Information Overwhelm

December 15, 2022 § 47 Comments

By Jennifer Lang


Dear Comrades,

Every day, from the second I open my eyes (and turn on my phone) to the second I crawl into bed (and turn off my phone), I scroll through dozens of writing-related emails:

  • weekly newsletters from Hope Clark’s FundsforWriters + Writer’s Relief, both of which I signed up for years ago;
  • occasional newsletters from Kathy Fish’s The Art of Flash Fiction (with whom I took a few flash intensives online) + Jackie Bluu’s The Writer’s Den (where I submitted a story for an anthology);
  • less frequent but still present ones from The Loft Literary Center (where I taught memoir classes online) + The HerStories Project (which published “Sleep Like a Midlife Woman” in The Pandemic Midlife Crisis Gen X Women on the Brink anthology).

But that’s not all. There are also breaking news and blog posts from:

  • Association of Writers and Writing Programs or AWP (which I joined after my MFA and am finally attending in Seattle this March);
  • Poets & Writers (which I also joined post-MFA);
  • Author’s Guild (which I joined while shopping around my memoir manuscript);
  • Jane Friedman’s blog (where I took one online workshop) + The Writers Grotto (where I took a class during a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area) + Brevity blog (duh);
  • Literary Hub (which shares writing tips and historical tidbits);
  • Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (which provides indie lit updates);
  • Winning Writers (where I entered a contest once) + Women on Writing (ditto);
  • Creative Nonfiction (where I dream of seeing my name) + Narratively (where my dreams will never come true);
  • Tammy Delatorre (who began offering regular write-ins on zoom long before Covid) + George Saunders from Story Club (who is very verbose);
  • Forge NYC (where I applied to a fellowship a few years ago) and Lilith the New 40 (ditto) and Tablet Magazine (you get the gist).

Then there’s Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day +’s Word of the Day, both brief and befitting to get my writing muscles moving before sitting in my chair.

Add to those the literary journals on my radar:

  • Hippocampus (which published “Gas Masks and Wedding Vows” in 2016 and has subsequently declined everything from flash to book manuscript submission);
  • San Fedele Press (which published “Of Zero Chroma” in their Art in the Time of Covid 19 anthology);
  • The Masters Review;
  • The Kenyon Review;
  • New England Review;
  • CRAFT;
  • The Commuter;
  • Ephemera;
  • Mslexia;
  • Room;
  • Solstice Literary Magazine;
  • So and So from Oldster Magazine;
  • Split-Lip;
  • [PANK].

There are the ones to which I subscribed while hunting for a publisher:

  • Coffee House Press;
  • WTAW Press;
  • ugly duckling press;
  • Hachette Book Group;
  • Open Books Press;
  • Catapult, Counterpoint, Soft Skull;
  • Black Lawrence Press;
  • Koehler Books;
  • Cune Press;
  • Claret Press;
  • Jewish Book Council;
  • Jewish Book Week.

And, of course, the Covid connected sit-ins and write-togethers with:

  • Marcia Meier’s Writing through the Apocalypse (which I attended once at the start of the first lockdown);
  • Writers Near & Far (which I co-created during that same trying timeframe);
  • Allison K. Williams and Ashleigh Renard’s Writers’ Bridge (which I attended once when the world was quiet but never again because I teach yoga on zoom at the same hour on the same day);
  • Suleika Jaouad’s The Isolation Journals (which I read to make sure she is okay, which she’s not).

Recently, I joined Revel, a hybrid community for women 40+, where I offer bimonthly Sunday Deep Dive sessions and receive a surplus of reminders (your class is full) and alerts (do you want to increase the number of participants?).

Plus retreats in exotic faraway lands that lure me like:

  • Julie Maloney in Greece;
  • Nancy Stohlman and Kathy Fish in Costa Rica;
  • Dinty W. Moore and Allison K. Williams in Italy, Portugal, and Costa Rica;
  • Diana Friedman in the Pyrenees;
  • Authors At Large in different locations every year.

And there’s no way to ignore my alma mater—Vermont College of Fine Arts—which caused a big brouhaha about relocating their summer residencies to Colorado and replacing their in-person winter ones with zoom.

