Do you know the uneasy feeling there’s something everybody but you understands or has or is doing? Gurus say fear of missing out, or FOMO, is one reason this week’s blog post title makes you more likely to open it. Another is that social media algorithms pick up on keywords denoting urgency. If you came here via social media, the keywords may deserve credit for the link showing up in your feed.
Did the goofy title work? Data from Weebly and Facebook will show whether traffic goes up or down this week. Articles online debate the best time of day to post on various social media sites. I cringe at the very idea. I’d so much rather write, trust you to read what strikes you as interesting, and respect your choice to skip the rest.
A Peanuts cartoon shows Snoopy on his doghouse, typing a letter about the novel he just completed. It’s so good he won’t even submit it; the editor or publisher can come and get it. What a delightful fantasy! Who wants to spend half their time promoting their work, as authors may in order to reach an audience? Why do so many choose a profession where they’ll spend half their time doing something they dislike?
Volunteering for not-for-profits, I’ve had assignments that involved fundraising or sales. On a good day a switch flips in my mind and suddenly it’s no longer about pushing a product. It’s about hospitality in helping people connect with something they want, whether it’s a glass of wine or a way to support a cause they value. On a good day as a writer, reaching out to readers isn’t about goofy blog titles. It’s about extending an invitation to connect. As I wrote a year ago, connections are what writing is all about.
How would you use an unexpected free day? Psychologists Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University asked college students to write what they would do if school were cancelled for the day. A subset of study participants received the additional instruction to imagine themselves as seven-year-olds.
The researchers say maturing into adulthood strengthens impulse control, logical problem-solving, and self-monitoring. Spontaneity and originality decline. Children approach challenges as exploration and play, adults as a quest for the right solution.
While we can’t turn back the clock on brain development and probably wouldn’t want to, a childlike mindset enhances creativity — in introverts. Introverts are capable of play and spontaneity but don’t often show it. Envisioning themselves as adults, the introverts in the study scored much lower on creative originality than their extraverted peers. But when they imagined themselves as children, introverts soared to the top of the creativity charts. Extraverts, less inhibited, fell somewhere in the middle regardless of adultlike or childlike mindset.
Unleashing your inner child to enhance creativity goes beyond the fluff of pop culture, especially if you’re an introvert.
A Lesson from Uncle Ewart
My uncle Ewart worked for the United Nations in Rome, New Delhi, and Ankara. He commented that ethnic restaurants reflect the country they’re in more than the country they’re of. A Turkish restaurant in Canada is primarily Canadian and only secondarily Turkish.
Historical novels set in the Middle Ages got me thinking how Uncle Ewart’s observation applies to fiction. Such novels say more about the culture in which they're written than the culture they depict. For example:
A Brief History of Failure
Failure is a modern invention. True, Coronado failed to find the Seven Cities of Gold, and Raleigh failed to plant a permanent colony at Roanoke. History is filled with tales of failed endeavors. But using “failure” to describe individuals—feeling like a failure, or sorting people into the successes and the failures—didn’t start till well into the nineteenth century, according to Scott A. Sandage, historian and author of Born Losers.
Attaching “failure” to personal identity, with all its moral connotations, emerged from the extension of business models to people and the invention of credit ratings. The first human “failures” were reckless speculators whose overambition led to bankruptcy. Today they’re underachievers who lack ambition. Born losers.
I’ve heard friends insist they have no failures, only learning experiences, or redefine success to mean leading a worthwhile life instead of achieving riches or fame. My preference is to strip the terms of moral judgment and apply them to outcomes, not people. Success and failure are results we have, not who we are. If we ever take risks or try anything new, we’ll succeed in some and fail in others. There’s no shame in failure. The only way to have a shot at avoiding it is never to try.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.