Willful Ignorance (and finding time to focus on QUALITY, not an endless list of to-do’s)

Image by Jeff Kubina
Image by Jeff Kubina
What if you stopped reading this right now. What if you didn’t read to the end of this post, didn’t allow yourself to be sucked into the potentially awesome thing I am about to tell you? What if…

… if you became willfully ignorant.

  • You stopped following the day-to-day news about publishing & writing (which clearly doesn’t change day to day.)
  • Stopped reading about the latest “battle” in publishing, where there are somehow two clearly delineated “sides” and where one “side” is the enemy, and one side is pure and awesome, and where caring about it makes you feel like you are standing up for the little guy.
  • Stopped worry about the latest button that Amazon just introduced. “A new button?!” you ask? Oh yes. It is a magic button.

This all came to my mind this week after reading that Ira Glass had no idea who the editor of the New York Times was, and hadn’t even heard about the recent drama with the paper’s leadership:

Interviewer: Jill Abramson was fired.
Ira Glass: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Interviewer: Jill Abramson got fired from the New York Times.
Ira Glass: Okay. And she was who?

Interviewer: The executive editor.
Ira Glass: Okay. I read the newspaper, but I live in my own little bubble. When did that happen?

Interviewer: Wednesday. And it’s been a massive … the blogosphere is going wild.
Ira Glass: I hate reading media news so I actively sort of — I’m not interested in someone getting fired. No disrespect to people that are, but I literally had no idea who she was, or that she got fired until this moment.

Interviewer: Really?
Ira Glass: Yeah. I live in my own little world and we’re putting together a show that we’re putting up at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; I was rewriting the thing here at the Peabody’s that I’m doing today and we are doing a radio show, so it has been pretty busy. I’m so sorry that was either the worst possible quote or a possibly useful quote. Am I, like, the only person in New York who hasn’t heard this?

Interviewer: Maybe.
Ira Glass: Well, I take that with pride.

Interviewer: She was the first female editor of the New York Times.
Ira Glass: Okay.

Interviewer: It was this big unceremonious firing.
Ira Glass: Honestly, like, I’m a superfan of the New York Times, but I know nothing about how they put it together and I really don’t care.

I found this via Jason Kottke, who commented:

“There is very little about the Times’ story that isn’t just straight-up gossip. And for someone like Glass who traffics in ideas and is busy producing something of high quality like This American Life, media gossip just isn’t that important.”

Now, there is a flip side to that reaction in that the Jill Abramson story represents a deep fissure in our culture, and that knowing about it is critical to resolving many unaddressed issues about how women are compensated in the workplace. That this is an important issue, and knowing about it raises awareness that leads to progress and change, and gives voice to the millions who are affected by the problem.

What I find intriguing about the interview is that, regardless of this, how calm, honest and unapologetic Glass is. He is being interviewed by the media, knows that as he is expressing his ignorance that it is being recorded for publication.

Yet, he is confident that his ignorance will not embarrass himself, that he is focused on enough of the right things, that if he doesn’t know EVERYTHING, that he is doing just fine. That there are limits to what he can know and care about in a given week. Not knowing about a news story days after it happens does not incite fear into him that he is uncaring or out of the loop, and it likely has little reflection on his personal attitudes of the issue itself. He was just working, head down on projects of high quality, and has forgiven himself it that means he misses things.

Let me guess, you do a lot.
You study the craft of writing.
The options and methodologies of publishing.
The strategies around marketing.
And you keep up on the latest publishing news and all the latest trends that will make you feel aware and educated.

But…

What matters in the long-term?

Can you tell me about the big publishing & writing news everyone was talking about on April 7th, 1977? How about more recently, on August 15, 2011?

Now clearly, I am not against “news,” and certainly not against “education.” I understand that there is incredible value in ALL of these things, on being informed, being engaged, because these things can absolutely affect future actions, and therefore, success.

I suppose what I am intrigued by is the limits of human capacity, and the capacity of what ONE writer can focus their time and creative energy on.

For finding my own focus to create, I find that..

I’m usually ignorant of publishing news in the first few weeks it happens.
I am usually a late adopter to new things, including social media channels.
I’m usually REALLY skeptical of graphs and charts that try to show trends.
I pretty much never believe that there are two clearly defined sides to anything, and that one is all evil, and the other is pure of heart. This saves me from the daily consternation of posting to Twitter, “OMG, can you believe what X is doing to Y!? We have to stand up for this!”
I get skeptical of most media who try to get me to feel the sky is falling or that some amazing revelation just happened.

