Writer Diagnosis: Failure to Thrive

“Psychologists have begun to speak of what is perhaps the largest mental health problem in our day. It is not depression or anxiety, at least not at clinical levels. It is languishing—a failure to thrive.”

~~John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be

We usually associate this languishing “failure to thrive” with newborns. But we adults can languish in our health, our careers, our marriages (or just about any endeavor). But today I want you to look back over 2013 at the health of your writing life.

Do a Check-Up

What is the health of your writing? Would your writing career be diagnosed as suffering from “failure to thrive”? Is it languishing when you want it to be flourishing?

Some symptoms of languishing might include:

  • A loss of hope and meaning
  • Absence of mental and emotional vitality
  • Weariness of soul
  • Inability to delight in your writing life
  • Feeling an inner deadness

From Languishing to Flourishing

The opposite of those symptoms would include feeling hope, having mental and emotional vitality when you write, being energized by your writing, delighting in your writing life, and feeling “alive” when you are able to get in the flow!

That would define “flourishing.” [Note that I didn’t define flourishing by the number of contracts signed or the size of your royalty checks. Those things make individual days more fun, but they have little to do with overall flourishing as a writer.]

The Missing Ingredient

What if you are starting out 2014 as a weary, languishing writer? Is there anything you can do about it? How do you get from the “languishing” side of the equation over to the “flourishing” side?

You find it in the word “nourish.”

The equation goes like this: Languish + Nourish = Flourish

To be honest, if you are truly languishing in your writing life, it will take lots of nourishing of your writer’s soul to move into flourishing. But the nourishing is FUN! And once you are flourishing with hope and energy again, the nourishing falls more into the daily nurturing and maintenance of your writing life.

  • Some of you need physical nourishing: more sleep, better nutrition, some solitude.
  • Some of you need mental nourishing: a good novel or movie, a trip to a museum.
  • Some of you need spiritual nourishing: prayer, meditation, a walk in the woods.
  • Some of you need emotional nourishing: hugs from kids, a phone call to a friend.
  • Some of us could use nourishing in all four quadrants now and every day.

Take Stock

Flourishing as a writer doesn’t just happen. Life happens instead. And it depletes your energy—all four kinds.

Don’t settle for a languishing writing life in 2014. Make flourishing one of your goals instead! Examine what areas of your life need nourishing, and make a plan to include that nourishing. (Remember: nourishing is FUN!)

Where are you on this continuum?

Languishing —> Nourishing  —> Flourishing!

Where would you like to be? Begin to make those changes today.

And please leave a comment! If you are flourishing now, tell us the nourishing things that got you to that point. If you’re languishing, hopefully some comments will give you ideas to try. Do NOT settle for a diagnosis of “failure to thrive.” Choose to flourish instead.

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13 Responses to Writer Diagnosis: Failure to Thrive

  1. How timely, Kristi! I have been languishing, and recently realized how much joy I felt when digging through books at the library for a program I’m giving. Hint to self: do that on a regular basis. Then this morning I thought, I should go to the library once a week for a couple hours and write. No household distractions. Your post today confirmed my need to follow through. Thank you!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Jane, that is so true and a great insight into what feeds your own soul. Being around shelves of books does the same thing for me, and book sales at libraries are the ultimate! :-)

      In the past, I have written a lot in the library study room. I may have to do that soon myself just to keep on task better. The holidays threw me off schedule!

  2. Starting to feel like I’m languishing, but will be nourishing in the next few weeks with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and a writing retreat with SCBWI. Thanks for this post that pinpoints what I’ve been feeling….I hope you and your readers are all well on your/their way to flourishing!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Your upcoming trips sound heavenly! I’m getting better at planning some renewal times in the evenings, but not good at all about full days or even half days off. I need to think about that–and not count babysitting grandkids as my day off anymore.

  3. Karen Collum says:

    I stumbled across your post through a friend and am so glad I did. In a happy case of serendipity, a week ago I chose a theme for my life for 2014: Nourish. I ended 2013 depleted in every aspect of my life, including as a writer. Thanks for these great tips. I’m the mum of four small kids so life is busy. My twins start school this year (my eldest is in grade 3) and my youngest starts 3yo kinder. I am planning on giving myself permission to spend the 3 hours I have child-free to work on my writing or illustrating or nourishing my creative self instead of the neverending housework!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Karen, so glad to meet you! I remember being a young mother of four and all that that entails, including little sleep and no solitude. I’m glad that you plan to take a good chunk of that upcoming time alone and nourish your creative side–which includes getting some rest. Enjoy!

  4. Stephanie Ascough says:

    Good words, as always. I find that reading good books always feeds my writer’s soul. I love how writing does that for me too. But because it’s hard, honest labor, attention to input affects my quality of output. Cheers for nourishment!

  5. Thank you, Kristi, for the encouragement today. I think I’ve been writing more this past year, keeping up a weekly blog post and doing more journaling. When I’m writing, time flies. But I’m still languishing, because it feels like there’s more in me than I’m willing to give out. My problem is taking the risk to share more of my writings or taking steps forward in writing a book. I get so frozen with the feelings of inadequacy.

    So glad I looked you up again, Kristi. I need your first aid. :)

    • kwpadmin says:

      Hi, Trudy! Nice to see you. I totally understand the feelings you’re talking about. And this frozen fearful writer in me comes out most strongly on the days I’m just worn out or haven’t had any “filling the well” experiences for weeks. Even looking at travel books of England or re-reading a truly favorite book (plus getting more sleep) will help keep that fearful part of me at bay. Or it gives me more courage to write anyway. But you’re right about the journaling and blogging…it’s writing for sure, but it’s an easier kind of writing than a book. If you haven’t read THE SLIGHT EDGE, you might find that book extremely helpful.

  6. Hi Kristy,
    I’m so glad that I came across this blog post. It certainly taught me that I have to take more “me time” for the other things in life in order to flourish. Right now, I can’t say that I’m languishing but I’m plugging along. I also have to check that book out! I do have a question. May I link your site up with mine? I know my readers will get so much advice from your site!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Deb, I think “plugging along” comes just before “dragging along” which can lead right to languishing. You’re wise to see early symptoms and think about course corrections. It’s so hard for some of us to take “me time” even for our work without feeling that it must be selfish. I wish I could take all the false guilt in the world and give it to the truly self-centered narcissists and even things out a bit! :-) Yes, feel free to link here.

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