Monday, September 27, 2010

Is there too much information out there?

You got me into this
Information overload, situation lost control
Send out an SOS

Katy Perry "Waking up in Vegas"


Now, I just want to go on record as saying I LOVE the Internet. I really do. I have learned so much through so many wonderful blogs on writing, blogs on grammar, articles on plotting, tweets on characterization, etc...

Plus, don't forget all the online classes you can take while still in your pajamas! It's a beautiful thing.

Or...at least I thought all that information was a beautiful thing.

Oh dear. Why the change of heart, you might ask?
Well, let me tell you what happened to me:

In the beginning of the year, I started writing a new story. It wasn't perfect by any means, but I knew it had potential. (All stories have potential. :) ) Anyhew, I had it in my mind that I was really going to make this story different. It was going to have depth, emotion, a killer plot--and of course, romance. So in my frenzy to create this so-called masterpiece of fiction, I consulted all sorts of online writing information I had never used before. I decided to read a new book on plotting to make sure I got this story right from the beginning. I even took an online writing course to further seal the deal.

So you probably all can figure out what happened next. Did you guess that I finished the book, it became a bestseller and I live happily ever after?

Yeah. Well, I wish.

That didn't happen. Instead, my brain stalled. Actually, stalled doesn't quite describe it. My brain more or less, coughed, fizzed, spluttered, and DIED. Yep. All that information I took in made me doubt every single word I had written and was about to write. The feeling made me sick. During that time, I barely enjoyed reading too.

For five months, I was in hell.

Thank goodness a good chunk of that time was summer so I was able to keep busy with other things. But I became nervous and wondered if I was ever going to get my mojo back. That's when I knew what I had to do. I had to abandon that story. Yep. Ditch it. (Not ditch it as in trash it. It's stored in a computer file, of course, because you never know...) But for all intents and purposes, it's ditched. I haven't looked at it or thought about in months.

My chest automatically felt lighter and I was able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I got an idea for another book and decided to go back to basics of plotting, ignore everything that I had read and just TRUST MY INSTINCTS.

Whew! The old Jennifer came back.

Back in the olden days (I can't believe I wrote olden days), a writer could read a book on writing, have time to digest it and maybe use some of its information. Or...maybe attend a workshop or two at a conference and glean something of use out of it. But nowadays we live in a TGIF (Twitter/Google/IPad/Facebook) society. Information is fast-paced and comes to us 24/7.

But only if we let it.

Now, I'm NOT saying ignore all advice, stick your fingers in your ears, work in a box, and never try to grow as a writer.

Not at all! What I'm saying is don't... be like me. :)

Be discriminate.
Trust yourself and your writing.
Don't over think when you read one article on the "Merits of Backstory" and then the next day read an article on the "Evils of Backstory".


That's enough to paralyze any writer.
And then that's when self-doubt makes its attack.


Have you ever experienced information overload when it comes to writing advice? Did you ever stop writing because of it?

How do you handle all the information and articles on writing that are constantly coming at you 24/7? Is there a way to filter it all?

44 comments:

Joanna St. James said...

as a serious rebel/ADD patient who takes this title very seriously. I have somehow found a way to filter out what does not apply to me. It's not like the info out there is bad its just that we are all different and have different methods and voices. So I have inserted a mental filter, I only retain stuff that sounds like me. It does not help that I am 4getful too.

Liza said...

This is a tough topic. I think I basically skim everything, and pocket aspects of the information. I don't analyze or dwell on any of it...I just include it as a whole body of information I'm learning about. You do know what works for you...use these tools to enhance it, not change it.

Misha said...

When I started following blogs, I also felt like I had an information overload.

Then I realized something. Everything written about writing (including How to books) are actually insights or opinions from a single writer.

Just because the info is out there does not mean that it's better than what you know instinctively.

I hope you get back to that story one day, and make it your own

:-)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I once had over seven head giving me critiques on a chapter. About four heads too many. The thing got mushed into some weird oatmeal.

Trusting instincts is key in this industry.
~ Wendy

Jenny said...

I am prone to information overload. I don't think it has kept me from writing for months on end (how awful that must have felt for you), but it has shaken my confidence. A good filter is essential. And having a short attention span helps, too :-)

I'm glad you recovered from your paralysis!

Tabitha Bird said...

Phew, I am so glad someone has finally said this. It so needed to be said. JUST WRITE everyone. ENJOY it. We forget we are supposed to enjoy this thing called writing :)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Having a short attention span, huh? LOL

I have truly limited what I read. If I read somethng every day on writing it messes with my brain.