What do I really care about?
Writers.
Readers.
People who are enthusiastic about these two things. (EG: publishers, agents, booksellers, etc)

What if you didn’t know the latest trick to take advantage of on Amazon?
What if you missed the boat on the newest social media channel?

What if you just kept creating and sharing stories?
What if you just found new ways to improve the quality of your craft?

What if you just kept talking to readers?
Finding like-minds who are entranced by the same stories and characters that you are?

What your days became more about creating stories and conversations around them, and less about everything else that pretends it connects those two things?

Is it intriguing to read about new trends and (let’s face it), pure gossip?
Yes. Yes it is intriguing. And it can be very useful.

Is it “the center” of what you should do?

I can’t answer that for you, but I think it is a question worth considering. Too often, we pretend we HAVE to do all of these things out of obligation. But it is a choice. Seth Godin just shared a post outlining this:


“No one can be responsible for where or how we each begin. No one has the freedom to do anything or everything, and all choices bring consequences. What we choose to do next, though, how to spend our resources or attention or effort, this is what defines us.”

The reality is that this is rarely a dramatic and enthralling decision. To NOT read the news; to NOT show up to a conference or event; to NOT join Tumblr. It can feel like a lonely decision, and perhaps one that gives up an opportunity. One where you feel left out.

The value of that decision (and habit) can only be seen in subtle ways in the work itself – the stories you create – months, perhaps YEARS later. And no one will recognize these decisions, or reward you for them overtly. And, unfortunately, you will never know which is right and which is wrong.

But making a decision – taking an action – to NOT just follow along with all the standard obligations, the “best practices,” is something many people never do.

Doing so – taking control of your creative resources – immediately differentiates you from others, in a way that gives your books and your stories a unique chance to grow and find readers.

Like Ira Glass above, he says he lives in his own little bubble of creating things. From what I can tell, these things are both of high quality, and his process is very social. And for the many important things that he can’t allow in to the bubble, these only make his work more focused, more refined, and more likely to connect with people in a profound manner.

Tell me about your creative bubble. What gets let in, and what tends to get left out?

-Dan

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About Dan Blank

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers share their stories and connect with readers. He has helped hundreds of authors via online courses, events, consulting, and workshops, and worked with amazing publishing houses and organizations who support writers such as Random House, Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others.

Comments

  1. says

    Excuse me. My 10 min. morning timer for reading the crucial email (if any), and surfing a bit just went off – and I have to block the internet with Freedom so I can write.

    You are correct – I don’t have to know everything (though tell my tired brain that when I want it to go to bed, and it wants to know everything there is to know about everything).

    Our world is very much more angsty not because more horrible stuff seems to happen every day – it does – but because the media make sure we know about all of it, preferably asap. So we borrow a lot of trouble there is nothing we can do about.

    I’ll remember this column when my internal procrastinator wants ‘just 10 more minutes’ to waste. Well put, sir.

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    • says

      Alicia,
      Thank you! Really good insight here: “the media make sure we know about all of it, preferably asap.” I’ve noticed that now the “traffic report” in the morning is now titled: COMMUTER ALERT! in big red letters. Regardless of what is going on, there is always a big alert they are hyping.

      Have a great day!
      -Dan

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  2. says

    Ditto to Alicia. “Well put, sir.” I’ve been engaging in Media Blackouts for years now. What I notice when I tune back in is that mostly its ‘same ___, different day.” The important things tend to jump out. But still you have to choose what you pay attention to. And maybe choose according to what’s relevant to you and the stories you write. Because writers are ultimately social commentators. At least that’s how I see it. Our stories help explain something about the times and places our characters inhabit, even if they happen to be on other planets or in galaxies far far away. I come to this blog before anything in the morning. Sometimes this is all I do because it keeps my head in the game.

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    • says

      Susan,
      Very smart – and I think that it speaks to the need to develop a unique system that works for YOU. There tends to be so much pressure out there that you HAVE to be aware of X, Y, and Z, and that you are a bad person if you don’t know it all.
      Thanks so much – have a great day!
      -Dan

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  3. says

    OMG, yes, I too live in my own bubble. (I did hear about Abramson/NYT story; gender politics is always newsy and catches my eye. But I don’t really keep up with the news) My bubble is my short stories, my novels, promos, blog, reading and writing and some social media. But this week I spent a whole day working on a short story review for an author. A whole day! I accomplished nothing else and dashed dinner on the table. It was a a great change for me to do something unrelated to my own work. I do love my own bubble, but I think we all need to get out of it to refresh and gain perspective.

