Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Information Overload: To Dump or Not to Dump

There’s an issue on my mind of which I spoke to a dear friend about—a burden in my heart you could say. What do you think she said? “Why don’t you blog about it.” I laughed, then realized it was great idea. So, here I am about to share this burden with you.

Times are different today for writers. We have to market ourselves and promote our work before our first novel ever hits the shelf. Contests, newsletters, websites, marketing gimmicks—even short video clips. The web is filled with sights offering writing helps, insights, book promotions of the most unique kinds and a mishmash of inspirational self-helps.

As a hopefully-soon-to-be-published author, I find myself in an interesting predicament. With limited time in a day to write and perfect my craft, I am inundated with a plethora of information to the point of being overwhelmed. Reading takes time and time is in short supply these days. (Remember, I just turned 40. LOL!) We all have lives that need some level of attention as well.

I myself am on the very same track, trying to market my “future” book, but I wonder if we are doing new writers and ourselves a disservice. Personally, I can spend an entire day reading all the sites, blogs, and newsletters as well as reading books in my genre and on writing, and not write a single word. I could do this day after day. I could entrench myself in everything writing related, everything I’m being told I should do, but not write at all. There is so much, too much, in my currently perturbed opinion.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think most of what’s out there is very beneficial. And I do believe it is up to the individual to determine how much time is allowed to spend on the “business” of writing. So many published authors have graciously dedicated parts of their websites with a lion’s share of their hard-earned knowledge. (Now tell me if that isn’t just contrary to the worldly push of get ahead, even at the expense of others.)

My concern is this. As an unpublished author, I want to learn as much as I can, yet I realize there is no way possible to read, do and see it all without sacrificing my writing. Thus the dilemma—what do I intake that will best benefit my goal of becoming published and more importantly will honor God on this path He has placed me? Discernment is definitely a key issue and necessary practice here.

Insert large sigh here…

But here’s my point. Don’t we as writers need to be careful that we don’t become part of the information overload? Are we just doing a newsletter, contest, marketing gimmick (you fill in the blank) just to do it, just to do what we think we should be doing?

Again, I’m not saying these things are bad, but we have to be careful what we put out there, just like we take care over what goes into our books. If we’re doing these things, just to do them, then we are just part of the info dump that’s already become an overwhelming surge. We have to examine our motives and bring them under God’s lamp—just like we should be doing in our writing, our lives and our relationships.

These could just be the ramblings of a frustrated writer or this could be an alert to something bigger. The danger here is getting so caught up in the marketing and the pressure to know as much as we can, that we become a part of the pressure surge that pushed us in the first place, and will in the end overwhelm other writers.

This upsurge is not only overwhelming, it’s discouraging. And the last thing I would want to do is discourage another writer.

What do you think?

20 comments:

Not Ronie said...

It is SO nice to know I'm not the only one feeling this way. Sometimes, we just have to pull back and do what God has instructed us to do: write. LOL Thanks so much, Dineen! I love you, girlfriend!! *smooches*

Robin Caroll said...

You brought up some excellent points to ponder, D. Here's my opinion (did you honestly think I wouldn't HAVE one? LOL..sorry toots, you aren't that lucky) Two words...TIME MANAGEMENT. Each person, writer or not, has to prioritize, and what will work best for you, won't work that great for someone else. Even someone who is your friend, etc. Because people are different...we're given different gifts/talents. For instance, the reading writing books, reading in my genre, reading blogs, etc is not a problem for me because I speed read. I realize one of my gifts/curses is to be an organizational freak. I have charts, notes, etc., etc., etc. surrounding me. It works for ME. And that's what I DO like about writers' blogs and websites....sometimes something they share "clicks" in my brain and I "get" something....
But here's the main thing to remember....on this journey (crazy as it is) I enter contests for specific reasons, I blog because, well, it's almost therapeutic for me, I keep my website because I like it, I crit because I enjoy it, I brainstorm with others because that's fun, and I write because I HAVE to. My heart won't function properly unless I do. Am I implementing marketing/gimmicks/etc? Probably. But am I having fun? Every step of the happy, discouraging way! LOL Most importantly, I think giving it all to God...DAILY is the key. And I personally surround myself with friends who understand, know my faults and hangups but love me anyway, struggle with me in frustration, but basically ground me. You know, I wouldn't change this journey for anything. Even if it'd been shortened by just a day, I don't think I'd appreciate where I am now, or what's to come!

Ronie said...

Yep, I agree. We are all accountable to figuring out what we're supposed to do and what works for us. Right now, I am extremely limited in everythign with my college studies, but that doesnt' mean I won't some day do those things. But for me, right now, I have to limit.

