There is plenty of wonderful advice out there on how to become a successful writer. You’ve probably seen lots of it before: write every day, spend time every day marketing, have a dedicated writing space, get up early to write, and so on.
Those are great. But that writing advice just doesn’t work for me. I live with chronic pain and chronic illness. I’ve tried all of the writing advice out there, and it works for a time. Then another flare hits me, and that new writing plan has flown out the window, along with my deadlines.
I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty that I can’t be like “those” writers – the ones with Instagram-worthy writing desks who get up at 5.30am every day to write a thousand words. But I finally realized: that’s not my reality, and that’s okay. Instead, I have changed my mindset and found some strategies that work for me.
If you suffer from any sort of chronic pain or illness (and I include mental health struggles in this, as well!), be kind to yourself. And take my advice to make writing work for you.
1. Set Realistic Goals for Writing
This is the hardest one for a few reasons. First of all, what is realistic for one person isn’t realistic for another. It also changes as our bodies change, and we have to adjust our abilities and expectations constantly. Plus, we all want to fast-track our way to success.
This will take some practice. You’ll learn how your creative moods fluctuate with your illnesses. You’ll learn how fast you write and how much time you can spend writing on your good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to adjust your goals and deadlines. It’s better to have a quality book than a rushed book, and it’s better to take care of yourself than make yourself sicker.
Also realize that your goals need to fit with the rest of your life. If you are working full-time or staying home with the kids, you are busy! Writing should be a priority, but it doesn’t need to be the top priority. Figure out how your priorities – and demands on your limited energy – rank, then adjust your writing goals further.
2. Write Where You Feel Comfortable
I love looking at all the beautiful desks that authors and freelance writers post on Instagram. It’s a great glimpse into their lives and their brains. I had one of these cute offices once. Do you know what happened? I ended up writing my entire first novel on my couch’s attached chaise lounge. I had invested in a really comfortable office chair, but sitting upright for more than a little while hurt too badly.
Write wherever you feel comfortable, and it doesn’t have to be the same place every day. Some days, I prefer to go to a café and write for a couple of hours. Most days, I sit on my couch and shift positions often to whatever is comfortable. Occasionally, I feel the need to sit at my dining table. I’ve even written on the floor and in my bed. And I usually have my heating pad nearby.
Don’t give into the pressure to have a certain aesthetic. A Pinterest-worthy desk does not an author make. If an office works for you, great. If not, the most important thing is to take care of your body first.
3. Go Outside
I give this writing advice to all writers when they are stuck. Go outside. Get some fresh air. It does wonders for your creativity.
But you don’t have to talk a long walk. Most days, that’s not something I can do. Plus, my chronic illnesses make me sensitive to the heat and the cold. You can sit on your porch, or you can even take a drive with the window down.
When I’ve had several rough days in a row, I often sequester myself away. It’s a common thing among us chronically ill people. But getting outside can help perk you up, boost your creativity, and make you feel a little more human on the bad days.
4. Redefine Productivity
Some writers define productivity by how many words they write or how much time they spend in front of the computer. Others define it by how quickly they’ve grown their email list or social media following. Everyone defines productivity differently.
Here are two questions I want you to ask yourself:
- How do I define productivity when it comes to writing?
- Does my definition fit with what my body needs?
If your definition doesn’t match what your body can do, you will always feel guilty or like you’re falling behind. You must redefine what being productive looks like. There is a lot more to writing than actually putting words on the page.
On the bad days, writing might not be an option. My bad days are often accompanied by a foggy brain. Bad days might mean severe fatigue or excruciating pain. Non-writers think writing is easy because all we’re doing is sitting in front of the computer. But they are wrong. Writing takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. It’s okay that you can’t write when you’re feeling extra terrible.
I’m going to cover some ideas for things you can do from bed on a bad day. Remember, this is all about redefining productivity.
Good writers are good readers. Reading is an absolute necessity when it comes to having a writing career.
Reading in your genre will help you understand your genre and its expectations better. You’ll learn what you like and don’t like. Reading outside of your genre will make different aspects of your writing stronger. You can also read books about the craft of writing or the business side of writing. Or you can spend some time reading writing blogs like this one.
Listen to Podcasts
Reading can be difficult for some people when they are in severe pain. But reading isn’t the only way to learn. There are a ton of wonderful writing podcasts out there, like Writing Excuses with Brandon Sanderson. Many focus on the craft of writing.
Podcasts are also a great way to do research for your book. There are millions of podcasts out there on every subject imaginable. Writing a thriller or mystery? Listen to true crime podcasts. Writing historical fiction? Listen to some history-themed podcasts about your era. There are even podcasts that read short stories or serials. You can learn a lot about story structure, tension, and dialogue from these.
Turn On the TV
Like podcasts, the TV can provide you with a wealth of information for research. Watch documentaries or even television series similar to your genre. Watch how-to shows to learn details your characters might need to know.
YouTube is another great resource. There are some amazing authors that post videos all about writing. Here’s a list of some of my favorites. You can also find some of the most random, hard-to-find information on YouTube. For my historical fiction novel, I watched a thirty-minute video of someone walking through an old Royal Navy ship. It has helped my descriptions of the ships in my book so much.
Love it or hate it, social media is the most important way to build an audience. So, rather than thinking of it as something unproductive, think of it as building your audience and networking with other writers. Find some new accounts to follow that are relevant. Update your Goodreads lists. Like and comment on people’s posts on any social media. Authentic interaction is crucial to building a following.
You can also create posts. Download Canva on your phone to create a pretty graphic and post it on Instagram. Tweet about the book you’re reading. You can even post a glimpse into the unglamorous life of a chronically ill writer. You’ll find other people with similar issues to connect with.
Daydreaming is an important part of the writing process. We spend a lot of time visualizing our stories and characters in our minds. We plot our stories, build our worlds, and craft our settings in our imagination.
Sometimes, all you need to do is spend an hour in bed thinking about your book and you’ve magically plotted the second act or figured out how to fix that egregious plot hole. Don’t discount the power of being alone with your imagination.
5. Doing Nothing Is Okay
On my toughest days, I like to try to accomplish something related to my writing that will take ten minutes or less. But some days, even that is too much. That’s okay. You’re not going to do your best work if you’re crying in pain or can’t keep your eyes open. Give yourself permission to do nothing on the bad days. Ask for help if you can, and give yourself some grace.
What is the toughest part of writing for you? Drop a comment below and let me know.