Jennifer Shirk said...

AMEN, Tabitha!

Terri Tiffany said...

Thank you thank you thank you!! That is what is happening with me. I have lost a lot of the joy of writing because I worry too much about all the rules and critiques and opinions and learning. What happens is I am not free to write and then maybe fix afterwards.

Maria Zannini said...

I'm like a crow, picking out all the shiny bits of information and storing them away.

I do like the information highway, but it takes real effort to filter it so you can work in peace.

Piedmont Writer said...

Oh man, some days it just feels like everyone is intruding on what I KNOW and FEEL is right in my writing. No backstory, limit backstory, don't even think about backstory until page 85, the list is endless.

Some rules are good but too many cooks can definitely spoil the soup. Information overload can kill you. I'm glad you feel better.

Linda Kage said...

Oh, yeah. Been there. Totally lost my muse when I discovered everything I wrote was crap. But...at the end of the day (okay, maybe it was a year), all I did was write what was inside me. I figure there's plenty of time to fix and revise later on!

Diane said...

I think trusting your gut and God is important. He knows your limits. :O)

Chicki said...

I'm so glad to know that I am not the only one this has happened to! For a while I was printing out blog entries that talked about topics I thought I needed to know and putting them in a binder. What I realized months later was that I rarely went back to read these, because there were new entries all over the Internet every day.

What I do now, is check the blogs I have in my favorites, read the title or the first few sentences. If the subject doesn't relate to where I'm at right now, I just skip it.

TMI can confuse and frustrate you. As writers we need to stay informed, but we have to narrow our study or we'll never get any writing done.

Joanne said...

I've seen it said where a writer should never go to school to "learn" writing, they'll lose their voice in the process. I agree, those structural basics need to be respected, but our own spin has to come to the work too.

Laura Pauling said...

I think there is a time to read about that stuff and a time just to write. We all have our own opinions on things, and it's important for newbie writers to get a handle on writing fiction...but a certain point, the rubber has to hit the road. And it just comes down to the writing.

Too much info doesn't paralyze me, but sometimes reading twitter and so much of the good news flooding it can get me down - so at times I need to stay away from the publishing rush.

R.M.Gilbert said...

Jennifer, first off I want to congratulate you...you were drawn as the winner of the Finally Friday Segment to receive the book Flipped. BG was so excited to draw the winner this morning so I'm hoping over to let you know.

In response to information overload...still fairly new to this 'be a pubbed author' business. I found the amount of advice overwhelming. Don't do this, do that. You can't do that, but try this. It's really crazy. One of my goals has been to seek advice from those who have succeeded and then ask myself if it might work for me. If I think it will I apply it, if I'm not sure it will, I try it. If I'm certain it won't I try it...lol. And then I depend on a great crit group to see if I've gotten it right.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Love your new definition of TGIF. So true!

Carol Kilgore said...

I do this, too. And most of the time I could kick myself afterward. Slowly I'm learning to trust my writer self and learning what works for ME. I think that's the key. We do need to learn the basics and keep current on market trends, but after that it's knowing what will work for us and ignoring the rest. Or most of the rest. Or...see what I mean?

Lynn said...

I'm so glad you wrote this! I've taken a step back from learning, and trying to just do. Yes, there is a lot of information but instincts are the key. And writing is creativity after all.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Information overload--ugh. Usually I have to make myself digest it and not try to apply it right away to my work because then I'm trying to apply ten or a million different new techniques or ideas and it definitely stalls me.

PatriciaW said...

Absolutely. Too much emphasis for new writers on getting it "right". Following the rules. Knowing the industry, and on and on, when the emphasis should be on writing.

It's a huge part of the reason why I've got so many unfinished stories.

I can only write what I can write, and try to make it the best I can offer. I'm glad you decided to ditch everything and simply write as Jennifer writes.

K.M. Weiland said...

The Internet and I are buds, but even my best buds aren't allowed in the room when I'm writing. There was a time there, back when I still had an external wireless card, that I had to physically unplug it during writing time to remove myself from distraction.

Jules said...

Wonderful topic and I agree with Tabitha, needed to be said.

TGIF, happy hour will never be the same to me :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Karen Lange said...