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    • says

      Paula,
      Agreed! There is value in stepping outside the bubble, and even that cool way that bubbles sometimes combine.

      Thanks – have a nice day!
      -Dan

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  4. says

    Billions of website, millions of newspapers, trillions of stories. We are incapable of knowing even a fraction of what happens in the world. All any of us can do is choose those issues that seem most crucial to us and concentrate on those. The rest has to be sacrificed to background or we’ll go insane trying to keep up. And, of course, we’ll never find the time to make our own contribution.

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  5. says

    I get what you’re saying, I do. But I think as a writer, you also need to be aware of the world around you.

    I have taken your above advice too far these last few months. I’ve been entrenched with various projects and rarely read news (and hardly watch TV anymore.)

    But I’ve realized several times this isn’t a good thing. The most potent one, perhaps, was when my husband was talking about a plane that went missing. No one knows what happened, but it flew for a while after the communication was on and it turned around.

    I said that’s fascinating! Is this the premise for a new show? Maybe we should watch it.

    He stared at me. “Caitlin, are you serious. This really happened, like three weeks ago.”

    I was shocked. This really happened!? I asked question after question. Well, where have they been searching for debris? Have they found any terrorist connections? What about the black box?

    He shook his head and said all the major networks were following up on this ad nauseam. And I hadn’t even heard about it…

    And that’s not the only time I’ve been way behind on something I really should have known about. I was writing! I say. But that’s not a reason to not at least be minimally aware.

    And right now I’m writing a fictional project where the backdrop is the presidential race. If I hadn’t been such a political junkie for the last three elections (reading 1-3 articles a day for about a year before each one, not to mention devouring Game Change and Double Down), I would never have had this idea and I wouldn’t be able to write it with such confidence in the political process now.

    And what about my projects next year, and the year after? If I continue to focus only at writing to the detriment of knowing about the world around me, I fear that that will hurt my “idea pool.”

    So, yeah. We shouldn’t just keep up with gossip. (FWIW, I also had not heard about this NYT story, but given that I didn’t know about the plane, you probably aren’t surprised about that :) ) And knowing about the plane is different than watching CNN say the same thing about debris day after day…

    But it’s also important to be aware of the world that you are trying to write about.

    Thanks for the article, definitely got me thinking.

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    • says

      Caitlin,
      Great point about the need to be aware of the world around you. For the plane example, being “aware” is obviously just fine. I always wonder about the DEGREE of awareness. For instance, with that story, it seem to occupy so much of people’s ENERGY too. So my question is, could that energy have been better used elsewhere?

      THANK YOU for your thoughts here!
      -Dan

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  6. says

    Great post, Dan. While I agree with your basic premise – that our creative time can be stolen by attending to too much irrelevant “news” – the key is relevance. How relevant and to whom?

    It does not surprise me that Jill Abramson’s story does not have the same impact on Ira Glass or Dan Blank :-) that it did on Lois J. de Vries, who was told by the Rutgers Newark physics department chairMAN in 1966 that she was taking up a man’s space — a man who would have to support a family, after all — by playing around at being a physics major. And, that if I didn’t change my major, he would see to it that I was removed from the department. It is infuriating that after 40 years, the only thing that has changed is that the discrimination is not as overt as it used to be.

    Politics and cultural norms that enter my house and affect my life command my attention, because if I want change, I have to be engaged with making it. And writing about it.

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    • says

      Lois,
      Excellent point. What is interesting is that even Ira’s ignorance of the story does not speak at all to his own feelings/actions on the broader issue. And long ago, I became aware of how certain “issues” seem to be the flavor of the day in the media, only to then go ignored for years on end. That, each of us (as you indicate), must find that balance between “awareness of news,” alignment and active support of issues, and tending to our creative work, among other things.

      THANK YOU!
      -Dan

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  7. says

    Taking your point to the next level:

    I don’t know who Ira Glass is.

    Bottom line: I can’t care about EVERY issue or opinion out there – there simply isn’t enough time. So I’m selective. I’m not in “media blackout mode” per se, but I definitely set up filters, and treat information as something to be processed and evaluated, rather than merely consumed.

    And as you pointed out, the need to be aware of this information is often far less urgent than we are conditioned to believe.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. Oh, and WU content will always make it past my filters!

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  8. says

    I greatly appreciate your piece. For me, it’s about more than the media. It’s also about the things I feel I “must” do before I get down to my writing. Important things like calling the plumber, answering emails from long-ago high school chums, knitting the next teddy bear for my granddaughter. A couple of weeks ago, I put “Revise WIP” on my daily calendar, for a particular time every day. At that time, I go up to the guest room, aka my writing space, and stay there. It makes an enormous difference and, waddayaknow, all those other things wait and get done in their own good time. Or not. Not only am I making good progress, my focus is rightfully where it belongs: on my highest priority. As for the rest, I’m letting go of the idea of doing/knowing it all.

