Writing & Chronic Illness
~ By Mariah Ankenman
Like most writers, I wish my days were filled with endless amounts of time sitting in front of a roaring fire in a secluded cabin nestled in the woods. Endless time full of inspiration and far from distractions and responsibilities, but that’s not reality. I’m usually up before the crack of dawn to start a day filled with a million tasks and not enough time to complete them. I need a coffee IV just to get by. I also have two grade school children and live with chronic illness. Both of which take me away from my writing on a daily basis.
I suffer from Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder that can cause a host of symptoms including widespread body pain, fatigue, depression, fibro fog (going fuzzy in the brain) and other symptoms. Some days I can barely get off the couch, but deadlines don’t care. They demand you meet them.
I’ve been dealing with Fibromyalgia most of my life so I’ve had years to cultivate coping mechanisms, but I still have those days where nothing helps. Here are my top 5 tips for hitting your writing goals while dealing with chronic illness.
1. Move up your deadline—but only for yourself
Whatever deadline my editor gives me I push it up a week, sometimes two. If my editor says they want revisions back on the 15th, I mark my calendar as revisions due the 5th. I don’t turn them in that early, but I trick my mind into thinking that is when they are due. That way I’m working toward a goal, but if I have a particularly bad day and cannot get any work done it’s okay. I have worked in some buffer days. Buffer days are absolutely necessary.
2. On good days go for the long haul
Everyone has those days you get in the zone. Where you sit at your computer and before you know it hours have flown by and you’ve gone over your words count like a boss. Whenever I hit my goal for the day I ask myself “can I do more?” If the answer is yes I keep on going. Good days are so rare for someone living with a chronic illness you have to take advantage of them whenever you can.
3. Always try, but don’t force it
While good days might be rare, bad days can seem plentiful. Some nights (I write after the kiddos go to bed) I sit at my computer and stare, my mind and body refusing to work. I always try. Every night I sit for at least half an hour. Sometimes I type something up and delete it over and over, sometimes it just takes a while and I find my groove, and then sometimes I simply can’t get anything down.
It’s okay to have an off night (this is why I build in buffer days) forcing yourself to write or edit when your body/mind just won’t cooperate will not help you. You’ll end up scrapping everything or missing something important. It’s okay to take a night off.
4. Recognize and Reward
I know this isn’t always possible, but knowing what affects your chronic illness and avoiding it, especially on days you need to write, can help give your body the energy it needs to work. Sometimes there are no triggers and the pain just, BOOM, hits you. Then you need to recognize your body needs a break and allow it. Over working yourself will just lead to more pain and inability to work down the road.
Rewarding yourself after a good day of writing is an excellent way to meet your goals. Sometimes all your mind needs is a little promise of a treat in order to push past your pain. My favorite rewards are; an episode of my favorite TV show, chocolate, a delicious vodka martini, a foot rub from the hubby (he’s my biggest cheerleader and just the best) and when I meet a deadline early I buy myself the best reward of all, a new book!
5. Do not beat yourself up.
Probably the most important tip of all. Writing is hard, chronic illness is hard, life is hard! Most people suffering from chronic illness are in pain so often the world can seem bleak. Depression is higher among people with chronic illness whether due to a symptom of the illness or just the struggle of living in pain day in and day out.
Do not beat yourself up if you don’t meet your goals. Do not be upset if you just can’t sit and get those words down. Give yourself a night off. Allow yourself some breathing time. Rest, regroup, come back to it tomorrow.
Everyone has their own struggles. It’s important not to let yours overtake you.
The dictionary defines a Cinderella Story as a reference to a situation in which a person, team, etc., of low status or importance unexpectedly achieves great success or public recognition.
In my opinion, his is bull. Rarely is a “Cinderella Story” unexpected. If one were to take a deeper look they would see the hours, days, weeks, even years of dedicated hard work. Persistence, pushing through the hard times to achieve your goals and succeeding despite all life has tossed in your way. That’s the real Cinderella Story. So fight your demons, slay your dragons (Unless you write paranormal and those are your heroes☺) and tell whatever stands in your way that you’re coming through and the world better be ready.
Chronic illness may make our bodies weaker, but it makes our will stronger.
Bestselling author Mariah Ankenman lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her two rambunctious daughters and loving husband who provides ample inspiration for her heart-stopping heroes. Her books have been nominated for the prestigious RWA Golden Heart® and CRW Stiletto awards.
Whether she’s writing hometown heroes or sexy supernaturals, Mariah loves to lose herself in a world of words. Her favorite thing about writing is when she can make someone’s day a little brighter with one of her books. Check out her website or reach out on social media to learn more about her books.