by Lisa Norman
The most-read New York Times article in 2021 was, "There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing."
According to the article, languishing is the state between depression and flourishing. While more people have been struggling with languishing since the pandemic, I've watched authors struggle with it for years.
I help authors set up social media platforms, websites, and indie-publish their books. In almost every case, there's a stage in the project where everything seems to stagnate. All the passion of a new project, all the creativity, fades into crickets.
Some authors seem to have more resilience than others, but there's a stage where they all ask me, "Are you sure this will work?"
I am, but only if the author can escape the pull of languishing.
One of my clients was building his web presence. I'd given him a lot of homework, since he'd said that he wanted to make a living off this website. He had four visits one month and then eight visits the next month.
We were working with a marketing director. She was excited: 100% growth! She'd been through this wringer enough to know that consistency would win, if only we could keep him motivated.
The client kept at his homework, and the next month saw 30 visits. It wasn't a straight line, and we had many discussions about whether this would really work. Currently, he's averaging around 20,000 visits each month. He now has the success and the volume where trying new things can move that needle dramatically.
Before he could succeed, he had to conquer that soul-sucking time when everything seemed to languish. He had to work hard, even when it looked like nothing was working.
I'm often sad when I hand an author their book for the first time, or turn over the keys to a shiny new website. I try to give them a pep talk, but I know the odds are that the initial statistics won't be what they hope for.
I sound like a cheerleader, but mostly I'm begging them not to give up. Not to quit. Not to stop caring.
Because many of them do.
Worse, they get sucked in by every hot new trend, chasing any promise of success, while ignoring the down-and-dirty hard work that is the core of marketing and writing. Eventually, some of them will decide that nothing works and just give up.
When authors are motivated and engaged, I love watching them move through those early phases and into success. Watching them spiral through languishing and into depression is heartbreaking.
The NYT article recommends getting immersed in a project or other entertainment as a way to move forward. Ironically, the stories we create will help others escape from languishing by leading them to become emotionally invested in our characters, helping them to care about something, anything, in order to escape the doldrums.
But what happens when you are a creative individual who is stuck languishing in the time of COVID?
The goal here is to find things that delight you, things that will pull you further towards a sense of connection and creativity.
Find things that give you joy, and then bring those things into your life at least once a week, more often if you find your muse is refusing to cooperate.
Whatever the creative endeavor is that you are trying to build (website, social media, your latest WIP), try to bring that sense of joy and caring into your project with you. There is a well-known marketing principle: people are attracted to those who are having fun. This is why telemarketers and tech support folks are trained to have a mirror nearby and to smile while on the phone. The customer won't see the smile, but they'll hear it and feel it, and it will make a difference.
The following are suggestions. Take what connects with you; ignore anything that doesn't bring you delight.
Read motivational books, or fun books from your favorite authors. Get caught up in the story.
The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, is one of my favorites for fighting that sense of not being fully connected with the world. She recommends taking yourself on Artist Dates — dates with your inner creative spirit.
Even in these crazy times, you can explore the world. You don't even need to leave home!
If you can get to a craft store, spending time looking through beads, yarns, or colored pens can be a gift to your muse.
But what if you can't get to a store?
A friend and I went to a Zoom yarn fair where a handmade-yarn artist exhibited her yarns. She interacted with the visitors and told the stories behind each color. It was the most fun I'd ever had yarn shopping.
An artist friend of mine spends hours poring over paint catalogs, picking paint, paper, and other supplies. Each delivery to her doorstep delights her. She'll spend days playing with her new toys, and I can hear the depression leave her voice.
Whether or not related to your story, play can reinvigorate a languishing muse.
As a bonus, if you play online video games, you're likely to eventually be drawn into things like Discord and Twitch, platforms for meeting other gamers and getting to know them. Social media engagement while playing!
You have five senses, plus extras, depending on your approach to life. Stimulate each sense:
These escapes can feel like procrastination, and yes, some authors use them that way. But if you are aware of your mental state and you find yourself languishing, these prescriptions can be just the thing to help you re-engage. Here's how:
On a walk, you may see something that gives you an idea for a plot twist.
Eating, you may discover a recipe or a flavor that you can bring into a story or a blog post.
Music can create a powerful mood that helps you with a story. Bonus points if you create a soundtrack for your story and share it on social media or in your newsletter.
Exploring the world, you may find ideas for new stories or new blog posts.
Share your adventures on social media. Help your fans engage. My daughter frequently meets up with friends in VR chat and they explore imaginary worlds. Imagine offering that level of engagement to your fans!
When you are languishing in your writing career, the ideal escape will be into your writing, into your characters, into the virtual world that you are creating inside your head. The passion and vitality that you connect with as you work to bring yourself out of the slump will fuel your writing business while helping maintain your mental health.
As an advantage, the creations that you bring into existence may help rescue the non-creatives in our world from their own experience of languishing.
Are you languishing or flourishing in your writing life right now? What are some ways that you avoid languishing? We'd love to hear your story down in the comments!
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Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.
Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.
Interested in learning more from Lisa? See her teaching schedule below.
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