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  9. says

    I can totally relate to the bubble, Dan. I’ve created one for myself and quite often only learn of news if I happen to see it on someone’s blog or it flashes across my email. I’d have been no different in Ira’s answers, except maybe shown a bit more sympathy.

    Case in point: In March I traveled to Chicago for work on my non-writing job, and having lunch with colleagues they talked about the Malaysian plane that was missing and how awful it was and I had no idea what they were talking about. They looked at me like I had lobsters coming out of my ears. I had to explain that I live in my own little world–when not writing, reading or taking care of my kids. My focus was on other things, and if it was something important, my husband filled me in.

    I didn’t feel stupid at all for this, altho they were dumbfounded. The way i see it is that if you let too much in, you either get depressed or lose your focus. Not to say you shouldn’t be aware of what’s happening, but the news will always be the news and it will mostly be about negative events that bring you down. We do make choices everyday as to what we let in, and I’m quite comfortable in my own little bubble–with total say of what, how much, and when.

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    • says

      PK,
      “Lobsters coming out of my ears!” Is that an expression? Can I use that?!
      :)

      I think what is interesting is that for much of this, the “news” and “information” itself is harmless. But increasingly, there is an expectation around how much EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT you must make in every single news story.

      And that can be draining.
      Thanks!
      -Dan

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  10. says

    Dan–
    Who’s Ira Glass?
    The thing every writer needs to remember–especially indie writers–is that other people are making lots of money by keeping writers committed to the gerbil exercise-wheel known as self-promotion. Assuming someone knows how to write work worth reading, the cardinal rule is this: the ultimate marketing “tool” is writing more books.

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    • says

      Barry,
      The work itself is indeed the center; and the process of crafting/sharing more stories does tend to create growth for the author, as well as more for the readership.
      Thanks!
      -Dan

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    • says

      To use an old cliche, Barry, you hit the nail on the head. It’s the writing that counts in the end, not all the other busyness.

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  11. says

    Sometimes I miss my days of willful ignorance. For five-plus years while drafting my trilogy, I purposefully avoided seeking out information about publishing and even about the craft of writing. Something inside me told me to let it be “pure” as it came. I think there was benefit to just getting the story on the page first.

    I’ve now spent more years trying to sort it all out, publishing biz-wise and craft/revision-wise, than I did drafting. I didn’t even know what a query letter was when I got done with that first draft. And I had not a worry in the world about inciting incidents or black moments. I hadn’t pondered my characters’ motivations or internal versus external conflicts. Yes, I was lacking, as was my work, in what it takes to be successfully published and to engage readers.

    I guess my point is, I’m not sure whether my way (willfully ignorant drafting) is better than studying first, with a heads-up attitude toward the business of publishing. But it’s a hell of a lot better than fussing and fretting over a blank page or an endlessly unfinished manuscript.

    I’m still seeking the proper balance. Thanks for reminding me of the joy I found in my own willful ignorance, Dan.

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    • says

      Also, for those of you who don’t know who Ira Glass is, may I introduce you to his “Taste vs. Skill Gap” video – which I’ve always found very heartening. Spend two minutes. You won’t regret it.

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    • says

      Vaughn,
      Thank you for sharing this, and I think what you express shows how this is rarely a “destination,” and more of a journey that evolves as you do.
      -Dan

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  12. says

    I’ve actually enjoyed reading media and publishing news as I turned my attention to book touring, speaking, and social media engagement. For me, trade book writing and publishing has been an exciting new world after a career in academe and administration.

    The learning’s been fun, but I’m beginning to feel the need to get back to making rather than consuming and sharing. There’s something empty about too much time spent at a computer with fifteen open windows.

    “Up, up and quit your books!” says Wordsworth. I’m sure he would add computers now. Except maybe for Dan Blank’s columns. :-)

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    • says

      Shirley,
      Thank you! I like the idea of an ebb and flow – of periods of bubble-ness, and periods of education & growth. Just not, you know:

      EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT NOW CONSTANTLY!

      which is what seems to crush so many people.
      -Dan

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  13. says

    As an aspiring writer who is more luddite in my social media habits than many people I know, this was very encouraging. The comments about applying this concept even to the “bubble” of the writing world are also encouraging to me.
    I was recently asked what professional novelists made per year. I couldn’t give an answer; I had never thought to find out. I was slightly frustrated and panicked at the time because I thought if I want to be a writer I should know these kinds of things shouldn’t I? Upon reflection, I realized no, I should neither know nor care what other writer make. That is not why I write. I write to tell stories and if someone eventually wants to pay me for them, I will be elated.
    Thanks so much for your thoughts.