Keep in mind that none of this has anything to do with social media.

Everyone, everywhere has so much to say about the people and the books they wrote/read, the craft and the business they run/recommend. All. The. Time.

Unable to keep up, I’ve been deleting them before opening them as if they were ticking time bombs.

But here’s what I want to know: is it just me? Or do you also feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of information in your inbox?


Paralyzed Writer


Jennifer Lang, born in the San Francisco Bay Area, now lives in Tel Aviv, where she runs Israel Writers Studio. Her essays have appeared in the Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Under the Sun, Ascent, Consequence, and elsewhere. Places We Left Behind: a memoir-in-shorts and Landed: a yogi’s memoir in pieces & poses will both be published by Vine Leaves Press (September 2023 and October 2024). A Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominee, she holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and serve as Assistant Editor for Brevity.  


§ 47 Responses to Information Overwhelm

  • Jennifer, I can’t even. Omg, it’s EXACTLY how I experience the start of every day as I open emails and “log in” to “the world.”
    It’s mentally (and emotionally) EXHAUSTING and as you say, paralyzing. I think about this fact every day. I’m overwhelmed. So, I tell myself to sit down and write BEFORE checking emails and opening social media. But do I actually do it? Rarely if ever. But thanks to your writerly blog today, I’ve been encouraged to really make a point of it. To try again. Why? Because I know I’m not alone. Thank you.

  • Diana says:

    My list is totally different and just as long. My new year resolution is to quiet the chatter. Prioritize. Get rid of redundancy. Thank you for your post. It is a timely reminder.

  • Amanda Le Rougetel says:

    My list of incoming is not as long, and I feel energized and inspired by it. So many others out there playing in the same writing sandbox I am! I love knowing of the intersecting or stand-alone communities and being called into them via their outreach to me through newsletters, webinars, etc. Though, to be sure, I am swift to hit the ‘delete’ key when there’s no spark in the moment for me.

  • Leigh Allen says:

    Thank you for this. I am at exactly the same place and want to cull my reading time to add more “get out in the world and experience the day” time. But then I saw some interesting items on your list … Sigh.

  • Heidi Croot says:

    It’s not just you! I do the ticking time bomb thing, too, which loads on guilt and FOMO. Your list made me want to run screaming into the…morning. Especially when, as Leigh Allen says, I saw some intriguing items on your list. Desperately seeking answers.

    • I can’t decide if it’s more guilt or more FOMO but think living abroad plays a part of that missing out feeling. Deep breaths, Heidi, and one foot in front of the other.

  • Donna Talarico-Beerman says:

    I added this to a thread on FB, but I’ll share here as well to add to the convo on the actual article. 🙂 —- So overwhelmed! I used filters in Gmail and have a few writing-related folders — so this way I can still subscribe and support, but they’re not hitting my “main” inbox. [I have filters set up also for the email newsletters related to my day job in content/UX as well, so it’s like double the overload!] It’s such a balance wanting to stay updated and connected and feeling overwhelmed. For personal emails, I’ve made the Gmail app less accessible on my phone so that I only check emails once in a while and for volunteer work with the lit mag, I check once or twice a week now. Thanks for writing this!

  • lauraleap says:

    Same. In fact, I was excited in the only way writers get excited, when I saw all the things in your lists I want to add to mine. I guess I need to admit I hoard not only books about writing and writers, but also online information about writers and writing. How do I stop? Do I really want to stop? Umm … Who’s available for an intervention? Asking for a friend.

  • nagneberg48 says:

    Yes, overwhelmed and then feel guilt when I delete without opening and reading. I’ve tried scheduling a day to just deal with emails that have not needed immediate attention. I think of it as going to a class or workshop. And I have become more ruthless –and hit the unsubscribe button more often.

  • Marisa Russello says:

    LOL. Thank God it’s not just me. But also, why do we put ourselves through this madness? Everybody and their brother has a newsletter nowadays! I recently started filtering all my newsletters into archived folders, so they don’t go into my regular inbox. I usually read them in bulk when I’m in the mood. But that guilty feeling? I feel guilt when I hover over the delete button, but once I click it, I just feel sweet relief!

