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!
* * * * * *
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.
Top Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Lisa, what a great post. I bookmarked and plan to try out several of your suggestions with travel and crafts. And I love the suggestion to eat something yummy.
Thanks! Enjoy fueling your muse! Life can take so much out of us, it helps to put some of that joy back.
Thank you, Lisa. This is a post I know many people need. I know I need it. Even though I'm coming out a period of languishing. I know that feeling will come back. It is part of the writing cycle. The languishing phase is torture for me. I am not myself if I am not writing. So having more tools for dealing with it, is priceless.
Lynette - you are one of my heroes. Your own posts on your blog have helped me through some tough times as well!
You are making me blush hard, Lisa. *smile* Thank you. Save a little of that hero-worship for yourself. You constantly amaze me.
I agree that the languishing times are SO HARD. Everyone who knows me agrees that when I'm writing, I am more everything: smarter, funnier, prettier, happier. You name it on the positive emotion front and I have more of it when I'm writing regularly. 🙂
Writing can give us such joy! That power of creation is intoxicating!
Great post, Lisa. Thank you for all the tips. It was a problem for me, even in the before times. I agree that connecting with the joy (and fun) in your work is so important. I transitioned from writing modern fantasy novels last year to finally working on that library mystery novel I'd idly thought about for years, and now am revising the first in what will be a library cozy series.
The problem at the moment has been languishing in long revision as I wrangle the mystery plot into workable form and learn how better to play the 3-dimensional chess that is writing in this genre. It's great fun, but it's also work, and all too-easy to fall into overthinking.
A steady diet of classic mystery TV (along with fun mystery novels) has kept my muse engaged. Zumba and yoga keep me energized. Now, thanks to this post, I have even more tools and ideas. Happy 2022!
Congratulations for working on a series that you love! I hear you about the overthinking stage. I've read that any time a task is HUGE, it can bring on overwhelm, even when we know exactly what we're doing. Breaking it down into bite size bits can help, but that's hard when you are plotting a series. I love the comparison to 3-dimensional chess. I'm working on editing books 2 and 3 of a fantasy trilogy right now, and that explains the process perfectly!
Zumba and Yoga are great! My daughter-in-law recently introduced me to Beat Saber. Amazing how energizing those can be!
Have a wonderful and productive 2022!
Beautiful, thoughtful, extremely helpful post, Lisa. I love your suggestions, and I am sure this will shine some encouraging light on many of us who are languishing in these cold, gray days. Thank you!
Thanks, Lori! Your red pen is always a ray of sunshine on my gray days!!
Really great post, Lisa! And it's funny...when I'm really stressed out, I want to read and knit. Usually both at the same time, which is why I love my Kindle.
I noticed the same behavior with someone else recently. Her muse wanted two things at once, and it really felt like indulging BOTH was going to be the most productive outlet!
This is so timely, given that it is also the time when many of us are pushing through the winter doldrums. I was very ready for your pep talk today and needed to add a little joy to my WIP.
Yay! So glad it helped, Kris. This is a dreary time, and right when the new starts wearing off our shiny New Year! We need joy every day.
I've been languishing, for sure. I started The Artist's Way, and I fell of the wagon on that, too.
Don't let it become a source of guilt. Guilt doesn't help. Say, "Meh...that didn't work for me." and then go out and find something that you love. Something that you can delight in. Something that makes you smile.
If languishing has set in, this may take a bit of work. Try some of the ideas above, or dig for memories that give you joy. Or - and this seems counter-intuitive - spend time watching your very favorite TV shows. Let yourself care. Let yourself relax and enjoy. Try to get really in tune with your creative self.
This was hard for me when I was struggling with it, because I didn't want to deal with it. I wasn't even thinking consciously about languishing when I discovered this crazy new show with these delightful characters... and suddenly there was something I *wanted* to watch. Then I wanted to know more about the actors, and before long, their joy and playfulness had pulled me out of it. I wanted to create my own stories again.
Hugs. Hang in there. Fight for your creativity. It is worth it!
Thank you so much!
Great post; I just finished the Artist's Way and it helped for sure...so did your class!
Thanks, Jessica! I love that class. I get as much out of it as y'all do. Great fun and good writing friends, combined with daily writing. Ah...just lovely!
This sounds like an amazing class! Is this an LWA class, or a Julia Cameron class?
So many great suggestions! I'll be copying most of them into my list of potential Artist Date ideas. And I can add a couple: For your send of hearing, music is still my first choice, but I also love the background sounds of windchimes and waterfalls/fountains. For your sense of taste, sometimes trying something new is even more interesting than something you know you will like. Finishing with something reliably yummy might be safest, though. Extra helpful that so many of these things I can do at home while social distancing.
Those are great additions, LisaAnne! And yes, my goal with this was to include as many things that we can do safely in this COVID world as possible! And... since many authors are introverts, social distancing is never bad!
I think we languish when a novel everyone thinks will do well doesn't get the reviews from AudioFile, Midwest, and others, and dies on the vine. It's hard to recover from that.
It is hard, Malcolm. No doubt. Unless someone has some amazing promo going, most novels land in obscurity and then we need to use marketing and promotion to help them be discovered. Making that discovery happen isn't easy. When early attempts don't work, giving up seems attractive. But if we keep trying, one step at a time, we can turn things around. One of my favorite stories recently is of an author - I wish I could remember the name - who writes in another language. His book was translated and became a world-wide best-seller. But this wasn't his first book. He'd written several, and they'd essentially vanished into literary oblivion. He just kept writing because he's a writer and that is what writers do... but he figured no one would ever read his books. I wish I could remember his name. I saw an article about him in the NYT featuring an image of him looking completely baffled as to why he's suddenly getting noticed. Sales of his previously invisible books are now increasing and people are amazed that there's this brilliant writer no one knew about.
There are other stories like this that we can look at - VanGogh being one of my favorites - where we think if that artist had stopped and given up, what a loss to the world. And yes, VanGogh was a terrible loss.
I just want people to decide I'm a good writer before I'm dead! LOL
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