Lately, it seems I’ve been hearing from a lot of writers that they’re languishing—they don’t know what to write, let alone feel the energy to write. Everything from Covid, to health setbacks, to exhaustion with their day jobs, adds to the fatigue. In my case, it has to do with not a whole lot happening. I feel a sense of restlessness some days. Things feel ‘ho hum’ and I ponder making changes, but lack the energy.
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for my novel to come back from the editor, at which point, I think I’ll be motivated to work again. But this thing about writing, as I tell other writers, is often tied up in success … how many books we’ve sold, or how many readers follow us on social media. “Success” is knowing your audience, staying tuned to what’s marketable … breaking through a very competitive market where everyone has a “printing press” at their fingertips. Then there’s “success” that comes with figuring the story out, constructing the narrative arc, deep diving into psychological terrain, especially for memoir writers.
Last night, a friend and I went to an outdoor event where a writer of Western fiction gave a talk and reading. A lovely evening here in the Philadelphia area, we sat at picnic tables and ate barbecue from the local brewery. I had never heard of the author before, but my friend had and said his books were a favorite of her father and grandfather. “They were easy reads,” she recalled. “Comfort reads … books they read before going to bed at night.” The author had built a successful career around a sheriff and a cast of characters and his books had been picked up by cable. What struck me was when he said the last book wrote itself six months before his publisher’s deadline and he’s already working on the next story in the series. That happened to me once or twice where the stories wrote themselves, but this latest book, a novel, now out to an editor, which continues the story of my character Ava Stuart, has been a bit of a slog. My momentum, too, is often slowed by considerations of how great a monetary investment I want to make in publishing the book. As I listened to this author talk about his copy editor and publisher, a partner by his side when he tours, I thought … I have none of that.
I’m not making excuses for my own languishing, but I am aware what I’m up against. Sometimes, the writing flows, other times, not. I’m also my own marketer and publicist. My writing has focused on loss and grief, transformation and renewal. It’s not just story and dialogue, but a narrative reflection and meditation on life.
Maybe I’ve set the bar too high, but I wouldn’t write anything else. And not every writer, even the most successful ones whose books became television series and movies, is imaginative or a great literary genius. I’ll never have my books turned into a cable TV series and I don’t expect to find an agent, but at least I’m getting the work—my voice—out there. As my friend said after the reading last night, she loves books. She grew up in a house where books found their way into everyone’s life. She has never read a book that hasn’t offered her a lesson of some kind. A lesson she could apply to her own life. I thought how true that was for me, too, and how I’ve worked hard at passing on what little wisdom I have to others through my own writing. So when a writer languishes, maybe it’s time to remember what got us into this crazy business in the first place. You have to write. And nobody else can do it for you.