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    • says

      Rachel,
      You make a great point about really being aware of your own goals. With the example you give, for SOME writers this could be really critical because they are leaving jobs and require income, so research is necessary. but for others, this could be “interesting, but a 2nd or 3rd tier topic in terms of need.

      Thanks!
      -Dan

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  14. says

    I tend to focus on the things that can help me where I am right now. I’m still unpublished, so I focus more on craft and tend to gloss over the latest publishing house mergers or editor hirings\firings (I did know about the NYT story, though only the headline version). I’m involved in conservative issues as well, so I try to follow politics, though fight to keep it from controlling much of my life. When I did succumb to the allure of politics, I lost two years of my writing life. There’s only so much of each of us to go around. Writers have the option of taking those issues they care about and weaving them into their stories. So that’s how I “give back.” Do I wish I could stay on top of world events? Yes. But the reality is, between my day job, my business-writing side jobs, and my fiction, I’m working 14 hours a day. My wife gets what’s left over. If the end of the world is imminent, I’m sure I’ll catch it on twitter, but I’ll probably die seconds later, having not had ample warning to take cover and buy snacks.

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    • says

      Ron,
      Great perspective here. And in terms of staying on top of issues & politics, I remember when I really discovered & fell in love with The Economist, and felt I should read it cover to cover. It took me the entire week – and I was trying to do the same with the NYT. This was before social media too – it felt like a huge effort and like I was always in danger of falling behind.

      Anyhow – THANK YOU for sharing your experience.
      -Dan

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  15. says

    This reminds me of Sherlock Holmes not knowing the model of the solar system, and then when it’s pointed out to him, he wishes to forget that knowledge immediately because it wasn’t relevant to him. :) I don’t want to get that myopic. I think that shutting yourself off from too many things is just as damaging as trying to absorb too much. There’s got to be a happy medium out there, and I believe if you define what’s important to you, that balance is easier to suss out.

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  16. Ronda Roaring says

    Thanks for your post, Dan. To it I will say this:

    1. I don’t do “what ifs.” They take up too much time.
    2. I do know who Ira Glass is, though, not living in NYC, I don’t regularly read The New York Times or know who was the executive editor. I do consider it an important newspaper from a journalistic point of view and feel its executive decisions can effect the industry.
    3. I don’t live in a bubble. I am connected to everything that goes on around me, if not in a physical way, at least in a spiritual way.
    4. Every April 15 the IRS reminds me that writing is a business. I treat it as such and make decisions accordingly. If I attend a writing conference, it’s a business decision. If I go to the Rochester Teen Book Festival, which I did last Saturday, it’s a business decision. If I talk to an or a librarian, read someone’s book or respond to a blog, it’s a business decision.

    There’s a big difference in my mind between those of us who view writing as a business and those who don’t. I could be wrong on this, but those who don’t seem to spend more time going to conferences, posting on social media, etc. and less time on productive writing. Writing takes time and that time has to come from somewhere. Something else must be left undone for you to write. So I will stop here, so I can get back to the business of writing.

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  17. says

    Thanks for this, Dan. I’ve found lately that the less I let into my creative bubble the better. Okay, I don’t live in a vacuum, but there are certain thing I avoid if I want to write better or have my brain function better creatively. One of those is avoiding links on Twitter to other writers’ blogs or advice websites. I have them bookmarked incase I need them for querying, but other wise, I tend to get easily overwhelmed by the amount of READ THIS! advice that pops up on the internet. Even if it isn’t advice but thoughtful writing-about-writing I tend to overreact, think I’m doing something wrong and spend all day in an unproductive stew.

    Ira Glass’ situation really puts it into perspective for me – because, as you say, he’s confident about what works for him. (I love this American Life.) And it does work!

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    • says

      Jillian,
      Great points. I do think that there debilitating factor here is not just “being informed,” but the worry that it can create. EG: “Uh oh, am I not doing enough!?”

      Thanks so much!
      -Dan

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  18. says

    A hundred years ago, people were not flooded with reams of information we are experiencing at this time. It is distracting for sure. Some of it is wonderful. It requires a conscious effort not to be overwhelmed and paralyzed by it, though.

