In a fit of pique that only a sudden burst of clarity brings, I unsubscribed from 15 individual email newsletters that I’d received over the last decade of my life.
A little context: I’m a writer who loves reading. Growing up, it was novels, short stories, the short summaries from the physical copy of TV Guide (older millennials and above, remember those? Younger millennials, just go ahead and google it).
Now, its email newsletters. (I’m still into the other forms of reading. My kingdom for a physical copy of a TV Guide!) Finance. Painting. Writing. Productivity. Film Festivals. Journalism on entertainment industry. Street photography. Sales tactics. Starting an online business. Travel hacking. Short stories.
I’m interested in a lot of stuff, so if it caught my eye, I subscribed and created a filter for it so that it bypassed my inbox. (I’m a little obsessive about digital organization). The email would sit in a column on the left side of my gmail inbox, bolded if unread.
Emails newsletters comfort and encourage me. If I was having a bad day, I’d look for a lil’ pickup-me-up from my column of carefully filtered, color coordinated labeled newsletters. There was always something new to learn, always something to be inspired by. I’ve learned so many interesting things in a range of subjects. Even if the email newsletter was not directly related to my chosen vocation of writer/director/producer, I’ve gotten chance to put into practice so much of what I’ve gleaned from my email newsletters.
But as of late, all this ready information at my fingertips drains me. Because for me, marking unread emails read required me actually reading them. Because I can’t not read something. I need to know what “lied beneath” in my left hand column of unread emails. Just marking it as read wasn’t enough.
What if I missed something important? Something crucial? Some nugget of insight that might unlock a mystery of the universe for me? Something that would make a better storyteller? A wiser human being?
In the dining room of my friend’s house, with browser littered with too many open tabs, it finally crystallized for me. I was trying to write an email, develop a creative brief AND participate in a conversation about how to edit an upcoming VR series. (More on that later). All the while, distracted by four unread emails. So I gave in and checked them. One was about finance. Two were about film festivals. The last was about writing.
All the while, distracted by four unread emails. So I gave in and checked them. One was about finance. Two were about film festivals. The last was about writing.
Perhaps circularly valuable, but not time sensitive or even important. Why did I check those emails? I could have let them sit until a better time. I was angry — at myself, and how easily I get distracted. Why did I let myself do it?
God knows I’ve done that plenty of times over the years. But in one painful, embarrassing moment that was known only until me (until now), I finally had the courage to admit that I can’t always justify my love of reading as a substitute for writing. Clearly, for me, this thirst for knowledge is teetering on obsessive. And since I’m a writer, that poses a problem.
I had a decision to a make. Pretend like I didn’t have a problem. Or do something about it.
So I did it, unthinking, almost unblinking, within the span of about five minutes. I did the thing I knew would result in less distractions and more focus for my work. I found each email newsletter (easy to do, because I’m obsessive about digital organization), and I clicked on the link that inevitably graced the bottom of each email: Unsubscribe. Cold turkey.
I breathed a sign of relief, and thought of the proverb “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Then I looked up who said it so I could know who said it. (Author Unknown, Chinese Proverb).
Not five minutes letter, I checked my email again! Not that I had anything else to do! Not that I was technically in a meeting! Not that I was trying to develop a separate piece of creative work!
I know why I did it. Because in a span of five minutes, I realized: I’m not going to know what these people say next.
I’ve ALWAYS known what they are going to say next.
As I was frantically dog paddling in the emotional complexities that is the fear of missing out, I realized there was a freedom in admitting I’m an information addict. I really value what those email newsletters brought to my life. I will be forever grateful to the writers who spent time honing their posts, formatting the pictures, sharing their creativity and wisdom with me.
But I don’t need to be inspired every five minutes throughout my work day. I end up distracting myself away from more actual creative work getting done by reading too many inspiring email newsletters. It was time to let go of theoretical good in order to make actual creative work faster.
And granted — I need to be inspired, and I don’t want to underestimate the power of that. But more often than that, I need to do the work — the actual writing. The actual picture taking. The actual writing/directing/producing. The actual “writing about writing as part of her creative process” (only rarely).
I know I’m not the only one that feels overstimulated, especially with how easy it is to access information. Ironically, two of the lists I unsubscribed from were about productivity and clear thinking. I’ll sum up what I’ve learned from them, and save you a subscription:
We human beings need more time and space disconnected from places of information input when it comes to creative activities. And for those of us who use the internet on a daily basis for information access and inspiration, we really need to police ourselves when it comes to “inspiration-overload.”
The beauty and inspiration you’ve received in your life so far is enough to get started in your work. Come back to the well of inspiration when you are empty, not just to top off. Go exhaust yourself — write that novel, compose that song, write that screenplay, paint that picture, whatever creative act it is — just go do it. Because the inspiration you are searching for will be fulfilled when you actually do the work.
Success is in the act of doing the creative work.
Ironically, so many people who aren’t on the internet, talking about creativity, have this already figured out. And yes, I realize the irony of me writing about this on Medium, so this will most likely be the last time I do so!
If you suspect you might be in the same boat as me, just try unsubscribing from email newsletters. Read and digest one thing at a time. Try checking your email once an hour instead of once every two minutes. Make a clear goal for your creative work every day, and then no matter what, do it.
I think you’ll be glad you did.
So thank you for reading. I give you permission to shut this tab, and get back to work.
I’m glad I did.