Fear of writing gets planted in American schoolchildren at an early age, especially children of scientific or technical or mechanical bent. They are led to believe that writing is a special language owned by the English teacher, available only to the humanistic few who have “a gift for words.” But writing isn’t a skill that some people are born with and others aren’t, like a gift for art or music. Writing is talking to someone else on paper. Anybody who can think clearly can write clearly, about any subject at all.

On one level, therefore, the new fluency created by e-mail is terrific news. Any invention that eliminates the fear of writing is up there with air conditioning and the lighbulb. But, as always, there’s a catch. Nobody told all the new e-mail writers that the essence of writing is rewriting. Just because they are writing with ease and enjoyment doesn’t mean they are writing well.