    My husband and I do not have TV, do not get a newspaper and are cut off from the media in general. This is a conscious choice. One reason is the media is about ratings and manipulation and advertising, not really about anything worthwhile or even ‘real’. It is dominated by fear and negativity, which sap strength and productivity by focusing people on feeling victimized and powerless. As many have said here, a lot of it is just gossip.

    Sooner or later, you find out about everything that really matters. My husband and I are different from other people, in that we realize it’s hard for us to focus. We are very creative but also not that disciplined. Too many shiny objects are a problem for us, so we have to tune out whatever we feel isn’t a priority. Otherwise we end up spinning our wheels.

    In much the same way that I don’t miss wearing a watch yet always know what time it is when I need to (I stopped wearing a watch 20 years ago), I feel I will hear about the important things as and when I need to. You can’t really be disconnected these days, even if you want to be…you can only choose to filter things to whatever degree is best for you.

    You need to choose what works for you. And not feel you have to justify it to others. Or feel guilty about your choice.

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  19. says

    I know I’m procrastinating when I a) start to follow certain news stories that are guaranteed to upset me and b) now having been sated with information, can make no practical, demonstrable response. So that’s become my acid test: Will I change what I do based upon research? If the answer is no, better to put my energies into building a good life for myself, my family and my community.

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    • says

      Jan – so smart! I was talking about something similar with my wife the other day, the things that I don’t get worried about are things I can’t actively make a decision about.

      Thanks.
      -Dan

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  20. says

    In my creative bubble are kittens, puppies, rainbows and…
    Okay, not…
    But close.
    I try to avoid all things negative. Regardless of how important “everyone else” may believe they are.
    To them I say, fine, whatever turns your crank.

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  21. CK Wallis says

    Dan, thank you for sharing the Ira Glass story and the refreshing perspective on our obsession with media (especially the internet), and urgent message overload.

    Having embarked on my writing journey just last fall, I’ve been a little overwhelmed by all the books, classes, workshops, conferences, and associations for writers, not to mention all the insistent advice that one ‘simply must’ be an active participant in the online world (via social media, blogs, etc.) to have credibility as a writer. Add to that the need to stay current on issues other than writing (as I am writing both fiction and non-fiction), and I was quickly struggling to find time to do the actual writing. Since I’m already 65, this was especially frustrating–obviously, I don’t have forty years or so to get my stories written.

    My SIP (Solution-in-Progress): When I open my laptop in the morning, I also set a timer for 30 minutes for email, news headlines, and WU, the only blog I now follow (I figure if something is truly important to the writing world, it’ll show up here, plus with the variety of WU voices, it is usually inspiring and entertaining, as well as informative). I’ve also set up a couple of Google alerts for specific news. When the timer goes off, I’m done with internet until after dinner.

    So far (one month), this system has worked pretty well. However, if I can’t maintain the self-discipline to disconnect when the timer rings, my next plan is to drag out my old IBM Selectri II.

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  22. says

    Dan-

    I thought I was a moderately plugged in guy. Every day I read the Times. I keep up. Not necessarily with the Kardashians. (Still not sure who they are.)

    But, you know, reasonably informed. Your post got me though. Like Barry I’m, like, Ira Glass is who–? Maybe I’m more in a bubble than I thought.

    As an agent, I do have to keep up with publishing changes, trend, news, and I do. I don’t do agent-editor speed dating anymore (it’s termed “lunch”). The young agents on my staff do that.

    I prefer working with authors on growing their stories. As you said, “What if you just found new ways to improve the quality of your craft?”

    Exactly.

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    • says

      Don,
      In one draft of this post, I explained who Ira was, then I decided to remove it for the reasons that you and others have indicated. The lack of CONTEXT of who someone is really drove an interesting reaction. Also, I always kind of assume that Ira is kind of a NY-centric “celebrity,” and it absolutely would not surprise me if most of the folks who read this didn’t know who he was instantly.

      You make a GREAT point about being clear about your own needs/passions/goals in defining what you stay informed about. Thanks!
      -Dan

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  23. says

    Hello Dan,
    Habe been reading your post for a while now and always find it interresting.
    I was told at a young age, that gossip was the lowest form of communication. I did not invent thst saying.
    Maybe for this same reason I have never taken part in it, or my life is too busy is the other one.
    But as you mentioned we feel obliged to know some of it, for it’s importance of all our future.
    Thank you for this article and I certainly did not know about the firing.
    L&B
    Annamarie

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  24. says

    Dan, I am still trying to wean myself off the methadone drip of the “latest” news (which now becomes old in six minutes) because when I was in college, I really wanted to be a reporter. From that point, I got in neck-deep in the quicksand of the news, and still have a gluey boot in. And I still write journalistic-style pieces for newspapers and magazines, so I still read too many. As you might surmise, the Internet has not helped my little problem.

