Writer’s Surfeit

A couple of weeks ago I e-mailed a friend who, in addition to her day job, is a freelance writer. I needed some advice: “Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading, participating in Twitter chats, etc., that has given me lots of ideas for blog posts and other writing projects. That’s the good news (I think). The bad news is that I can’t focus. When I try to write up something, I get distracted and read e-mail, check Twitter, look in on LinkedIn, or even start making notes for yet more blog posts and writing ideas.”

She wrote back, “Ahhh, focusing! The twin of writer’s block. It’s not as bad as writer’s block, though, because at least you have ideas.”

It was a bit comforting to know that I was not unique. Unfortunately she didn’t have a magic cure. Ah, well, I hadn’t really expected one.

Since around the middle of last year, I’ve been in an exploration phase, trying out new things (mostly online) such as blogging, Twitter—both begun in August—and a few interesting websites. I’ve been reading a lot about all kinds of things, from technology to business to cooking. It’s been a good learning opportunity, but unfocused. The time has come to settle down and concentrate on a few of the things I’ve explored. Except my brain is still in overdrive and most of the time when I sit down to blog I instead add a half dozen or so items to my list of ideas for future topics.

I’ve even come up with a name for this problem: Writer’s Surfeit. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, surfeit means “Excess, superfluity; excessive amount or supply of something.” That’s exactly what I have—a superfluity of ideas, accompanied by difficulty (temporary, I hope) concentrating on carrying them out.

Here are my writer friend’s suggestions:

  • Disconnect from the Internet. Even when composing on your computer, stay offline to avoid yet more distraction.
  • Give yourself specific project and deadlines. She’s in a writer’s group (creative non-fiction) and taking a play writing class; I keep my blog post to a strict twice-weekly schedule. It helps.
  • Be glad for the flow of ideas. Write them down because some day you will need them.
  • “Lastly, you may just find that you get so frustrated working on so many things at once that you decide to focus so that you can actually complete something.”

I’ve got a new idea for applying that first technique. This weekend I’m making a round-trip on Amtrak, riding coach so there’s no wi-fi. Not sure if I’ll bring my laptop or a notepad, but either way I hope to have some uninterrupted, distraction-proof time.

But I’m still in the market for ideas to focus on a single task. What about you? Have you ever suffered from Writer’s Surfeit or a similar creative overload? If so, did it just go away on its own as part of a natural cycle or did you do something to solve it?

2 thoughts on “Writer’s Surfeit

  1. Dawn January 24, 2011 / 12:13 pm

    One of the things I do is to create a word doc and put down as much as I can on a particular topic – bullets, sentence fragments, short descriptions of examples and even a working title (rarely do these make the final cut) to use as a reference.

    Then I save and put into an unfinished article folder so that I can come back to.

    Often I find that as I move a couple over into the folder, the third or fourth idea get me into a flow. If I get that going, I go ahead and complete the article.

    And I totally agree – the surfeit (while exasperating) is no where near as bad as the block.


    • Karen E. Lund January 24, 2011 / 3:49 pm

      It seems I’m in fine company here.

      There are days I try to write and find myself making notes as you describe… The Muse keeps her own schedule and is not to be argued with.

      Thank you for sharing your method, Dawn.


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