Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Dear Characters, I'm Tired: Writing with Chronic Illness

"Dear Characters, I'm tired."

A phrase used by most, if not all, writers at some point. Those of us living with chronic illness probably use it even more frequently. It is a battle that I am very familiar with personally. I am a full time writer who lives with a chronic illness known as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, POTS for short.

I've lived with my illness for about the same amount of time that I've been writing. One could even say I pursued writing as a means of coping with the struggles of a chronic illness emerging and being properly diagnosed. In the years since my journey as both writer and chronic illness warrior began, I've learned a lot about coping with my POTS and how it affects my writing.

One of the most difficult things about a chronic illness, especially POTS, is the fact that anything can act as a trigger for flares. Flares are when the symptoms take on acute and constant pain that directly impact and interfere with navigating life due to your energy being sapped. It is very difficult some days to work through the increased pain of a flare, much less summon the creative energy necessary to produce the worlds and characters inhabiting our books. Sometimes this turns a designated writing day into a brainstorming or plotting day, for me that's lighter work than the actual draft stage. Other times I have to concede the day to rest and recovery, something that can definitely be frustrating when I'm on a deadline.

However, I've learned that if I want to finish my books in a timely manner, I need to push through the tiredness and the pain when possible. I'm currently working on Book #28. Book #27 went live a bit over a week ago. These two books and the next one in my production queue will finish out the urban fantasy series that started it all in 2015. It also happens to be the series I thought I'd be finishing last year. I had to bump my production schedule down due to an extremely pronounced and extended chronic illness flare setting me back because I was simply too sick to write. So I'm very familiar with the frustrations of chronic illness and the negative impacts it can have on your writing schedule. And it's not always possible or wise to push through a flare, which is when you are forced to delay releases.

The thing about writing with a chronic illness is it's pretty much impossible to take every bad day off if you want to finish in a timely manner. I've written three books since the beginning of the new year despite dealing with bad flares because I know when to push and what tricks to use to help with writing through a flare. I've learned how to tweak my writing process where I follow specific steps for prep work before I start drafting, which allows me to have non-writing options for lighter work days. The brainstorming and plotting can be as simple as figuring out names and species for some future series. Or, I could take a plot and expand it into an outline. It may progress a little slower than usual but every little bit adds up in the end. I also use sprints, which usually allows me to make a decent word count dent in an hour or two even if I'm not able to write anything else that day.

Every day is a guessing game when you have a chronic illness. You can't predict if you'll have a good day or if one tiny thing will change a good day into a non-working one. The most effective thing anyone can do is treat every day with the intent to write words and have your backup plan ready for whatever your chronic illness throws at you. Every day is a challenge and an opportunity to rise back up. It is not easy and some days writing 20 words is all your brain can offer but even those 20 words count as a victory because it's 20 words you didn't have at the beginning of the day.

Sometimes, the best way to move forward is to adjust the language you use.

"Dear Characters, I'm tired. Let's switch to this short fun scene for the next sprint."
"Dear Characters, I'm tired. Let's finish this conversation and see what happens next."
"Dear Characters, I'm tired. I'm going to rest and will see you tomorrow."

Chronic illness, like being a published writer, demands a lot. Some days it will be a little too much. Other days you hit the day's goal and are wiped out. And the best days are when you have a good day full of words where one more sentence is a tantalizing reward instead of the tired mantra. It's never easy and you have to learn your own limits as well as how to adapt to still reach your productive days. When writing, you can't wait for inspiration to come find you. You have to hunt it down by showing up to your desk even if the only thing you do that day is backreading. With a chronic illness, you cannot wait for the good days. You have to show up at your desk even if all you do is backread through what you've already written.

To my fellow chronic illness writers, keep being brave and keep putting words on the page.

Kimberly A. Rogers

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Kimberly! I'm so inspired that you've written so many books despite being in pain so much of the time. I love your ideas for adjusting your language to be more positive while still acknowledging your limits. You are absolutely a warrior, and I'll be praying you have as few flares as possible and lots of great writing days!


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