    It’s funny: I don’t want people to give me magazines or point to great articles online anymore, because I still feel that tug that I should (or “must”? Will die of news malnutrition if I don’t?) read it all. And the bulk of the news is so wretched, a catalog of the world’s tears.

    I really am better now, with parceling out blocks to attend to email, reading some pieces online during restricted periods, tweeting then and again, but always sticking a deadline when there is one, and giving good focused time to writing work, whether fiction or non. But I’ll sometimes backslide and have a day where I slide into story after story—besides the usual suspects, there is authentically good, stirring writing on sites like Medium, Thought Catalog and Narratively (though dreck as well)—and I’ll have to dry myself off and point my head toward real work again. It’s always something, dang it.

    (Oh, I want to be Ira Glass too.)

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    • says

      Tom,
      Six-minute old news! You mean “vintage news,” right?
      :)

      This phrase is really intriguing: “a catalog of the world’s tears.” Wow. Not sure if you made that up or not, but there is a lot to talk about in there.

      I don’t think I would call getting sucked into a story/narrative as “backsliding,” just as I always viewed time off a bit as “going back to the well” – that these breaks are human and necessary.

      You have the glasses – you are half-way to Ira-dom!
      -Dan

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  25. Christine says

    I can completely relate to screening my intake of news — especially when I’m working to a writing deadline and need to stay focused.

    But am I the only one who was bothered by the attitude at the end of the interview?

    “Ira Glass: Honestly, like, I’m a superfan of the New York Times, but I know nothing about how they put it together and I really don’t care.”

    When we, as writers, stop caring about the real world around us, at how others in the world of publishing are treated, what does that say about us as members of a larger community?

    No one can keep up with every angle, every story that’s out there, and the ones from our own hearts and mind must take precedence. But to be confronted with a potential injustice, a potential inequality that perpetuates itself in ripples down through half of our country’s workforce, and state proudly, “I really don’t care,” seems more like boastful, insular arrogance.

    Creative bubbles can be helpful, essential even, to producing work which can inform and inspire others. But at some point, people have to poke their heads out of the bubble, because while reading new ideas can change our hearts or minds, only action can change lives.

    To be ignorant about any number of subjects is common to us all — no mind can hold all knowledge — but I disagree that Glass’ calm, unapologetic confidence about this condition is to be admired.

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    • says

      Christine,
      You make a GREAT point about differentiating “all news” from news that relates to important issues, and that is a path to positive societal change

      For the interview with Ira, I read through it again (and again and again) and felt that it wasn’t properly expressed to him the type of injustice that was part of the story. He knew that:

      “She was the first female editor of the New York Times.”

      and

      “It was this big unceremonious firing.”

      So there were a lot of details left out. Also, my read on his last line:

      “I know nothing about how they put it together and I really don’t care.”

      referenced how the paper is made overall, it wasn’t in reference to Jill or the situation surrounding her firing.

      Again – I cannot speak for Ira or read his mind, I just kept looking for what he didn’t know as he was being informed of this.

      Of course – your larger point seems to be that – even in his ignorance – is a lost opportunity. Both perhaps for Ira himself, and also in his role as a storyteller and prominent person in the media. That IF he was truly aware of the details of the NYT story, perhaps that would be another driver of positive change.

      Lots to think about – thank you so much!
      -Dan

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  26. says

    Once again, the universe has conspired to assure me that I’m okay, through a post of one Mr. Dan Blank. :)

    I could write a hugely long comment about the parallels between your post today and a post I wrote earlier this week about how mindfulness has effected my writing journey, but instead I’ll just say thanks for this line: “But making a decision – taking an action – to NOT just follow along with all the standard obligations, the “best practices,” is something many people never do.”

    By not doing things that “they” say I must to be a successful author made me very uncomfortable and even wonder if I’d given up. Your post has helped me feel a little more comfortable with my decisions to withdraw for a while and embrace where I am now, instead of stressing over where I want to be. Thank you!

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  27. says

    Dan, I’ve read along with you the majority of the comments previously left. Therefore, it appears there is no need in my speaking to the issue on women and the workplace and how we are often mistreated, nor to the issue of Ira Glass and his seemingly calm demeanor in admitting his ignorance publicly, nor to any of a few other issues brought up in comments.

