Monday, May 20, 2024

#MicroblogMondays: Information overload vs creativity

Back in February, I pondered the ongoing tensions between feeding my lifelong habit as a voracious reader and consumer of media (including, for the past 15+ years, blogs), my pride in staying well informed on current events and a number of other interesting topics -- and the difficulty of trying to keep up with the constant barrage of content that arrives in my inbox every day in this multi-platform, digital age.  

I recently read something that gave me a huge shock of recognition -- an "a-ha" moment, if you will. In her wonderful Substack "Changing the Channel," Kirsten Powers wrote about attempting to follow Julia Cameron's book "The Artist's Way," which provides a 12-week guide to greater creativity.  Powers abandoned the book the first time she tried to go through it, but picked it up again after seeing how a friend was transformed by it. 

This time around, she realized she was what Cameron refers to as a "blocked artist." (The piece is titled "Blocked Artists and the Lies We Believe.") She also realized that "Reading too much can be a block."(Wait, what??!)  

This section in particular really hit home for me (especially paragraph 2):  

When I journaled about it I realized almost immediately how I used my constant reading of nonfiction as a way to numb out. I also realized that instead of filling my well at the end of the day by spending time drawing, knitting, playing with my dog, or talking to another human, for example, I usually went straight to reading a nonfiction book where I could learn something.

My poor brain was never getting a break. I was addicted to information—I always needed to know more and be more informed, which I came to see as the block of perfectionism. I also was spending too much time reading other people's ideas and not making enough room for my own ideas to germinate. 


Not long afterward, something else landed in my inbox to complement and reinforce Powers' message. I get a regular newsletter (not a Substack) from Ruby Warrington, who wrote the excellent book "Women Without Kids" (reviewed here). Her most recent missive contains much food for thought. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a link I can direct you to -- and it was SO hard to pick just a few excerpts to share -- but her message really made me think. The header reads "Choosing creativity over visibility." (Boldfaced emphasis is Warrington's.)  

Warrington wrote about how she recently declined an invitation to appear on an Instagram Live, explaining that she just didn't have the capacity to be "on" in that way right now.  

It is SO MUCH. To the point that I am questioning if my desires for my creative life are in fact incompatible with what I have started to think of as a culture of “peak content.”

...It all began a few of months back, when I put myself on something of a “content diet.” When I was working as a journalist, I had always made it my business to know what was happening in the culture. This meant religiously scanning my go-to list of publications; staying up to date with the edgiest podcasts; subscribing to the requisite newsletters; and sensing into the social trends that swirled between the lines. A practice that that followed me as I transitioned to writing books.

But over the past year or so, this practice had begun to feel nauseating. As if I was becoming content intolerant... some days, I literally felt like I was gagging on the sheer volume of headlines, hot-takes, and opinions that my consciousness was attempting to digest. Like I was stuffed so full of “content,” there was no more space inside me for my own, original thoughts to form...

And yet, the current wisdom being that in order to have a career as an author, I must also  be producing a constant stream of content, in order to build an audience, grow my name recognition, and “test out my ideas."

...Not only do I just not have the words, the focus to spare. But also because I am increasingly questioning whether a culture of “peak content” is in fact in direct conflict with the business of selling books. 

...I find myself increasingly compelled to resist a culture where the precious substance of human creative expression is reduced to content—literal FILLER—for Meta et al to sandwich between the ads that form the basis of their trillion-dollar business models... Filler that usually has its own sneaky sales hook embedded in it somewhere, because we all need to pay the bills.

And yes. There is money to be made from subscriber-only newsletters and podcasts, and from exploiting the algorithms what another friend describes as the “IG mall.” But “success” in this realm (if success = earning enough from your efforts for it to be worth it) requires creating a constant churn of … content. 

And the thing is … with so much free content in the world, who even has the time to read books?!

...I cannot help but ask myself if all the content I've created to promote my books might actually have had the inverse effect. If my potential readers can check off the key takeaways by listening to me on a podcast, and get the juiciest tidbits from an IG Live, then why fork out upwards of $10 to buy a copy?

...Against all wisdom to the contrary about what it takes to make it as an author, I am choosing to go with my gut on this. For now, and for as long as it feels like the healthiest option for me, I will be choosing my creativity over my visibility. I'll just have to trust that at least a few of you will still be here the next time I have something to say. 

Do I get the feeling the universe is sending me a message?  

