perform regularly at work.  For the record, I despise work email, and do everything I can to discourage it’s proliferation.  It does, though, have its benefits.

Like the fact that I can easily compose a message to myself in full view of others without raising either eyebrows or reservations about me as an employee … save from the IT manager should she ever have cause to examine my emails (good thing I already forewarned her about my writing predilection!)

Email inboxI recently made the accidental discovery that I’m one of my most emailed contacts from work.  We use Microsoft Outlook at work, which is like a virtual time capsule.  Further investigation into my email habits has revealed that since late 2012, I’ve sent myself some 130 emails, all of which bore the word “snippet” in the subject line.

When read sequentially – though written in a choppy sort of shorthand – these messages give a fairly accurate overview of my WIP.

Some samples:

Naturally, SE had loved the idea, as he did all my political schemes.  It was likely the only aspect of me he did love without condition or reservation.
– Fri 09/03/2012 2:27 PM


That was the irony of the situation: in order to help e, I’d first have to renounce him.
– Tue 05/06/2012 3:22 PM


It was a sin, but it had already happened; erasing the evidence wouldn’t change that
– Wed 05/06/2013 11:36 AM


You’re probably e’s most loyal subject; even more so than your father. Who knows what motivates you.
– Thu 27/06/2013 2:19 PM


There could only be one victor and it wasn’t often that it wasn’t me
– Thu 05/09/2013 3:57 PM


Word of s’s arrest spread through the castle in about the time it took to breath three times; c used it to rile up his liegemen (and surprisingly, w), stating that this is the deviousness/cowardice of the enemy, sending women in to undermine him; he had no idea how correct he really was
– Mon 20/01/2014 4:14 PM


It won’t be easy, it’s in such a naturally defensible position on its hill with such treacherous canyons at the front and back
– Mon 24/03/2014 2:50 PM


She looked different: her hair paler, much closer to white then her usual honey yellow as if years in the dungeon that hadn’t actually occurred had robbed her of what little colouring she’d had; her eyes intent stare where before she was unable to focus on anything for more than (amount of time) because so easily distracted by her own thoughts
– Wed 02/04/2014 4:45 PM


In the end, I’d have betrayed everyone
– Wed 02/04/2014 4:45 PM


What’s your method for capturing ideas that come to you at work?  Who else is having email conversations with him-/herself?  Tell me about it in the comments?

(Image source #1 and #2)

15 thoughts on “The Emails I Send to Myself (I can’t be the only writer who does this)

  1. You’re certainly not the only one, and I doubt you and I are the only two.The funny thing is, to most people, those snippets of yours look like spam. Nothing against your writing. It’s just, how vague they are, and how pulled out of the air they sound…you know. 🙂

    Mine are always sent with the subject “adds.” And usually, it turns into “Fw: adds” because I’ll forward the same message to myself with something new added. Repeatedly. It’s such a complicated system.


    • Ha! That’s funny: I guess they are kinda spammy. But there’s no one I’d rather be spammed by than myself (sure beats those Viagra offers or messages from my alleged royal Nigerian relatives!) These are just rough scratchings to ensure I don’t forget what I wanted to say. I’m pretty sure my actual prose is much smoother (and also better-punctuated!) 🙂

      I used to send myself 2 or 3 emails in a single day, with the subject “snippet 1”, “snippet 2”, “snippet 3”, etc., but it started to get unwieldy, especially if I didn’t use all the ideas that same day (they’d start to pile up in my inbox). Now I just leave the same email open all day and hit send just before I leave for home.


  2. I tend to email blog-post ideas or even snippets, as you call them, from work. I’ve sent piles of emails to my home account with “BI” as the subject line, which stands for “Blog Ideas.” Pretty innocuous.

    I’m more likely to raise eyebrows with my use of “Dragon: Naturally Speaking” voice-recognition software. I use it for some of my more tedious and repetitive writing tasks, but the program tends to get confused by certain words, causing me to back up and state them again, sometimes three or four times, my voice getting louder with each pass in accordance with my level of irritation.

    For example, when writing up a summary evaluation on department employees at one of our clients’ offices, I might say, “With assigned project deadlines, Ms. Miller should be able to execute her tasks on time.”

    Dragon frequently spells out “execute her” as “executor.” When I check through for mistakes, I’ll back over that and restate “Execute her.” Again, “executor” appears.

    “Execute her.”



    At that point, a couple of cubes down in Marketing, they are probably thinking, “Damn, I’m glad I don’t work in Quality Management.”


    • I have a friend who’s Persian who had to give up on Dragon: Naturally Speaking because it can’t understand her accent. She once showed me some phrases it had interpreted from her speech, and it was hilarious how incorrect they were (like, start-a-Tumblr-with-these hilarious).

      I’ve never tried it, but if it’s anything like the voice-recognition software some of the cell phone providers use when you try to call tech support, I’d vote we EXECUTE HER! too.


      • I’ve gotten some hilarious results from Dragon, but it still beats typing for two-finger specialists like me. Especially with the quantity of material I crank out every day. I’ve tried different accents to see if I can improve the accuracy, but so far my natural “jersey hitman” speech pattern works best.

        Probably more like impersonations than accents. I do Ren, Stimpy, and Stewie from Family Guy.


      • two-finger specialists like me.
        Clearly your dad didn’t force you to take grade 11 Typing class like mine did. I was so bitter at the time, but it’s turned out to be one of the most practical and useful classes I’ve ever taken. Plus it was pretty fun: the teacher was young and hip, and the lessons weren’t really all that hard (just repetitive). I ended up getting the third highest grade out of the entire grade 11 student body (3 or 4 separate classes).

        Dragon probably works for you because your “Jersey hitman” accent makes it afraid of being whacked/uninstalled.


      • Fuggetaboutit. You want I should tawk ta Mista Dragin over heya? Make ‘im an offah he can’t refuse?

        Why does it not surprise me you got the highest grade?


  3. I tap notes into my phone and sometimes on walks I use voice memos. Used to do email. Electronic copies sure saves time tracking down bits and pieces of paper! Sure makes us writers looks a little loonie if just seen from the outside!


    • I still carry a notebook for when I’m on walks or otherwise out of the office, but almost never use it anymore, instead typing memos into my phone. (I never take voice memos, as audio doesn’t seem to activate the creative part of my brain the way a written note does, and I would just have to transcribe the recording anyway before I could do anything with it.)

      I recently found my old notebook from 6 years ago when this WIP was just a glimmer in my eye, which is crammed full of prompts and ideas. I’ve slowly been working my way through them all, incorporating them into the story or discarding them as required. It almost feels like the end of an era, for I don’t foresee myself ever using a notebook in a meaningful way like that ever again.


    • I do still use post-it notes at home (I keep a post-it by my bedside). But I don’t always use my ideas from work that same day, so I find that emails are a tidier way of keeping everything organized; they just sit in my inbox until they’re ready for me, rather than me decorating the edges of all my home furniture with post-it tabs like I used to.

      As for getting a taste of my writing style, I absolutely promise, Roy, that my punctuation and sentence structure is waaaaay better than these chicken scratches! 🙂


  4. I used to do this when I was working full time. I would have an idea, quickly type in down in a Word doc and get back to work. Ten minutes later another idea quickly typed in a word doc and then back to work. At the end of each day I’d copy and paste the word doc into an email and send it home. Ideas and words are fleeting, so they need to be recorded otherwise they just vanish into thin air! 😀


    • You’ve pretty much described my workday, Dianne, except I type my ideas directly into Outlook since it autosaves.

      I don’t know how writers even make it though a workday, really. And why don’t the ideas come so easily when I’m at home, ready to write? 😀


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