"Olden days" - kinda has a nice ring to it when you're on overload these days:)

For me, the filter is self control and time. Self control, much easier said than done, but helped out alot by the time factor. I don't always have the time to check all these things out. Can be a good thing, I'm thinking, to help filter the info glut that's out there. Like you, I like all the info at our fingertips, but often it's too much. Self control, did I mention that? Aargh, I'm a work in progress!
Good post.
Blessings,
Karen

T. Anne said...

yes! i've been paralyzed before and it wasn't pretty. It's absolutely trusting your inner editor and trusting the fact you know what your doing. I read two book this weekend both of which were good but both of which were telling the whole story. And see? They got published? I can give a published example of what the writing experts say never to do. You know why? Because people do them and sometimes it works. Just saying.

Mohamed Mughal said...

As a highly distractable analyst and data gatherer, I can relate with your post.

I'll never forget those two words of wisdom that a fellow writer e-mailed to me as a reply to a lament that I didn't have time to write. He wrote, "Writers write." He's right. I'm with Ms. Weiland's comment above; unplug any distractions to writing, then get to work :)

Susan R. Mills said...

I absolutely love this post! I've been there. In fact it sounds like it was the same time as you. I made very little progress on my manuscript because I was doubting myself on everything. You are so right; we have to trust our guts.

cleemckenzie said...

I need to keep your post and read it in the mornings before I sit down to write. Thanks. Now I gotta go Tweet or Google or interface somewhere. Say, how about I go visit a neighbor. I'll email and see if she's home. :-)

Sri Pammi said...

Totally true, Jennifer.

Anytime I start reading a how to- article or book, my brain kind of freezes after a while. As if it's telling me that that's all it can take at that time and really, until we put it our writing, do we really learn?

You raise a very good point.

Sri.

Tamika: said...

I think I've experienced snippets of this with every story. Maybe that's why I've yet to finish a craft book. It stirs my natural tendency to want perfection~ which is not even close to possible!

Thanks Jennifer, you attacked that elephant in the room we are all trying to ignore:)

Kenda said...

"Trust yourself and your writing"--great words of advice. I'm on overload right now to prepare for a pitch that's coming up in a few days. I need to stop finding that one more article and just get it done :-) Great post!

Amy DeTrempe said...

Oh, I have information overload and now I just look up what I need to know for that moment, scene, chapter, etc. I write the story of my heart and when it is done, hand the chpaters off to my critique parterns. There are some great blogs out there, but no story is alike, nor should it be and each author needs to find the best way to write their own story without their muse being crushed in the process.

Carolyn V. said...

I have experienced that and feel overwhelmed many times with all the advice I get. I guess that's why it's good to take a break and re-look at things after. =)

Mary Aalgaard said...

Yes. I'm experiencing it right now. Time to pull back and allow myself to process it all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be down... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at jennifershirk.blogspot.com could post it.

Thanks,
John

Jennie Bailey said...

It can certainly take the fun out of writing - every book has a different rule, each person who critiques can tell you different things, do this, don't do this, do that, don't do that...it can make a writer crazy. Rules are more like guidelines. You are so right on with trusting your instincts!!

Sandy Shin said...

I have definitely had information overload before, especially when I try to incorporate all of the writing advice I've read at once. Right now, I'm just trying to include what I can, but I'm squirreling the information away to look at when I'm at a particular phase in revisions. :)

Ca88andra said...

I guess I don't have much time to read all the information I'd like to, so it gets naturally filtered. I skim more than I read. But don't take everything that's written as gospel. Go with your gut and write what you like!

Heidi Willis said...

oh my gosh, this was SO me!!! I had to literally do an internet detox when I got so paralyzed by worry that I'd done it all wrong that I couldn't write at all.

I'm much more careful now about what I read about how I should write, and who I take advice from. Not that it's not good advice, but there's no hard and fast rules about what works and what doesn't, and sometimes you just have to trust yourself to find your own voice.

storyqueen said...

Nice to know I am not alone.

Very doubtful about new WIP.

Feel like I am probably doing it all wrong.

Sigh.

Shelley

Laura Marcella said...

That's a great way of looking at it! I choose what works best for me. Advice on writing also depends on the genre. So I read it, but I only apply what works for me and what I write!

Julie Musil said...

Your TGIF is awesome! Love that.

Yes, I get overwhelmed A LOT. So much information to process, plus all the time it takes to dissect it all. I can drive myself crazy sometimes.

I'm learning to sort the information into columns, and I take or leave what I want. I'm still learning a ton, but I've realized I can't soak up every single piece of advice that's out there.

Awesome post.

Name: Holly Bowne said...

Yes. I am a victim of information overload. And no, I do not have a solution! I went from reading everything I came across, and subscribing to dozens of newsletters, to reading nothing and shoving all my newsletters into an online file.

Although, I don't think that's the ideal solution, I did manage to finish my first draft. (Woo hoo!)