Rock-a-Bye Inbox

My dad calls our family the Leaky-Eyed-Scotts, because great emotion — both positive and negative — has the capacity to lubricate our tear ducts. It’s not surprising, therefore, that I cried the first time I saw a baby delivered.

I’d seen a film, so I wasn’t completely naive, but I still found the experience overwhelming: The woman making those animalistic sounds you never hear elsewhere; the oval shape that grew in mysterious places, until it seemed to loom larger than a spaceship; the splash of blood and amniotic fluid, with their copper and marine scents. The squashed nose and lusty cry of an infant.

Beautiful, mystifying. Mystical.

When I graduated and went into medical practice, began doing deliveries on my own, it shifted a bit. I never lost my sense of wonder — thank God, for that would have been tragic — but life became tempered with a certain question: When would this baby come?


Sometimes I think I felt the urgency of the clock more than the couples. Silly, huh? And yet it was true. I’d care for a woman for eight months and then have a holiday coming up or a weekend I really needed to take off. I’d feel torn about the possibility of missing the “crowning” day. I even had a fight or two with the ToolMaster about my priorities. (He was right too, dang the man. He’s nearly always right.)

Yet all that was as nothing compared to my distraction when a patient arrived in labor. My day revolved around such things as:

  • Did I dare go get groceries? (Once I was at the store with a tantruming Molly and a full cart of groceries when the call came.)
  • Did I dare take a shower?
  • What would I do with the kids if the ToolMaster didn’t make it home in time?
  • And of course, the ever-present: would that baby I was worried about be okay?

Just when I began to have strategies to handle all these things, sometimes several times in the same week, another wrinkle would emerge. I’d have to regroup.

All this makes for a certain amount of resilience and problem-solving, yes? You’d think all those years of experience would extrapolate to patience in dealing with an inbox, wouldn’t you?

Bwahaha. Oh, my friends, you — and I, as it turns out — are so deluded. I think I sprained my index finger yesterday from hitting the refresh button, and I’m not even on sub.

The good news is, I eventually found my peace by:

  • Having Frank disconnect my Internet
  • Talking my anxiety through with Rebecca Burrell 
  • Focusing on other writing.
  • A walk.

But peeps, I do not want to be on the same learning curve with writing as I was obstetric deliveries. So hit me with it! Give me your best advice. Many of you are farther ahead on this writing path than I.

How do you cope with crickets in your inbox? How long did it take you to do so? If your answer requires that I purchase a pacifier, what brand should I obtain?

25 thoughts on “Rock-a-Bye Inbox

  1. What a great post, Jan. Also, my mind boggles at the time management with the moms in labor thing while you had small kids. I can barely get dinner on the table, let alone deliver babies. *bows down*

  2. I wish I knew! I’m currently waiting to hear if I got in to grad school or not and my refresh button is likely to wear out soon.

    Today I’m trying to stay away from the Internet altogether. (In a minute, she says desperately.) My phone has email and I’m going to wait for it to check every thirty minutes instead of checking manually every five. I might even go outside.

  3. Jenn, from what I know about you, you have fabulous organizational skills. Don’t forget I wasn’t writing at all in those years. At all.

    Eliza, ooh, good luck! *appendages crossed for you* Yes, I find a walk outside, sans music, to be the best reset possible. Go do it. 🙂

  4. There are times when I think the internet — and all its instant glory — is detrimental to our physical health and mental sanity. Yet how does one unplug because the moment you do, something important happens and you miss it and feel like a slug for not being on top of your game. Perhaps we should start a movement like Earth Day. What would happen if the internet went silent for a day?

  5. I’m much better at calming other people’s anxieties on the waiting front than my own. (Apparently. lol) My best cure is to keep busy doing other things, no matter what they are – the waiting insanity eats up whatever free CPU cycles exist in my brain, so I do my best to make sure they’re aren’t many to spare. Some days this works better than others. In the absence of that, I remind myself that my agent and I subbed the best book we possibly could, and it’s up to the universe now. In a more practical sense though, since getting away from the computer during the day isn’t an option for me, I have a notifier program installed which tamps down the constant urge to refresh, and that does help somewhat.

  6. Tracey, maybe yu haven’t figured out what they are, but you have to have coping skills to work as hard as you’ve done.

    Sheila, you know, I think that’s a brilliant idea. A weekly Internet day of rest. I’ve often wished for a day of grace, where I wouldn’t fall behind even as I disconnect.

    Rebecca, hmmm. I’m not sure that would work for me because I’m on a few RWA loops with LOTS of e-mail. Can you select which e-mail addresses activate the notifier?

    1. I don’t think the notifier technically supports that, Jan, but I can think of ways to do it. (although they’d be a little convoluted) I’d probably set up a dummy email address, set up my regular email with a rule to autoforward replies from the interesting emails to the dummy address, then set the notifier to use the dummy address 🙂 (You can do this with both gmail and Outlook – not sure about other programs.)

      Come to think of it, it would be a pretty handy thing to have, so I’d only see the notifications that really should be inducing the panic that the little window always seems to at the moment lol.

  7. I feel your pain. My Iphone with its email capabilities can sometimes be a curse. I do tend to write a lot more when I’m waiting for something, though, so maybe that’s the key to survival?

    I think Sheila’s idea is fabulous, and have found myself increasingly needing to get away from Twitter and the blogosphere some days just so I can hear my own thoughts. Back away from the computer, Jan…and then run! (And, good luck!)

