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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

How Scratching the FOMO-Itch Blocks Your Writing

FOMO is real – both the fear and the missing out part – and is particularly risky for writers.

The Fear

Like any fear, FOMO will activate your limbic system, which evolved to react fast to tangible, immediate danger. In the face of imminent life-or-death threats, your brain doesn’t waste time contemplating the pros and cons of alternative responses. You react and those reactions are based on your fight-or-flight instinct or the kind of intense training that combat soldiers, emergency first-responders and airline pilots receive.

When a threat is smaller, your brain reacts from habits as well as instinct and training. If you routinely use phone or tablet to check social media, that behavior becomes habitual. (You create and myelinate a neural pathway for that behavior.)

You’re more likely to repeat habitual behavior, like checking social media, when you’re stressed.

If the source of your anxiety is FOMO, going to social media seems to be an appropriate response. “I’m anxious I’m missing something important, so I better go look. Then I can focus on my writing.” That works.

For about 5 minutes. Then the FOMO resurfaces.

Checking social media to reduce FOMO is like scratching when you have poison ivy; scratching gives momentary relief, but ultimately only makes the itch worse.

Missing Out Is Real

You are missing out. Right now. But before you flit over to Twitter, consider this: no matter what you do, you’ll miss out.

It is not humanly possible to keep up with everything all your friends and family do.

This is especially true if you’ve fallen in the trap of friending or following more than twenty people and those people are in the habit of posting something about just about everything.

Editorial Aside: Just enjoy your ordinary meal, person I met at a conference two years ago, I don’t need to see a photo of it. If you’re a close friend celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary at a 5-star restaurant, I still don’t want a picture of the food – I want a picture of you and the people you’re with.  

FOMO is making yourself anxious about something you can’t do anything about.

The Real Cost – What You’re REALLY Missing

Beyond the unnecessary angst of worrying about the fact that you can’t do what no human being can do, writers pay a particularly high price when we succumb to FOMO-induced interruptions.

What you’re really missing is the opportunity to attend to your imagination and creative insight. The woman at the white board in this photo is your less-than-conscious, creative mind trying to get the rest of your brain to focus on solving a story-problem or find a fresh image.

Writers need extended time to focus our attention.

If you consistently ignore your creative mind, it will stop trying to get your attention. You’ll be left wondering why you haven’t written in days, weeks, months. Feeling blocked will make you anxious. So you’ll distract yourself with a little social media. And that’s how poison ivy spreads from your arm to your shoulder, neck, back…

Stop Scratching!

The next time you feel the prickle of FOMO and reach for your distraction-device (phone, tablet or laptop) to “just take a minute” to check out social media, STOP!

Remember you are making a choice. A significant choice.

Do you really want to sacrifice your writing for the sake of discovering that someone you don’t care deeply about is doing something mundane? Or that some politician is doing something outrageous – again?

Are you willing to rob your future readers of the insights you’re ignoring? Do you want your favorite author to respond to social media for hours a day or do you want her/him get to busy with the next book you can’t wait to read?

Don’t panic. I’m not suggesting you get rid of your phone. I’m suggesting the radical idea that you set aside time when you choose to ignore social media and any other distraction so you can stop giving away your writing time.

Unlike poison ivy, social media is something you can indulge in if you are careful about when you do and don’t indulge. When it’s distraction-time, wallow in your social media all you want.

But when the time you reserved for writing arrives, endure FOMO without scratching the itch. It won’t be too long before you get into your writing and forget about the outside world. Or until you’ve honored your 15-minute commitment and can move on to whatever you want to do next.

The more often you ignore FOMO, the quicker the urge to itch will fade. Every time you successfully ignore FOMO during your writing-reserved time, you create a new habit, one that sustains your writing instead of blocking it.


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6 Comments on “How Scratching the FOMO-Itch Blocks Your Writing”

  1. Casey Elizabeth Dennis October 16, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    This actually explains a lot and why I’m so easily distracted.


  2. Lucy Gray October 14, 2017 at 3:35 am #

    Oh thanks for this, great timing! I’ve been wasting way too much writing time reading inane posts about dinner, illnesses, traffic and politics. I also wonder about social folks who feel the need to post 30 quasi-identical photos of an event, and very few “a Kodak moment.” I suppose it’s easier than bothering to edit as they download (is there a writing lesson there?).


    • rosannebane October 16, 2017 at 3:51 pm #

      You’re welcome Lucy Gray! I suspect there is a writing lesson in failing to edit in there. If you want to expand on the idea and share your insights here, please consider writing a guest post.


  3. Joel D Canfield October 13, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    someone you don’t care deeply about is doing something mundane

    Every time I open Facebook. And it’s more than my writing, it’s life. Everything is less when I’m wasting time on mundanities that aren’t even mine.

    I need a sign that says NOMO FOMO.


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