Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 29, 2024

The Tyranny of FOMO

by Amy Winters-Voss

Hands up signifying someone drowning in a pool.

Writers have to juggle a myriad of tasks beyond the hard work of drafting and editing our books. There’s increased pressure to post to social media, produce novels faster, learn to do cover art, absorb how to do ads and marketing, keeping up with our audience via newsletters, ensuring you have a catchy reader magnet, tackling the changing demands of publishers and book distribution, and a dizzying array of additional tasks.

Did your blood pressure just rise as you read that? Mine did! This post is about keeping sane when there’s more on your plate than you can handle.

Thinking we have to do it all is a sure sign of FOMO. . .

What is FOMO?

It’s an acronym that stands for the Fear of Missing Out–that dreadful little twerp in the back of your mind who whispers you need to do not just all the things, but all the additional ones you see others doing, or you won’t be successful.

I picked up Becca Syme’s books  Dear Writer, You Need To Quit and Dear Writer, Are You in Burnout? after attending a seminar she was kind enough to give on the Indie Author’s Ascending Discord. She’s coached thousands of creatives. Her books are a great resource to help avoid the burnout pitfall and how to do what you need (not what others say you should do). But they also highlight that burnout is common among authors and other creatives.

So, to counter that little FOMO imp, I’ll quote Becca:

“Question the Premise.”

She taught me to ask, “But do I really need to?” To consider what success means to me, and how that’s different from what others say I should do.

Without defining what success meant to me, it was this slippery eel always beyond my grasp. Sometimes it morphed with each new success I saw others having. That hazy idea grew beyond anything I wanted to something I should want, because that’s success, right?

FOMO is a subtle little imp as it creeps around in our brains to feed on our insecurities and “what ifs”, always suggesting you should do just one more thing.

“FOMOticus” by Eyes Of Sleeping Hollow

“FOMOticus” by Eyes Of Sleeping Hollow (used with permission, created for use with this article)

 My Own Nasty Brushes with FOMO

I’ll show you part of the path FOMO led me down so you can catch it before it gets too far ahead of you, too. When I started writing my first novel, success was getting that first one published.

Even before I finished that goal, people suggested I should do an audiobook and at least three books in the series, not a standalone. I adopted those ideas.

Then I read Chris Fox’s “5000 Words Per Hour” and “Six Figure Author” and wondered why I wasn’t pushing harder for more books.

Obviously, in today’s market we need to write books as quickly as possible to make a living, right? Who wouldn’t want to make more money? So why wasn’t I writing like that, yet? How could I get there?

In addition, the shininess of volunteer projects called...

This cycle kept growing and what it brewed inside wasn’t happiness.

All the things I thought I should do went beyond what I really wanted – to enjoy writing the stories that welled up inside.

Instead, the cycle turned to trudging through and pushing to “succeed,” when I had no real metric for success anymore. It was no longer attainable. I could not be satisfied. And that blasted little imp still kept whispering in my ear, even though I wasn’t sure I wanted to write anymore. Ever.

Something had to change. I had to cut back and give that FOMO imp a kick to the curb.

Another Real Life Example

Recently, I watched Chris Fox’s latest YouTube channel post “Why I Stopped Making Videos” and was dumbfounded when he said this about continuing to hustle in order to always stay at the top of a field:

“It’s not worth it. It’s not worth the cost when you get there and you don’t enjoy your life day to day…”

This is the guy who sold a ton of novels, who wrote a series on how to do what he did, and had a popular YouTube channel to boot. He achieved wild success. Yet he’d been struggling. And he could only push at that insane level for so long.

There was so much packed into his video but burnout, specifically Autistic burnout, was one of the phrases that kept coming up. So, the guy who was able to write 20K words on a good day – and I am still totally in awe – has limits. He had to slow down.

My mind was blown.

The positive is that he’s coming out on the other side. He’s creating again but not at the insane rate he used to, and he’s finding ways to refill his creative reserves.

His books like “5000 Words an Hour” still have a place. He has great advice on how to increase writing output. But productivity needs to be balanced with self-care and setting limits on how much you’ll push yourself.

The Hard Truth

You can’t do it all, nor should you.

Always going full out has a price – the kind that makes you unable to be creative in the long term. There’s a toll to never slowing down. We aren’t machines. Ironically, we seem to understand that machines need maintenance better than we understand that same principle for ourselves.

Breaking Away from FOMO

What can we do when the common advice is to keep pushing, never slow down, and continually add the next new marketing fad to our already busy schedules?

Evaluate What You’re Doing

Time and energy are our most precious resources. We only have so much of both. Evaluate what gives you the most bang for the buck. For authors, the core is writing books and getting the word out.