  8. Like Kelly, I’m waving to you from way back in the parade line. But I’m a bit like you, Jan, in that I came to this feeling pretty good about my prior life accomplishments (although no where near as significant as yours – never did birth no babies nor nuthin’). After standing up to giant corporate suppliers, big bankers, landing major deals with customers ten times our size, etc., and coming up on the winning side so many times, I thought writing an ms and submitting it would be a piece of cake. Duh. Hardest thing I’ve EVER done. Still struggling with it all. Never felt so exposed or small in all my 50 years (kind of like those dreams where you realize your in your underwear at school). I wish I were like Amanda, and could fuel my writing with the anxiety of waiting, but turns out, not so much.
    Take a walk is all I got. Sorry. But, from another leaky-eyed writing-latecomer, Good Luck!

  9. Sheila – You can configure what are called ‘Rules’ in Outlook. (Where you find it depends on which version you have). There’s a little ‘wizard’ you can run through that lets you set up a customized notification scheme, so it (for example) plays a sound or pops up a window when you get email from an address or addresses you select. If you really want to drive yourself mad, you could set one up to play a ‘whoop whoop’ horn when your agent/editor emails you lol. Try doing a search for ‘Manage rules and alerts in Outlook’ – should have some tips for your particular version.

  10. Rebecca, I appoint you the Resident Geek, okay? You’re proposing ringtones for the inbox, if I understand you right.

    Amanda, I know the feeling. And you have wee ones who still build forts!

    Vaughn, my theory is we didn’t write earlier *because* we subconsciously understood and feared the sense of exposure. As for comparing professions, I really don’t work that way. My goal was to do my job with commitment, excellence and an open heart. After that, whether a person deals with babies, burgers, children, flooring or books, it makes no never mind to me. Different pot, same clay.

    Sheila, I LOVE the idea of an Internet Sabbath. The only problem is getting the word out. Shall we set up a website for promotion? 😉

    Yes, I’m teasing.

  11. Rebecca, I use the Rules function but have never tried Alerts. Now, how to decide whose e-mails are priority. This might be an impossible task for me b/c everyone’s important! :o)

    Jan, I almost said “yes” to your website idea, then realized you were pulling my leg. Good one!

  12. Jan, as always, I love your posts!
    The most helpful advice I’ve found so far comes from Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters). Whenever she sends out a manuscript, she says “Bye, bye book. Call when you’ve found work.” It works well for me. That and diving into another piece of writing — and the craziness of homeschooling two children, ages 7 and 4! Come to think of it, maybe I’m just too crazy to be nervous! Big hugs to you and I hope the in-box brings you joy very soon.

  13. I think if I’d subbed my book before I had children, or after they were grown, I would have gone crazy. One of the most frustrating aspects of being a mom who writes — the constant need to stop what I’m doing to ensure that small people are fed, clothed, and taken to school/activities on time — is also a sanity saver when I’m waiting, because I just can’t obsess the way I’d like to. I’d be happy to share my solution, though — what time would you like them at your house? : )

  14. Jan, I had learn to manage this a long time ago at work or all I’d do all day is answer emails. I think part of it stems from the fact that when that email pops up, I used to feel an urgent need to respond IMMEDIATELY. Nowadays if I can’t respond immediately, I send a quick response that I got the email and that I’ll be in touch soon. It takes some time, but you can break that need to reply instantly. Most of the time, I just leave it unopened if I don’t have time respond immediately, because once I’ve opened it, I’ll forget about it as it slides to the bottom of my page. (Folders are a good way to manage unanswered emails too.)

    For personal email (writing related) I get up at 5:30 every morning so I can check my email before I have to get ready for work–I reply to as much as I can, and put any alerts for blog posts in a separate folder to read later. People get top priority and I answer them first.

    I have unsubscribed from all listserve mailing lists. I used to love reading them, but now I just don’t have time. My brain is full. I don’t have time to visit blogs like I used to. I evaluated the listserve lists by gauging how much information I was getting from them versus how much was chatter. I get much more info from Twitter. (And on Twitter use that list feature. I rarely scroll down past the first screen anymore–I check my lists.)

    I get two breaks and a lunch hour at work. I check my mail during these breaks and again once I get home. The people I answer immediately are: my agent, my editors, my family, any blog interviewers who have been kind enough to send me their interview questions, critique partners, and close friends. Everybody else has to take a number. I answer what I can and leave the rest for the next day.

    I think people are beginning to expect a less immediate response to email (I know I am). Like I said, I like to acknowledge that I received their correspondence, but I can’t always answer immediately.

    I know Weronika gets TONS of email, so I always make sure to put a clear subject line in my emails to her and also make sure to tell her when something is urgent and when it is not. I try to do the same for my friends. If it’s not urgent, I don’t expect an immediate reply and sometimes a reply, other than a quick thanks, isn’t necessary at all!

    So the way I managed it was by eliminating anything I don’t have time for anymore (such as listserves); I set up a good folder system; and I try to stay on top of it in small chunks during the day.

    I hope that helps you! Otherwise, know that I feel your pain!

  15. Lisa, oh me gosh, I didn’t know you were homeschooling too young ones. Wow! And I love the Eleanor Brown quote and sentiment. Thank you for that!

    Liz, how about in three weeks when Molly’s done university? 😉 Srsly, my hat is off to you and all mothers who write with small children at home. I wonder where I’d be if I’d had your discipline and self-knowledge when I was at that stage.

    Teresa, lots of good tips there. Thank you! My issue at present isn’t so much how to deal with the inbox – although this will help me when I’m ready for the next set of issues 😉 – but how to pretend as though the inbox doesn’t exist at all when I’m waiting for news. This is one area where outside distraction helps, I would think – whether that’s work or kids.

  16. I have message in my Inbox dated 14 October 2008 that still calls for some action to be taken. And 26 others from 2009. They have become good friends, forming a solid base for everything new to pile up on.

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