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How to Write With Chronic Illness

Some Ideas & Tips From Me to You

By Amanda StarksPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 9 min read
Top Story - March 2024
59
How to Write With Chronic Illness
Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Do you ever open up Vocal and see a ton of notifications from other creators who are pumping out stories weekly, daily, hourly, and wonder why you are incapable of being as fruitful with your work? Today I'm here to tell you that you're not 'lazy' or any less of a writer than they are, because more than likely you looked at the title of this article and said: "Yes, I have a chronic illness and I am a writer, but how do I maintain both without ruining the other?"

As someone who has both physical and mental ailments that impede or make creating more difficult than a healthy person, I can tell you that there is a way to do both, but it looks different for everyone. In this article, I'm going to share what I've learned over the years!

I want to preface this by stating that I'm not a medical expert and I'm only sharing what I've learned works best for me through my own experiences! Even to this day I'm still learning, and open to suggestions or tips from others!

By Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Change Your Goals to Smaller, Bite Sized Victories

There is nothing more disheartening than missing a deadline or not sticking with a goal because your illness got in the way. For many of us this is just a fact of life, as one day you may be up and around, flinging words and ink to paper, while the next you may be bed ridden or worse - in the ER.

I will admit to not always following this advice myself. Sometimes I think of a big, long-term goal that I want to meet, and set high expectations that I have no way of knowing will come to fruition. It's a struggle to accept that your body has more needs than the average person and because of that you can't do the same amount of work at the same pace.

AND THAT'S OKAY!

Something that I started doing last year was writing down daily goals that I wanted to accomplish, and then at the end of the day writing down what I actually did. This created a daily snap-shot in time that let me see that the days where I thought I was unproductive I was actually taking care of myself, or that I may not have done what I wanted, but did something else that let me know I wasn't being 'lazy'.

There were some days I wrote: "I want to finish this chapter," and instead at the end of the day reported back with: "I got out of bed and took a shower."

Little by little, day by day, I recorded my little victories. Over time, it became a way to self-reflect on my progress at my own pace without the pressure of meeting unrealistic expectations.

Journaling this often may not suit you, so instead create small goals every few days or weeks! Let it be known these are things you WANT to do, as I know saying you NEED to do them can create extra anxiety or self-hatred when the deadline inevitably comes around and you are not at 100%. Obviously there will always be things you need to do, but for me, the wording makes a lot of difference towards your productivity.

By Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Change Up Your Scenery

Changing your routine, even a little, can make a huge difference in your productivity and motivation. Like any of us with chronic illnesses, there may be days where you are chained to your bed in too much pain to do much of anything, but try opening up that curtain, or shuffling over to that chair by the window with your journal or writing device of choice. Ask for help from friends or family - if they are near and willing - to give you a helping hand should you need it.

On easier days, take a short walk, or step outside and drink in some sunshine or rain - whatever the weather may be. Maybe go to that local coffee shop, or take a pit stop at a scenic overlook or park where you can have time to be within nature.

It all depends on your situation and if your day is a good or bad one. Either way, I found that if I can change up what I normally do, I can become inspired and motivated a little bit easier.

On my better days, I like to drive down to a little river bank and sit along the shore with my journal and phone in hand. I write in short bursts: sometimes working on projects I already started, or letting my imagination run wild and writing whatever comes to mind in the moment. In between the sprints, I'll sit back and take in the sounds of the lapping waves and tiny rushing roars of the waterfalls and eddies. It works wonders on my anxiety and depression!

By Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Reach Out to Your Friends & Make New Ones in Your Writing Circles

Friends ( and family ), can be a huge part of keeping you responsible and sensible when you're struggling. I can't tell you how many times I've reached out to my little tribe of writing confidants with worries and ideas, all to be met with encouragement, advice - and yes, sometimes a loving slap on the wrist!

Even for us introverts, we need some sort of human interaction. Be it online or in person, socializing can help keep some symptoms under wraps, or at least on the back burner while you're distracted.