    What I do want to mention was just previously mentioned by Lara. The words reading — “But making a decision – taking an action – to NOT just follow along with all the standard obligations, the “best practices,” is something many people never do.” — are the ones which jumped off the screen for me. Recently, I’ve struggled with time management and getting my writing done. It recently occurred to me I don’t have to be up to everyone else’s standard who is on the Internet and tauting one thing or another, or going to conference after conference. If I am committed to writing and calling myself a writer, I need to find my niche within that role and then enhance it by what fits my needs, my desires, my dreams. Thanks for a huge reminder!

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    • says

      Sherrey,
      Thank you, and I really like your reflection here. When you get down to it, the CORE is so simple. Writing. And perhaps: readers. Is there so much other wonderful stuff to add? Sure. Do you NEED to? NOPE!
      :)
      Have a great evening.
      -Dan

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  28. says

    Dan, I enjoy staying current on what’s happening in the publishing world, but every once in a while my mind, body and spirit require some “digital detox”. I probably don’t take a break as much as I should but when I do, I find it makes a difference in my productivity and sense of connection with my own creativity. Thank you so much for these valuable reminders that the world will not stop if I don’t participate in every possible social media channel, workshop, conference, etc. My favorite line: “take care of your creative resources and differentiate yourself from others.” Amen! PS, I love Ira Glass’ focus and sense of purpose.

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  29. says

    Thank you for your post, Dan. I looked at it in a different way. I was more infuriated, though I don’t know who Ira Glass is. But the fact that you mentioned him in respect to the dismissal of Abrahamson, was enough to tell me he was important enough. As a born feminist from the 60s, I find it appalling that women who are aggressive are not easily tolerated. If Abrahamson was a man, the powers that be would come to a different conclusion. So, for that reason, I like to know what climate I’m working in. At the same time, I know each situation is unique. At the end of the day, I need to work on making time for my writing, as I’m a curious person, and can easily be distracted.

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  30. says

    Very interesting post … In my household, I rarely read beyond the newspaper headlines, but read widely in fiction, biography, politics and history, as well as essay length stuff in magazines like the Atlantic. By contrast, my partner devours several newspapers, but reads little else.

    A significant factor for me is that I’ve never been able to remember factual information “out of context,” so reading a newspaper is mostly pointless —by lunchtime, I won’t remember what I read at breakfast. And much of the time, the information changes by the next day. But a well-thought-out and well-written theory or idea will hold my interest for thousands of words and be remembers for a very long time.

    So, in my case, it’s not willful ignorance … it’s a decision not to waste my time on something that will have little or no benefit in the long or short term.

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    • says

      Mary,
      REALLY interesting analysis of your own behaviors/motivations, and how it differs so much from your partner. Thank you!
      -Dan

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  31. says

    Lots of stuff may worm its way in but very little is processed, as it ends up in some black hole in my head. People say writers are “so observant!”and “they notice everything!” and blah blah all this stuff people say about writers noticing things and all that crap — me? I am one of me more dazed and confused writers, stumbling through life barely noticing a thing and often saying “really? that happened? really? that was there? really? he/she did that? really? I didn’t notice.” — but somehow when I sit down to write, a bit of that will ooze out of the black hole and provide me just enough to do my thang.

    I’ve learned to accept my discombobuation.

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  32. Kim W. says

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for this—you made my day.

    Over the years I’ve been forced to do many of the NOTs you suggested above in your article when I was diagnosed with a disability. The more that got taken away from me the more I feared. First I lost my job, then I lost my ability to go out in public, meet new people, and attend public events. Needless to say, without a second income things got tight in our household. Then I had a defining moment and I realized the less I feared the more I could be grateful for. I had some satisfying years as a school teacher, but it was a job that had run it’s course and now I’m able to engage with what matters most to me; my writing and honing my craft. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still thankful for those years as a teacher, it’s informed my writing in ways I never would have been able to do had I not been a teacher. But I see this as the next iteration of me, and I like being in my writing bubble, creating and trying to engage with others through my craft and my experiences as a disabled woman. There are times when I miss having the agency to go outside and connect with others and share. However I am doing what I love best and it’s so gratifying.

    Did I say you’ve made my day? Well, you have. It good to know that others feel the way I do and we don’t have to make excuses for what we aren’t doing. We can be who we were meant to be without regret. Thanks again, Kim.

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    • says

      Kim,
      Wow – thank you so much! And THANK YOU for this:

      “The less I feared the more I could be grateful for.”

      You have given me a lot to think about for a Sunday morning. I hope you you have a wonderful day!
      -Dan

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