Reading Overload in the Information Age

AtoZBadge-LetterRI read constantly. I bet you do too because, since you’re reading this blog, you have access to the Internet where there’s an infinite amount of stuff to read – emails, articles, blogs, tweets, books, essays – all at your nimbly typing fingertips. People read more now than ever, not just for work, school or fun, but also for day-to-day communication. The Information Age has also been dubbed the Age of Distractions, but the problem isn’t exterior forces distracting us from reading, it’s that we have too much reading.

Gasp! How can a writer say such a thing? Isn’t reading good for us? Absolutely. Through reading we gain knowledge and insight, develop empathy and understanding, and exercise our brains. But the old adage that you can have too much of a good thing is true. And for writers especially, reading can become more of a chore than a pleasurable pastime because it’s part of our job.

book pileI’ve been way behind on my list of things to read for years. My library holds consistently hover around 50 books, and even though I read about four books a month, I never catch up because I’m always adding more. My email Inbox fills with publishing newsletters, blog posts and news alerts faster than I can read them. And don’t even get me started on Twitter.

A couple months ago I decided my problem was the Internet – our relationship took up too much of my precious time, so I wrote the Internet a letter establishing that I needed space. A month into our separation, I had some tips and tricks for staying away from the Internet’s tempting embrace. But even after following my own advice, like unsubscribing from newsletters and setting time limits for checking Twitter, I still have too much to read, and it’s taking its toll. I’m suffering from all the Symptoms of Reading Overload:

Stress. Yes, I’m stressed about how much I have to read. Ridiculous, I know, but I want to read all the things and I don’t have time, and then… oh no, what do I do?!

Skimming. So I skim. Chronically. I check articles to see how long they are before I commit to reading them, and if they’re more than 800 words I ditch them or skim.

Bitterness. If I don’t enjoy reading something, I’m unreasonably bitter and angry for wasting my time. Like it’s the blog/article/book’s fault I read it!

Resentment. I’m starting to resent new awesome books that come out or fun blogs I’ve discovered, because I don’t have time for more!

Worst of all, these symptoms ruin my reading experience. I used to read for fun. Now reading has become a chore, something to check off my To Do List. Clearly, I need to get this under control and reclaim the joy. Here’s the plan…

4 Ways to Cure Reading Overload

1)   Categorize – Divide your reading into Must, Should and Want piles. I’m surprised to find my Must pile is fairly small, mainly business emails. Everything else is under Should and Want, which essentially means “optional.” This instantly relieves my stress.

2)   Prioritize – Look for crossover in the Should and Want piles. My Should pile is material I feel could help my career, like articles/blogs about publishing, or books by authors who are repped by agents I’m interested in, or the latest bestseller I should have an informed opinion about, but don’t necessarily want to read. Hence the skimming. Gather Shoulds that are also Wants and put these combos in a pile right after Must.

3)   Delete – The remaining stuff in the Should pile, just delete it. Seriously. This is so freeing! You don’t want to read it anyway. Who cares if that book was a bestseller. If you’re 50 pages in and bored, stop! Now you won’t be bitter for wasting hours reading something you don’t enjoy.

4)   Shelve – Take everything in the Want pile off your To Do List and put it on a shelf for later, no expiry date. Suddenly, I don’t resent those new books, because instead of them being work I don’t have time for, they’re a pleasure I look forward to.

We’re living in an incredible time for reading – so much material and so many ways to access it – but it’s impossible to read everything. Don’t lose the joy of reading by trying to keep up with it all.

How do you decide what to read? Does it overwhelm you as much as it does me? Or am I just weird?


Next up from Heather on Monday… “X-Rated: Should YA Books have a Ratings System?


Click here for more blog posts from Heather.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

12 thoughts on “Reading Overload in the Information Age”

  1. I think it’s important to distinguish between reading novels(or short stories, etc), something a writer should be doing, and just reading stuff (like the Internet), which is not reading that helps a writer in the way that reading a novel does.

    1. Well, some of the reading material on the Internet is helpful to writers. Not in the same way as reading fiction, but it’s still useful. I think the best thing is to make your own priorities and figure out what is valuable to your writing process and career, and make sure that’s at the top of your reading pile. In the Age of Distractions, half the battle is just acknowledging how much time we all spend reading online gossip and Facebook versus helpful blogs, articles and stories.

  2. Great article – I’m feeling very overwhelmed with all the blogs I want to read during the A to Z Challenge. I’ve found a ton that I want to keep up with, but also want to make sure I’m checking out new blogs too…I’ve decided that I will make a list of my favorite blogs and catch up with them after April! 😀

  3. Interesting approach. I don’t feel stressed by the amount of books, but I do feel sad that I don’t read as much as I used to anymore (when I was young and had more time, 3-4 books a week was a norm). And I do skim through the online articles if I don’t find them interesting enough or I’m just looking for the particular information.

  4. Really good post and so true! I’ve recently cut back on my internet time- deleting my membership to some forums I spent way too much time on, cleaned up my fb friends list etc.

    I also just cleaned up my goodreads tbr list, and took off over 50 books. It felt great to see my tbr number go down to a more manageable level. I have also just made the decision to stop participating in reading challenges. I was doing quite a few of them and it was becoming too time consuming, as well as turning into a tedious chore. Now I can read books, just because I want to, and not because I have to, to fulfill a challenge requirement.

    1. Those are all great ways to lighten the reading load! I hear you on the reading challenges, and feel the same way about book clubs. I had to cut a couple of those out of my life too. It’s great to have more time to read for pleasure rather than obligation. Happy reading!

We love comments and questions.

%d bloggers like this: