The world is a noisy place. The web abounds with millions of weekly posts, and social media inundates us with its never-ending supply of status updates. There are thousands of books, movies, and podcasts to choose from, and more pop up each time the refresh button is clicked. Every day, it seems, the available content on the Web doubles. No one can argue that there’s a shortage of material out there to consume.
The upside to all this noisiness is that creativity seems to be on the rise. More people than ever are expressing themselves publically, and the writing world has been democratized. Yet it’s also becoming harder to distinguish between the writer and the written. Almost half the people I know have a blog or want to write a book. You can self-publish anything. There are thousands of advice pieces on writing, urging people to write an X amount of words per day. It’s a Renaissance of sorts, but it’s also word clutter.
In those days I wrote consistently, but I wrote less. And I was happy with writing less. On an average day, I’d write a poem and a journal entry, and I had a simple writing routine. Now, while I’ve grown accustomed to living in a virtual world, it has at times made me a more anxious writer. The past few years, I’ve been writing more (or wanting to write more), and I’ve suffered more frequent writer’s block moments. Then I figured out why: the digital age is both helpful and harmful for writers who want to produce artistic work. Helpful, because it’s a wide stage for creative expression, but harmful because we can get lost in it or become inspired to take on too many things.
For example, earlier this year, I was juggling five different creative projects: a collection of poems, a memoir, a short story, a novel, and a novella in verse. Not to mention, I was posting on several websites and writing journal entries. Before I knew it, writing had become a second full-time job. I’d come home drained from my first full-time job as a high school English teacher, and then I’d get myself to write a blog post, a poem, and a section of my novel in the same evening. If I didn’t do enough, I felt like a failure. My motto had become, To Click Submit is To Exist.
But something didn’t feel right.
I shared this confusion with friends and family, and most people encouraged me to keep writing. They told me I was getting just scared or overthinking my writing. But though I appreciated their well-meaning support, I felt my confusion leaned on something deeper. I came to realize that we can “hoard” writing projects just like we “hoard” objects. I’d cluttered up my mind by doing too much, and it had put me through years of writing anxiety. This epiphany was a relief. So I did what I had to do. I chucked most of my writing projects. This wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to. I tossed the novel, memoir, and novella aside, and I began focusing on what matters most to me: poetry writing. I also permitted myself to write short prose pieces, like blog posts or essays.
It feels really good to commit to one genre and make it my home again. Drawing this boundary has had an enormously positive affect. I have clarity now, and for the first time in a long while, energy. I view writing as a source of pleasure. This doesn’t mean it isn’t work. It is. But it’s more manageable work. I come home in the evening, and because I’m not trying to do too much, I have an appetite for writing. I work on poetry, and when the feeling strikes, on short prose pieces. I’m still engaged on social media, but more mindfully. I no longer feel overwhelmed like I did just a few months ago. I am equally dedicated to writing, but I can be more leisurely with it.
Focusing primarily on one thing, I feel like I’m actually building something meaningful and not letting myself get distracted by other impulses. Distraction, it seems, has become the hallmark of the digital age. By drawing a boundary around what I most prioritize in my creative life, I feel less rushed. I do not need to race to some imaginary finishing line—or several finishing lines. I can focus on writing what I love and have time left for everything else in my life. After all, if the digital age teaches one thing well, it is the truth of impermanence.
So my point is, if you work full-time or have other meaningful obligations that demand your time, and you want to write well and with a more peaceful mind—then write less. Pick a genre or a subject that compels you, and focus on it. Then stand behind your choice. Don’t let the digital age fool you into thinking that you can do it all or should be doing more. More writing may lead to more publication, but in my experience, there is more pleasure in writing less.
We live in the digital age, but we don’t need to live in a digital mind, juggling multiple projects: pick one thing, respect it, cherish it, and don’t let yourself get distracted by the noise. You will likely write better, with more serenity, and enjoy all the other parts of your life more.