  • How many other things are you juggling?
  • How much of that “marketing” is actually selling books?

Tracking your activities and their effectiveness can help. Spreadsheets are great for this. But if that’s not your gig, even jotting down in a notebook how much time you spend on a task can give you a good idea of what’s working.

When a task isn’t effective, find a replacement that’s more effective or simply drop it. We can’t keep doing the same thing expecting change.

I’ll pick on one of the biggies for a moment.

We often hear advice about getting the word out on social media. Becca asks her readers in the books I mentioned above to “Question the Premise” on common author advice, and she often questions suggested uses of social media.

This is one of those areas I’ve been scrutinizing. I’m pretty good at cutting things that aren’t working for me. But social media is a tough one.

My changes in this area

Several months ago (even before I read Becca’s books), I started an experiment because I find checking and responding on social media quite draining. And I’m finding that a newsletter with book swaps and promos included is more effective.

So, I’ve been scheduling all my social media at the beginning of the month and letting it run on autopilot. I’m still getting about the same interaction on social media, but not focusing on it allows me to put energy into my newsletter where I can have a more intimate and fun chat with my readers.

Does it mean that social media doesn’t work?

Not at all. Some people do great on platforms like TikTok. But it doesn't work if it drains you of energy and motivation.

  • Find what works best for you and your personality.
  • Check those time-sucks.
  • Save your energy!

Does it mean things like paying taxes can be cut? Alas, no. That one keeps you out of jail.

Using Self Care to Replenish Energy

Finding the time to step out of the constant push to rest and refill your creative batteries will go a long way to helping you avoid burnout. It sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? We have too much on our plates already. But I’m absolutely serious. Carving a bit of time out for you is important.

This last fall, I read Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included) by Pooja Lakshmin, MD. I was skeptical but kept reading. My favorite point of hers? “Saying ‘No’ is also self-care.”

Some of you, dear readers, have conditions and circumstances that make it really hard to slow down and find time for self-care. Do what you can. Say “No” and ask for help whenever possible. None of us is superhuman.

Conclusion

Remember FOMO isn’t your friend. It’s a fear, a tyrannical one, constantly pushing you to do more. But burnout requires a long recovery time. It’s a thief that robs you of vital creativity and energy.

So I’ll encourage you to define what success means to you and examine what is working and what is not.

  • Cut things that aren’t helping.
  • Say “No” and stick to your boundaries.
  • Write those boundaries down if you need the reminder.

My previous article on self-care might also be of help: The Case for Slowing Down and Self-Care.

Are there things you need to cut back on or say “No” to, so your success is more sustainable and achievable? What is one thing you can do for yourself to refill that creative battery? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Amy

Amy Winters-Voss

Amy is the author of the Liminal Chronicles series, a mythological/urban fantasy set in small-town Japan that focuses on social redemption and found family.

She adores Japan and always looks forward to visiting the incredible country with its amazing people and unique culture, again. Textile arts are her go-to hobbies. Her favorite craft is nalbinding, an ancient yarn craft much older than knitting.

Top Photo Credit: Andreea Popa on Unsplash

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20 comments on “The Tyranny of FOMO”

  1. I recently read a post that was questioning 'When you finish your first book, get the next out as quickly as possible.'

    It said that it's a good idea to put lots of energy into promoting that book in order to get it, and you, known. Writing and promoting the next book immediately is diluting the marketing.

    I also dropped my newsletter. I know we are constantly being told that a newsletter is the absolute best means of promotion, but it didn't work for me. I had only just over 30 subscribers, and in spite of me doing everything we are told to do to get people to sign up, it didn't work. I didn't sell many (any?) books from it, nor have any responses.

    I totally agree that we can't do it all.

    1. I'm glad to hear you're "questioning the premise" too!

      I do hope you'll try email lists again some day along side a promotion group (bookfunnel, story origin, or facebook author groups that promo each other). But I can't fault you for taking a break for sanity!

  2. In order to be a full time writer or author it does take a daily discipline of hard work. Long hours and pushing hard to create more. It’s about what’s important to you. I love the hard work and pushing harder. It’s like going to the gym and adding more reps and more weight keeps us in shape and keeps our bodies fit. The trick is small rests in between. But there isn’t any replacement for hard work. Books don’t write and edit themselves. Taking a day off from the gym doesn’t mean that the next day you go you work less- in fact you will be inspired to work harder. It’s not for everyone for sure. You have to figure out what pace works for you.

      1. That’s a tricky mindset. It’s like if I eat that ice cream sundae this one time it won’t affect my diet. I can justify time off all the time. What I do is plan that time, rather than picking it at random. I schedule in breaks and weeks off. The hardest thing is to shut my brain off when I do. I can create the space but my brain is constantly working in books even when I sleep.

