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When Input Overwhelm Leads to Decreased Output
I'm dealing with input overwhelm. Inputs are coming at me from every direction, and it takes so much energy to handle, that I don't have time for creating output.
I’ve started doing more analog things, escaping the algorithm, being untraceable. I leave my phone at home when I go places. I wait longer and longer each day before I check my phone or turn on my computer. I write longhand in a journal, several drafts in pen on paper before I type it up. That always used to be my process. Why did I stop? I don’t know. The lure of all those inputs, I guess.
The book I'm reading right now says this: "We marvel at artificial intelligence, laud productivity, and measure everything, from the number of steps we take to the number of hours we sleep...we seek to do more and more, faster and faster, in an effort to get better and better. This is a rational desire. Except there's one major problem...we aren't machines."
So lately, I've been trying to be a human without having all these inputs from the machines.
A few weekends ago, my family discovered a golf driving range not far from our house. We didn’t have any golf clubs but found some for free at the dump swap shop (an untraceable, algorithm-free, transaction). You got a bucket of golf balls by putting $5 into a machine (they didn’t take credit cards; another untraceable transaction). The driving range was conveniently located next to an ice cream shop with portions so large I don't even know how to describe them to you (I guess I'll describe them as: so large). (I paid for the ice cream with a credit card: traceable.) (Also telling you all this here puts it in the public record, but I’m not trying to cover up a crime, just trying to have original thoughts again, free from the barrage of all the inputs.)
I am not great at smacking golf balls into a lake. Honestly, no one at the driving range was great at it. Or, some people were pretty good, but no one cared. No one postured, no one scoffed, no one looked at me funny for sitting down to have a seltzer and some crackers halfway through my bucket of driving range balls.
There was freedom in thwacking the balls into the water, but also freedom in not worrying about how to stage it for the internet. No #golfballs. Just golf balls.
Last week, a lady at the exercise class I take twice a week said, "Well, time to go home and make dinner while listening to the news, and cry." Like it was her job. (It's not her job.) She felt like she had to do it. If you want to do that, fine. If you want to be informed of all the bad news, fine. But if reading about all the terrible things in the world is causing you to look for more terrible things in the world, and stopping you from the act of joyfully creating, you can stop. You have my permission to stop. I am not a journalist. No one looks to me for information about news. I used to read two papers every day, listen to NPR for hours, and look at Twitter all day to see what everyone's take was. Now? I squint and skim the headlines. I listen to music instead of NPR. I barely check Twitter. I find that, quite simply, I can't take it.
I used to go on a walk and try to look for good content. That graffiti, this dog, that thought, is it good content? There is a sense these days that you have to keep providing, keep feeding the feed. To stay relevant, to remain at the top of the page, to make sure no one forgets you. And on the one hand I like sharing stuff, but on the other hand, I’m not sure it’s important. I’m not saying sharing your life on the internet is wrong, only that it might not be that important.
I'm really trying to get back to writing words that aren't meant for anyone else (not yet, at least). I am driven to create stories that are not a reaction to digital life, but a reaction to this very specific real life I'm living. That said: it's hard. Right now it's a constant struggle of "should I look at the internet? yes/no" and my response should be 96% no, but is more around 50% no, if I'm being honest.
Years ago I wrote an essay for the Nerdy Book Club about writing for myself first. It’s a strange interplay as a professional writer – my writing is ultimately for public consumption, but it works best when I write for me, first -- when I strive to delight myself before thinking about any other readers.
There is freedom in creating only for yourself, and in shutting the door on all the inputs. Freedom in getting back to writing for hours every morning. Freedom in thwacking golf balls into water with my family, thinking about things like "I am pretty bad at this" and not much else. Nobody telling me how to be, what to do. And this is where I need to get back to with writing: playing, wandering (metaphorically and actually), not worrying about if I'm doing it right. I don’t want my output to be “good content.” I want it to be good books.
ONE WEEK LEFT!
This is your reminder that my next picture book, Yours in Books, is coming out on IN ONE WEEK, on September 21. I promise you'll like it. It's cozy and adorable. Do you like books? And bookstores? Yes? Then you'll like it. Go ahead and preorder if you want (and preorder from Print: A Bookstore if you want it signed).. Also go ahead and register for the virtual Print: A Bookstore event, which is next Tuesday 9/21 at 7:00 pm ET, where I'll talk about my inspiration for the book and answer questions and we'll all talk about how awesome sending letters in the mail is.
Thoughts and Links
Part Two of my interview for Iva-Marie Palmer's newsletter is out! We talk about tasteful backyard ragers, what would go in my pandemic time capsule, and a bit about my writing process. (You can read Part One here, if you missed it.)
Exciting new podcast alert! Story of the Book, a new podcast from authors Lindsay Eagar and Hayley Chewins, interviews book makers about how one of their specific books got made. The first episode, with Hayley, about her book The Sisters of Straygarden Place, is out today. You'll want to subscribe to this one, because one of the episodes is an interview with me, so clearly you want to listen to that the second it drops.
My good friend Carter's newest picture book (her first as author AND illustrator), Circle Under Berry, is out today. I've talked about it here before, but it's worth mentioning again on its publication day, since now you can go get it for yourself. It's a mindblowingly layered and deceptively simple take on storytelling, shapes, and how we see the world. Check it out!
I related deeply to everything in this Olivia Campbell essay on Lit Hub, "The Heartbreaking Ingenuity of the Mother-Writer." This especially was resonant, and a bit of a gut punch: "I see four issues converging to keep mother-writers from getting time to themselves to work: the undervaluing of writing (especially that done by women), the minimization of women’s writing as a hobby, the underestimation of the labor involved in childcare, and the cultural expectation that mothers dedicate themselves and their attention to their children alone."
I didn't realize that I had strong feelings about coasters until I moved into my writing shed. My old coasters were falling apart and leaving black marks all over my new Ikea desk. I grabbed some coasters from the house, but they kept sticking to my iced coffee glass, and I'm sure it's because of These Times We Live In, but every time it happened, I'd get irrationally angry. "How dare you not do your job, coaster? Stay on the desk, darnit!" I ordered some gorgeous stone coasters from Tramake, and now I have no coaster rage. I love them and recommend them if you want coasters that look cool, absorb condensation, and stay on the desk/table.
It's no secret I love tarot cards and oracle decks. I have a habit of backing Kickstarter campaigns and then completely forgetting about them, so when the deck arrives, it's this weird gift from my past self. Apparently I backed the Moon Baby Tarot Kickstarter, and while I did not need another tarot deck (yeah, sure), this is my new favorite. It's based on the Hoi Polloi deck from 1973, which I read about years ago but never got because I don't want an old, possibly incomplete deck. The Moon Baby Tarot reminds me of flipping through vinyl albums or looking at any magazine in 1975 (in a good way). I also got the Visionary Oracle deck, which I'm completely obsessed with. It says it's for asking "what do I need to know right now to align with my highest creative self?" The cards are broad things like "boundaries" and "vulnerability" but the accompanying guidebook relates them specifically to creativity. I've only had it a few days, but so far all of my daily card pulls have been ridiculously spot on.
Are you watching "Only Murders in the Building" on Hulu? We started watching it because I'll watch anything with Steve Martin in it. It's a modern take on a Hardy Boys mystery, but with some fun slightly-surreal bits. I think you'll like it.
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