The I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome

By Milli Thornton

A hyphenate is a person working or excelling in more than one craft or occupation, such as in the movie industry where you’ll see credits like this one: screenwriter-producer-director. But you don’t have to wait to be famous and successful to have a hyphenated writing career. You might have this one already: the I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome.

Yeah, so it’s a condition not a career. But it can easily seem like a career when you’re in the throes of it.

“I-Know-Too-Much” was first mentioned on the Fear of Writing blog by guest blogger Tricia Sutton in her post Fear of Finishing:

I write most days—whatever my ailing back and eye fatigue will allow—but my biggest setback is called I-Know-Too-Much. I call the glorious first year of writing my novel, The Year of No Internet. The second year I discovered agent blogs and their wealth of information, subscribed to a few, began a blog of my own. By the third year, I was in deep. I subscribed to every literary blog known to man, learned my genre was/is passé, and learned the demand for writers plummeted while the supply of them skyrocketed. According to their blogs, agents were inundated with more queries than ever before and had become even pickier with acceptances.

I have stick-to-itiveness. I persevered. But I slowed down. While it’s nice to be informed, there are only so many “Don’t quit your day job,” “The odds of acceptances are slimmer than winning PowerBall,” and “You’ll fail” messages a person can take before they finally believe it.

In the comments section of her funny-ironic post, I had remarked:

“I LOVE the way you nailed the I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome. I’ve internalized that one all too well and I have it as a screenwriter. I even know a technique for fudging page margins to fool movie execs—a complex and sneaky ritual as revealed by the screenwriters of Shrek. How sophisticated can you get before you’ve ever been read by anyone in the industry?”

When I couldn’t stand it anymore I wrote a post on my screenwriting blog called STOP Listening, to help break myself out of continually feeding on advice about how to be a better screenwriter.

I hadn’t started out that way. I actually wrote the first draft of my first screenplay knowing barely anything. The beginner’s mind, as they call it in Buddhism. There’s a lot to be said for it. Not feeling inhibited by knowing how I was “supposed to” do it, I finished my first draft in just under a month. (I’m currently writing a new online course based on my experience. I’ve named it Write Your Screenplay in 29 Days.)

But somewhere along the line I became addicted to knowing too much. When I finally broke out of it, I was a much happier writer. I stopped obsessively reading advice blogs and I put all but my most essential screenwriting books in the basement.

I was reminded of the I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome a few days ago when one of my coaching clients talked about why she likes to write poetry. She says she doesn’t know what the “rules” are for writing poetry, so that frees her to write it the way she wants to. With most of her other writing she has the fear of being less than perfect, which means she often doesn’t sit down to write at all . . . because how can you live up to perfection?

From previous training as a journalist, and in her persona as a writing teacher, she knows too much about what you’re “supposed to” do.

Do you suffer from the I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome? If yes, how do you go cold turkey long enough to get something written? If no, what is your secret for staying untouched?



Fear of Finishing by Tricia Sutton

STOP Listening by Milli Thornton

Milli Thornton



Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and Milliver’s Travels and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching.

5 Responses to The I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome
  1. Allen
    December 6, 2011 | 10:49 PM

    I wouldn’t call it the I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome myself, instead I would call it perfectionism, also known as being afraid to make mistakes. I used to suffer from this greatly, being afraid to do anything, afraid I wouldn’t meet up the standards of preset rules. Now I don’t really care anymore, I realized that to succeed it’s better to focus on quantity over quality.

  2. Estrella Azul
    December 7, 2011 | 8:32 AM

    I think that’s why I also write poetry and feel the free-est. I don’t know the rules either and so anything I write simply comes from deep within without the added worries of “it might not be perfect”.
    Reading advice on writing helps to only a certain degree, as you just stated, and I think the trick (for me anyways) is to only follow the advice that seems most connected to my heart. Writing something I feel nothing towards is not something I can do, so in this twisted little way, I guess it applies to how I can write and stay mostly untouched by the I-Know-Too-Much Syndrome.

  3. Lois
    December 7, 2011 | 9:54 AM

    I print out the articles I “might want to read someday,” then I put them in an article folder. I rarely go back to them, but I know they’re there if I need them. So, I collect, then ignore. That’s my method! 😛

  4. Square-Peg Karen
    Twitter: SquarePegKaren
    December 7, 2011 | 9:58 AM

    Oh Milli, I know that syndrome! Isn’t it wild how it can grab us?

    I’m pretty sure my “condition” comes in handy when I’m a little scared of moving forward, doing the next thing — so I lean back into reading and cramming my brain (or computer files) with information from others. Sigh.

    I think awareness is the thing I use to slide out of the syndrome – but sometimes I just let myself float in it a bit, knowing that I’m a little scared — and allowing the procrastination in a mindful way.

  5. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    December 7, 2011 | 6:28 PM

    I’ve suffered before, I’ll suffer again, and I am suffering now. See, I began to query in mid October. Then life got in the way, I stopped, and now I’m ready again. Yet, YET, agents advise not to query in December due to their end-of-year projects and other things that don’t involve accepting new clients. So here I sit, and all because I can’t stay away from damn industry news. I could be blissfully querying and getting agented by the one agent who is all caught up and ready to read his or her slush pile.

    Can I pretend now I don’t know? No. Once the knowledge is there I can’t make it un-there.

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