  3. I have an entirely different mindset due to chronic illness.

    I try, every day, for as long as mind and body MIGHT cooperate, but even with micromanaging the self-care, it's hit or miss. I can't count on me. I use a little program called Freedom to block the internet for a few hours (I get distracted easily).

    So I don't stress. I keep poking at the how. When I don't get any new words for a while, I head to the FEAR Journal and see if I can figure out why (often, it helps the next bit).

    But mostly I try to take advantage of the planets aligning - when it happens. Persistence means coming back to it every day, regardless of outcome, because that's how the first two volumes in my mainstream trilogy got written, and I'm literally doing the best I can.

    Not a way anyone would CHOOSE to live (and write), but the time will go by either way, and this way I have something meaty and heavy to hold in my hand - that I produced. 'Twill have to serve.

    Oh, and I love the results. And seem to have no intention of quitting.

  4. Terrific post on something that afflicts so many of us. For me, FOMO was that fear of not writing fast enough, not putting out enough books, which turned out to be a moving target, always expanding, and not doing enough marketing. I burned out in 2019 after four years of running hard at being an indie author.

    I learned that each of us has our own pace. Certainly I know writers who put out a book every 2 months, or even once a month, and made good money doing so, at least for a time, until they also hit some degree of burnout.

    In my case, I didn’t recognize that I’d burned out until later in 2020, after publishing my seventh fantasy novel, which was all the final book in my Empowered series. I had taken Becca’s workshop online in 2019, as well as devoured a number of her books, including the one on burnout and realized that was me.

    I also felt the pull of another genre, mystery, which I had dreamed of writing in for years. I decided in the fall of 2020 to take the leap. It took me two and a half years, writing three different versions of my first mystery novel before I had a book that worked. I ran it past my beta readers, rewrote it once more and published it. I wrote a newsletter magnet prequel last summer which garnered me a bunch of new subscribers.

    I’m now doing a final pass on the second book in the series before sending it to copy editor.

    But FOMO is still whispering in the background, trying to get me to come up with ways to produce more, faster. I’ve learned a lot about writing a mystery that works and the second novel came much faster than the first. The third may come faster still. That said, I want my writing process to be sustainable, and part of my life, not all of it.

    Part of this is recognizing that, for me, there’s more to the writing process itself than “just” brainstorming/outlining/drafting/feedback/publishing. There’s revising the story at a line-level, hunting for typos, making the novel as free of goofs as possible, something I didn’t always do back when I wrote fantasy novels.

    Another antidote to FOMO is recognizing that it springs, at least in part, from comparison, which truly is the thief of joy.

    1. I'm sorry to hear you dealt with burnout too. But glad you recognized it. Yeah FOMO is sneaky. And I think you are absolutely correct - FOMO can stem from comparison!

  5. I love this, Amy! I recently took a LONG vacation - first vacation in 14 years. I did things to care for myself. And most of the time, the phone was off. Digital connection? Wasn't necessary when I was with friends, family, and my husband that I don't get to spend enough time with in our daily lives. It was a beautiful time. I'm enjoying being back, but I'm also finding it easier to slow down. I don't want to go into that frantic place.

  6. I love the comments for this post! I especially appreciated when Dale said: "I want my writing process to be sustainable, and part of my life, not all of it." That's the key to everything, I think.

    I am equally absorbed by my day job, and that also keeps my FOMO from getting out of control (most of the time).

  7. Hi Amy and All -

    Great post and great comments. I am definitely a FOMO 'poster girl' - and the scary thing is I have been doing this fiction writer thing for barely a year. 'Bogle' - not 'Burnout'- is my nemesis. I realize I have been trying to keep up with the push of a writer friend, who sadly I guessed from the get-go, is toxic to my personal modus operandi. I think your words here have given me permission to cleanse myself from the unintended toxicity of this writer friend. I am in for the long hall, and I deserve to proceed in peace and at a pace that suits my desire to write to begin with. Thank you ... and now I just need to define for myself what success looks like. That little tidbit of wondrous advice is fabulous!! Thank you again.

  8. Amy, this is such a great post! So necessary in this crazy world.

    Not that my "process" would work for everyone, but I find that if I consider what exactly I want to accomplish in my remaining years -- things that are important enough to work for -- a whole bunch of items fall off the list. If it's not fun or if it doesn't make me happy, it's not worth the effort.

    Thanks for the good information!

  9. Terrific suggestions, Amy. I saw Becca speak at a conference where we were both presenting, and LOVED her "question the premise" approach to handling your writing career. Thanks for the reminders--I'll be sharing this in my newsletter for authors.

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