And I love my buddies. They are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement to me. We all sharpen each other, and that's SUCH a blessing!

Camy Tang said...

Good post, Dineen. Very insightful. Timely, too. A friend just sent me a card because I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed with coordinating the Genesis contest, and she said:

"Protect your writing."

More than all these things we're doing as writers to promote our business, it's the writing that's most important, that gives God glory.

I know I've been neglecting my writing lately with all these other things I'm doing--the Genesis, judging other contests, mentoring, etc. I need to make sure I have the right priorities.

Camy

Shannon said...

Yay! I found my password, etc., and can post as me. :-)

I really appreciate this piece ... since Nashville, I've been in a very focused mode ... repeatedly I feel led to just WRITE. I still maintain relationships, but I feel almost disconnected from many of my groups right now because I've had to prioritize and home in on my family and writing.

So, thanks, Dineen!

Pammer said...

Very well said. I was just feeling similar the other day and wondered why I didn't have more time in the day? It seems like I can't focus on all that needs to be focused on AND write. There is much to learn. Like Robin said we have to prioritize (and I need to find my little time wasters and terminate them, I mean useless activities, not my kids, lol).

Praying for you.

Hugs,
Pammer

Dineen A. Miller said...

Thanks Ronie! I love you too! LOL!

Robin, you suck! LOL! Miss speed reader woman! You make us proud, girlie!


Camy, I just know you are swamped right now, and sick! Still praying for you.

Shannon, I'm so glad this helped you. God is really shifting my perspective from me to other writers.

Pammer, ROTFL on the kids part. Yeah, don't terminate them. You could write it though! LOLOLOLOL!

Thanks guys! You're all so awesome!

Heather Diane Tipton said...

Very well said Neen, I think you have articulated something that a lot of newbie writers... even writers that are on the verge of being pubbed (like you) and published authors struggle with. There is just so much info out there, so many things you should be doing.and it can be overwhelming... and we all can't be speed readers like Robin. LOL It doesn't matter how marketable you are, if your writing sucks... it sucks.

Love you girl!

Paula said...

Great post. I really think that with this, like anything else, we need to slow down and ask the Spirit to lead us. He knows which efforts will further His purposes and which one will just overwhelm us . . . and I think there is a different season for different things. As always, it come back to asking the Father and following that prompting He gives in our heart . . .

BTW, I just turned 40,too. Happy birthday! I think 40 is great, feels like I'm finally a grown-up, LOL. Though I am pulling out glasses these days when I'm on the computer too long. *sigh*

Ron Estrada said...

I can dig it. In my not humble opinion, I think we have to dedicate time to our craft first and foremost. If we write well and continue to grow, everything else will follow. I'm with you. I have no time for contests (except for NT, of course) and I can't keep up with a website. Blogging helped me there, but even that takes time. Focus on what God wants of you. Did He call you to marketing, or writing?

Dineen A. Miller said...

Thanks, Heather. I do hope this helps others. It's tough these days to know what's best.

Paula, thanks for the comment. Nice to have another 40 year old "buddy." LOL! Working on listening to what God has in mind, too.

Ron! Dude! LOL! Last time I checked with God it was writing. Marketing? Well, that's in the blood, too. What's a girl with an advertising background to do?

Robin Caroll said...

Not to be argumentative, Ron...well, actually....LOL But I disagree with your statement "If we write well and continue to grow, everything else will follow"....if we don't get our stuff out there (contests, marketing, etc) I don't care if we've written the next bestseller (don't I wish!LOL), an editor may not look past the cover letter to the actual ms. An old adage....you can't get bought what you don't have out there. Are these "ploys" worth it? Well, that's what each person has to decide on their own. I know of several writers who were "bought" straight out of a contest. I know some authors who got editors' comments after posting an excerpt from their wip on their blog. I know of one particular writer who got an invitation to submit just off that writer sending an editor a "thank you" note after a rejection. Again, I think it falls back into what works for each writer. Colleen Coble reminds aspiring authors that "writing is a business"...Terry Burns talks about how his research of marketing has opened doors for his books. If even the published authors still have to do "things" other than writing to be more successful, then IMHO, what makes us any different? Sure, writing the best story possible and learning and growing IS VITAL...but I just don't personally believe it ends there. That's just my opinion! :)

Anonymous said...

I so understand!

I agree with Robin about the prioritizing. I really want to join/read/participate in everything, but there is so much information and opportunities for learning that I have to stop and ask myself if a given opportunity will help or hinder me in reaching my goal. I enjoy writing articles, devotionals, etc, but fiction is my passion, and what I do needs to focus on improving my writing in that area. Because of the time crunch, I'm also particular about the "How-to" books I read. I'm sure I'll learn something from everything, but I choose to read the books that are frequently recommended, and that will give me something new to consider.

This probably sounds like increasing the information overload, but what has really helped me is purchasing conference workshop recordings. The ACFW conference CD's are invaluable, and Randy Ingermanson's Fiction 101 is really great. So great, that after I returned home from ACFW I got online and browsed all the Christian conferences. I purchased courses by James Scott Bell, Angela Hunt, Gayle Roper, Jack Cavanaugh, among others. It really has rounded out my understanding of my own goals, how to get there, and what to expect in the process. Plus, I can listen to them during my writing downtimes -- when I'm driving, cooking, etc. although I usually try to take notes.

Janice LaQuiere

Lisa Tuttle said...

Dineen, you hit on such a relevant subject for today's writer. This is such an easy trap to fall into, and there are so many opportunities and so much "other" work related to the writing business that you can use up all your writing time on it.

I definitely fell into the trap. I was so enthusiastic my first year as a writer. I wrote all the time. And then I decided I needed a web site to help market my work. Then an opportunity for a column came my way. Then I felt I needed more bylines for my resume, so I added some nonfiction work to my schedule. A crit group here, a Yahoo group there. Then a position as editor of a nf e-zine. Then a newsletter from my site. Then a blog, and a seat on a conference committee. Etc. etc.

All of this was meant to help promote my career, but in the process, I became so busy and had my focus pulled in so many directions that I was no longer writing on a regular basis. Does anyone else see the irony there? LOL.

I've recently reprioritized and cut back my commitments to a place where I can write daily. I've cut my nf work because I really want to develop a career in fiction. I am not afraid to go "no mail" on my lists, and I have learned to say NO, to family, to business partners, to friends, and to myself when I get off track.

No one told me about this aspect of the writing life so I had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. I'm glad you have brought this up and allowed people to share or made newbies aware of this trap that we can fall into. It's really a relevant issue!

Lynette Sowell said...

This was great, Dineen, and so true. I'm in the soon-to-be-published category and it's already happened. How to market? What to market? Blog? Mailing lists? E-mail loops? Organizations?

It's so easy to get enthusiastic and jump into everything--especially if someone asks us. Wow, it must be God! (LOL)

I'm learning to pick and choose. I don't know that I have any "platform" to share with people, but your post made me realize I shouldn't worry, just write and get the word out. :) I blog because I enjoy it. I do my web site because I like that and doesn't take much time. I did find, though, that something happened with my e-mails from the last two weeks on ACFW--I didn't get any. I did't have withdrawals because I was so busy writing, researching, and interacting with other writers privately. Thanks, God, for weaning me from the loop. LOL.

Ron Estrada said...

Most of us have the same problem: we have one, maybe two hours a day, to write. That includes marketing, research, etc. We know that we need to write, we need to read. I wish I could draw a graph here, but it's kinda like this: Year one, you write 95% of the time and learn marketing the other 5%. As you get better and move toward being published, the writing percentage will drop and the marketing will increase. But a new writer has to write, write, write! In fact, 5% may be too much if it's really your first year. Most of us take four or five years before we're remotely good enough to worry about it.

Michelle said...

Now that Robin tipped me off to this great discussion, I skimmed the comments (so as not to get bogged down, lol!) All were very good and relevent. I think we're all in the same boat...competing in a tough market for the same slots. There are only so many available, so our writing has to really stick out to get attention. My biggest frustration has been from reading. One...some of the stuff out there really sucks and I think, "Dang, how did they sell that?" Two...some novels break all the rules and the authors "tell" a lot. Reading that stuff doesn't help me at all, but makes me confused in regards to how to write well. So, when I do get to read an interesting and well-written story, it inspires me and my own writing has more depth. Sometimes in my desire to improve my skills (which can always be done) I get overwhelmed. Robin's really good at cheering me up. Fortunately, I don't have many funky days. And if something doesn't work, I keep trying until I get it right. Never give up! :) At least I have an agent telling me what sells. I'm very grateful for that. She's the best!

Kaye Dacus said...

This is an issue that has two distinct sides... the writer's side and the publisher's side. Fortunately – or unfortunately - I can see it from both vantage points.

As a writer, I'd like to be able to spend my writing time doing just that: writing! I'd love to be able to focus completely on my stories and have the assurance that if I work on my craft and keep improving, and work with critique partners, and submit to contests, and have a wonderful manuscript, I'll be guaranteed of being published.