Find people who not only share your passion for writing, but who also share similar struggles! No one is better equipped to understand you than someone who is already wearing the same size shoe as you, so to speak.

Reaching out can be scary and intimidating, especially if your chronic illness impedes your ability to speak or interact normally, but I promise you there are people like you and I out there who will understand and be more than willing to invite you into a supportive writing circle!

For those of you on Vocal, I recommend checking out the various community run groups on Facebook!

And of course, don't forget about the Official Discord Channel for Vocal or the other community led ones!

By Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Short Sprints, Not Marathons

I am notorious for going on hours-long writing sprints without realizing ( not caring ) I've missed drinking any water, going to the bathroom, or eating a meal. Doing this too often burns me out quicker than if I had done my work in smaller chunks, and is a detriment to my own well-being.

If you are like this - taking whatever opportunity you can to write as much as you can - perhaps take your fingers off the writing gas and take a break.

Trust me, I get it. You get a sudden surge of inspiration, or your good day is upon you and all you want to do is write, write, write! This is a great thing, but if you spend all of that energy on that one day, you are only going to burn yourself out, and possibly aggravate your symptoms or illness depending on how long you go into the writing marathon.

It's a frustrating cycle, one that I have only begun cracking at myself. It's VERY tempting to take advantage of any pain-free moment you have, but you also need those moments to just...be! Exist! Care for yourself!

Take breaks often - take naps if you can - as if you can spread out that inspiration and motivation to write, you can chop away small chunks for days or weeks rather than insane one day marathons without the burn out.

This, of course, is something that works for me. If one major sprint at a time is what works for you, then do it! But I highly encourage setting several timers so that you can stand up, stretch, eat and drink, and yes - TAKE A NAP!

By Yvette S on Unsplash

NEVER. SKIP. YOUR. MEDS.

You may be wondering, "why would I skip my medications?" But oh dear reader, the stories I could tell about my journey through self-acceptance of my illness and the weird mental stigma I had toward taking them is something that I think would either shock you, or make you feel less alone in this confusing mess of chemical remedies.

With my major depression, there would be days I wouldn't take my meds because persistent negative thoughts would drown out the logical thinking.

"You don't deserve to feel better."

"There's no point."

"It doesn't help that much anyways."

Silence thoughts like these as soon as you can. Better yet talk about them, because - at least for me - it was such a weird and dumb feeling to have. Surely I wanted to get better?

But after going through it I can't fault others for skipping their meds. Whether it be for personal reasons, or simple forgetfulness, it's never a bad thing to have reminders or pill organizers to keep yourself in check.

I can usually tell within the first day or two that I've missed meds, and the symptoms that come rolling back with that will hinder my ability to function. So, if you are anything like me, or have similar struggles, get yourself organized! Be on time with your care and your health to the best of your abilities!

Shout out to my mother for constantly asking: "Have you taken your meds today?" Thanks, mom. (:

By Ian Schneider on Unsplash

You are Still a Writer, No Matter How Frequently You Publish

I would be a hypocrite if I didn't admit I get jealous of how much some writers on here publish. Like, how the HECK did you find the time or energy to write that much? You just posted an hour ago!

But we have to remember that frequency of work does not equate to being more of a writer than the ones who publish once a month or less.

It certainly doesn't equate to more skill either!

All you have to do is look up professional writers - both content writers and novelists - and see for yourself that some very big name writers can take months if not YEARS to finish their work, and yet they receive just as much attention for their work as others who pump out pieces every week ( if not more! ).

George R.R. Martin, anyone?

Let this reminder encourage you to keep going, one little sentence at a time. All that matters in being a writer is that you have the passion to pursue it! Without passion, you're just another paper printer.

________________

That's it from me, everyone! I hope this article encourages or inspires someone out there, even a little bit. Don't let your illness stop you from pursuing your passions. Do it at your own pace, in your own way, and don't let anyone tell you you can't make it! <3

With much love,

Amanda S.

If you want to read more of my work, both personal and fictional, come check out my catalogue where I organize everything by category/genre!