  • judyreeveswriter says:

    Yes. Overwhelm, yes and so much good and interesting blogs and newsletters and I click through because…(shiny thing/promise). I’ve learned so much, met so many interesting people I don’t want to stop, but at the same time… (and yes, I saw some on your list I want to subscribe to also, but I’ve hesitated…so far). Thanks! Good to know I’m not alone.

  • Charla Gabert says:

    Oh my goodness! I laughed, I cried, and then laughed again! Yes, you are not alone! But what to do about and with this overwhelming flood of writing-related emails, information, and opportunities? Even if I stopped spending time on my actual writing, I could never keep up with this onslaught. My “strategy” with emails is to delete most, randomly open others, and hope that I will magically find what I need when I need it. But I would love to know how others manage this issue.

  • lindawis says:

    Me too. Overwhelmed by it, reluctant to unsubscribe in case I MISS SOMETHING! So delete, delete, delete. Sigh.

  • cgulbro says:

    Oh my goodness, I so relate. My list overlaps with most of these, plus some others I’ve picked up in the same ways. I hate the clutter in my inbox and the time I give to scanning through them, yet have FOMO if I drop any of them.

    • Funny I never thought of it as clutter and am a very clutter-adverse person. Maybe that’s what’s bugging me? Oh how perspective can change with different words. Thank you for that.

      • Caillie says:

        I think the phrase might be “clutter-averse” rather than “clutter-adverse”? Thankyou for your article – it brings perspective galloping back. Yes, its Clutter. Yes, its Information Hoarding. Yes, it causes Overwhelm. Love the “add one, remove one” suggestion, as I’ve used before for material purchases, and love the idea of using Marie Kondo philosophy on the Information Clutter as well. Thankyou for this conversation Jennifer and everyone. Inspiring a shift…

  • My inbox looks just like yours, plus several Google Alerts for topics I write about. No one can read it all, but we’re all afraid we’ll miss something. Thank you for writing about this.

  • So yes, it’s like drinking from a fire hose (as my students say). On the other hand, what a great list of resources you provided here! Sneaky! 🙂

  • maddielock1955 says:

    My inbox has also become a source of anxiety:) I have to separate the time in front of my computer to 1. checking emails only or 2. opening only my latest project and not getting to emails until I’m done for the day, when, inevitably there were important messages I missed! Thanks for this.

  • Your post resonates! Adding to the writing-related are my subscribed political newsletters. HCR, RH, and GO. Depending on my mood and band width, I hit delete delete delete. Then I feel regret, which vanishes when I see that 10 new emails have popped up while I was deleting. The cycle begins again.

  • Alice Lowe says:

    Ditto all around – you’ve struck a chord here. But there are bright spots, paybacks, like finding a post by my treasured e-friend & recalling that we met through one of the many journals we scour. xox

  • Hayley Katzen says:

    Me too!
    Thank you for this….
    After reading Johan Hari’s Stolen Focus I’ve gone off social media and unsubscribed to many writing-related emails.
    Still a way to go with getting clear on priorities and focus but at least I’m feeling less overwhelmed….

    • Biggest dream is to go off social media. But am going in the opposite direction, compelled, as an American writer abroad, that is the best way to stay connected, especially with a memoir coming out. But maybe I’ve got it all wrong?

  • Deborah says:

    Loved the post, Jennifer. Could really relate. My strategy is to ‘only add one if I remove one’. A little bit like my coat closet here in northern Minnesota (where you need more than one coat for all the levels of below zero cold…unless you have your mom’s old 1950’s mouton).

  • Ranee Tomlin says:

    Yes. Oh yes. Yes! (Too overwhelmed to write more.)

  • Lois Roelofs says:

    Funny I should read this now. Am in the process of unsubscribing this evening. You could say I’m applying Marie Kondo’s philosopy to my emails on writing. If they no longer give me joy, but overwhelm, it’s time to delete and spend my precious time more selectively.

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