As someone who's worked in the publishing/advertising industry for over 10 years, though, I know that's not going to happen. Publishing, even Christian publishing, is a business. As much as we see our writing as a ministry and know that God has given us our stories to minister to us and to those who read it, the publishers can’t afford to look at it that way. They have to be concerned with the bottom line: will consumers buy it? One of the reasons that the best way to “break into” the CBA publishing world is by writing for Heartsong Presents is because they have a guaranteed readership of over 20,000 subscribers. When an author becomes popular with HP, other publishers will show interest in their work, even if it’s not quite as good as a previously unpublished author, because of the built-in readership that comes with name recognition.

This is why marketing oneself before being published becomes so important. If you don’t have the opportunity to write for/be published by a line such as HP, you have to have some way to convince your potential publisher that readers will buy your book if they go to the expense of acquiring/publishing it. They also want to know that you’re going to work just as hard after your book is published to ensure a good return on their investment. If you can point publishers to the popularity of your website (how many unique hits per week/month) or newsletter (number of subscribers) or contests (how many unique entries), you can show them how many potential readers you have pre-pub, as well as your power to market yourself/your book(s) post-pub.

Am I doing any of this?

No. But I’m also not actively submitting to/querying publishers right now, either. For me, the last five years, as I completed my BA in English, started attending professional writing conferences, and entered the Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University (http://www.setonhill.edu/academics/wpf_homepage.cfm?ACID=102), my focus has been on learning/honing the craft of writing. All of which has been done while working full time, being active in church, freelance copyediting, and, for several years, serving as a board member with ACFW. Yes, writing is about prioritizing our time, but sometimes, there just isn’t much to prioritize. I’d rather spend that time actually writing than on the business of trying to get published.

I know that realistically, the time isn’t right for me to be seeking publication. As I look at my commitments for the next six to nine months, I know that if (miraculously) an editor decided to put me under contract right now, I would never be able to meet deadlines and still have any kind of quality of life. But because I’ve allowed myself to focus on craft and on actually writing, I feel like when that time comes, I’ll be ready. I’m learning all about submitting, editing, and working on deadline with the grad school program. I completed a second draft of my thesis novel in four months, something I never thought I’d be able to do.

I took Chip McGregor’s track at the conference and was nearly overwhelmed by some of the things he told us publishers are looking for from the authors they’re looking at or working with. I highly recommend you get the CDs of his sessions. He talks about marketing and how to work with your editor/publisher. I’ve ordered them and, after I graduate next June, plan to sit down with them and put his advice into action!

Tiff/Amber Miller said...

Wow, Dineen. Fantastic way with words, you have. Ok, now I'm sounding like Yoda from Star Wars. :) Anyway, like others who have shared, it's nice to know I'm not alone with these thoughts and feelings.

I have my own blog, but it's only had 2 posts because this "stream of conscious" stuff is so hard for me to do and I have a difficult time getting a handle on it. But, posting on other blogs might get me rolling. Of course, it could just be another distraction and overload to the already stuffed-full schedule and life I lead...as do so many of you.

But what you said about not getting too involved that we lose sight of the call to write really spoke to me. I've had my own web site up for a few years now, and it's gotten quite a few hits. I've attended every ACFW conference and even 2 others as well, not to mention participating in all online workshops, purchasing books on improving my skills in this writing craft, and dialoguing (sp?) with other professionals who have already walked the road I've begun traveling. Throw in my web site design business focused primarily at other authors, writers and speakers, not to mention brainstorming, chatting and web surfing, and you've got high potential for information overload.

What I wonder is how much of this has been my attempt to avoid my calling because I struggle with not being worthy of it or not being able to truly fulfill it? And how much has truly been an honest push to learn more so that I can accomplish my dream and God's plan?

It's true that we need a balance, but where to draw the line on that balance isn't easy. I'm still working on it. And thanks to fellow writing friends and mentors, I'm getting better every day. Still have a LOT to learn, but it's comforting to know there are others here who can hook up and walk this road together. Life's more fun when it's shared...even when the sharing hurts.

And now I think I should expound on some of this in my own blog. :) TTFN!

Dineen A. Miller said...

Janice, those are good ideas. I'm glad you found something that works for you. I have the conference on my iPod now and even listened to some of it at the dentist the other day. LOL! Talk about making the most of your time!

Lisa, thanks for sharing your struggle to prioritize and slimmer-ize. LOL! It is a true challenge.

I know what you mean, Michelle. I'm reading a book now thinking the same things. And this is a mult-book pubbed author. Sometimes I wonder if they slack off because they're tired and the editor assumes it's good. Who knows...

Kaye, if I knew two years ago what I know now, I would do exactly what you're doing. I knew you were a smart cookie!

Tiff, you're a dynamo, girl! I know you'll figure it all out.

Thanks for the comments! You guys rock!