Granted, unlike Powers or Warrington, I am not a public figure or "content creator."  I made a decision years ago that I wasn't going to try to promote this blog on social media, or myself as a spokesperson for the childless not by choice community.  I admire others who have the time, energy and promotional savvy to do so (not to mention the courage to speak out on such sensitive issues). It's just not me.  And I'm (still) happy with that decision. 

Also, unlike Powers or Warrington, I'm not particularly thinking of my "creativity" (although I suppose that's part of it) -- but there are certainly parts of my life that I sometimes feel like I'm neglecting, because it's so hard to tear myself away from the damn laptop/phone...!  :p 

Nevertheless. I feel like some paring down of the content I consume and a reordering of priorities may be in order. 

(Easier said than done, of course...!)     

Does any of this strike a chord with you too?

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  


  1. Reading too much can definitely be a block. Too much fiction is living in fantasy worlds. But too much non-fiction is never giving myself an escape. It's definitely not "numbing out." That comment (not yours) surprised me. It's become "too much," as I wrote on A Separate Life a couple of weeks ago. As a result, I have become content intolerant. I choose what to read, where to read it, and I've limited much of my blog reading to that of people I "know" and love. I've often wondered how you keep up. Good luck on paring down and setting new priorities. I hope it makes your life calmer and more relaxing! I'm watching this space ... but no pressure. ;-) lol

    Like you, I can't do the self-promotion/time on social media etc that is required. I find that a lot of people who do (not all, not at all) just create filler content, and that completely turns me off. Whereas I want to spend my time to read something that has new ideas, or makes me think, or reminds me of something I need to think about/follow/do etc. I know I'm writing a lot about Otherhood at the moment, but that's because it is making me (or others) think and talk, and I love that.

  2. Oh, wow. This definitely struck a chord with me. I do feel like everything is content overload -- from online media to the fact that you need 12 different streaming services to watch all the shows people are talking about. I am thrilled that Ruby Warrington is stepping outside of the barrage, because it is so much the case that if you are looking to gain recognition and credibility you need to have a massive presence on social media for marketing yourself, and then where's the time to create? And ouch, to reading so much that you don't have time to create. I love reading books, but I also have not done a great job of carving out time to write regularly, which I do love. Modern life is so flooded with "content," it's so interesting to read about how it is impacting creativity. Great post!

  3. I think I used to read to "numb out" when my feelings were overwhelming. I probably still do.

    It has always been a relief to dive into someone else's thoughts and distract myself. My husband used to laugh at me for reading the junk mail when I was stressed. But it it calmed my brain to put words into my brain that just came out the other side. Words I didn't care about... so I didnt have to listen to the words inside my brain

    I had to stop reading online. It felt like everything I read was trying to nudge me to buy something.

    My library card gets a lot of use. When I am stressed I read fiction. When I'm not stressed I learn things.

    But your post makes me think I could make more space.

    I might have to try reading less - see if I can make a better relationship with the words inside my brain, instead of blocking them by reading.

    Food for thought. Thank you!

  4. It resonates a lot. If I don't set a timer or give myself a limit, I can scroll endlessly through the news after dinner. At some point, I realized how many opinion pieces I was reading, which wasn't the same as reading the news. So now I try to skim headlines, digest real news, and get off the news app so it doesn't take over my evening.

  5. Agree, you definitely have to find some way to filter what you read/watch/absorb. For me, purpose and direction is the key.

    Some questions I use for reflection, in no particular order:

    -Am I *actually* going to do something or change something based on what I have read? If not, should I really be giving it attention?
    -Is what I'm reading making me angry at people, giving me an easy "bad guy", making me feel good about judging others? If's *really* going on? Some more thought probably needed.
    -Is what I'm reading giving me lots of anxiety without a clear, beneficial direction....enough said.
    -Is what I'm reading helping me to be more curious, intrigued, or even have second thoughts about a previous conclusion?
    -Who profits from having my eyeballs on this? Do I really understand their goals and intentions? Do I really want/need to be involved?
    -How does this interaction resemble, or not resemble, high-quality, impactful personal connections?

    The bottom line is, very few people actually deserve/require your attention. And the ones that do, are probably not on the internet.
    (Having said all that, I did send you an email invite to my blog. I am unlikely to overwhelm anyone with content, lol).

  6. Ruby mentioned on Instagram this week that she'd received such a huge response to her newsletter that she decided to put this piece on her website. I had to do some hunting to find it, but here's a link to the whole thing!