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About the Creator

Amanda Starks

Lover of the dark, fantastical, and heart-wrenching. Fantasy writer, poet, and hopefully soon-to-be novelist who wants to create safe spaces to talk about mental health. Subscribe to my free newsletter at www.amandastarks.com for updates!

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  • Thea_Shields!!!!!2 months ago

    So true beautiful n well put thank you so much for the read! I go through pain on a daily and it’s hard for me to work my full time job n post 30 of these articles in a month to see any views or money but I’m thankful we have this platform to give it a try!!!

  • A. J. Schoenfeld2 months ago

    Thanks for sharing! This is a topic that weighs heavily on me. I'm just getting used to the idea that living with chronic illness is my new reality. Fortunately, I have a most supportive husband who reminds me not too push myself too much. Unfortunately, he has a stubborn wife who doesn't always listen. I had a friend teach me about floor and ceiling goals. Similar to your Journaling, floor goals help me feel a sense of accomplishment even when I don't achieve my high hope goals. A floor goal is a realistic minimum for each day, something that moves you at least one step closer to your ultimate goal.

  • Kendall Defoe 2 months ago

    This is fantastic and deserved the Leaderboard prize. And I think this should be put on a poster: 'All that matters in being a writer is that you have the passion to pursue it!' Well done!

  • Matthew Fromm2 months ago

    Love this and it deserves all the accolades. Love the vulnerability and realism here

  • Martha Agnes2 months ago

    Thank you for this! My own physical disabilities have to do with a terminal condition known as old age. ;) I also struggle with emotional illness, but I am the victor--due to the help of the love that keeps showing up in the most unexpected places. I am learning to post my work despite terror of doing so. I am posting frequently because the documents are already created over decades of time. Blessings on you!

  • Kelsey Clarey2 months ago

    This is great advice. Congrats on the well-deserved top story!

  • Erin Shea2 months ago

    Oof, related to this BIG TIME!! I’ve ended up pivoting to poetry instead of more long-form works because it makes me feel more productive, especially on the days when taking a shower or cooking myself a nice breakfast feels like a monumental feat. Thanks for this!!

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  • Rene Peters2 months ago

    This article was amazing! I definitely needed to read it. Chronic illness makes it hard and I often wonder "am I really a writer?" Thank you for writing it. Also, congrats on top story!

  • Idogho Oghale2 months ago

    This article is wonderful It beautifully addresses a common struggle faced by many writers, especially those battling chronic illnesses. The author's candid sharing of personal experiences and practical advice creates a supportive and empathetic tone throughout the piece. The emphasis on celebrating small victories and adapting goals to accommodate health challenges resonates deeply, offering valuable insights for writers navigating similar obstacles. Additionally, the suggestions for changing scenery and fostering supportive writing communities demonstrate a thoughtful understanding of the diverse needs and experiences within the writing community. Thank you for sharing this inspiring and uplifting perspective!

  • Judey Kalchik 2 months ago

    It only Shari g personal challenges ( which is all kinds of brave) but sharing positive steps that will surely resonate with others!

  • Daphsam2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing it deeply personal story. You’re an inspiration to us all. Congratulations on your top story. 

  • Rachel Deeming2 months ago

    We all have our own path as a writer. You have written here about things that many of us do not have to contend with. I admire you for your strength and finding a way through something that coukd be debilitating. Respect.

  • Paul Stewart2 months ago

    This is a well-thought-out and practical article. You have such a warm and friendly writing voice, when speaking about health issues...it instantly sounds like a friend just reaching out and trying to help rather than anything preachy and many of your tips have been ones I and people I know have used. Congrats on a deserved Top Story - more people should be reading this and your wise advice and encouragement, Amanda!

  • ROCK 2 months ago

    I also live with a chronic illness and in chronic pain; some days I succeed in working with my menacing companion and other days I feel defeated. Congratulations on Top Story! I am a new subscriber:)

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  • Susan Fourtané2 months ago

    Congratulation on the Top Story!

  • Efegbule Godsgift2 months ago

    Brilliant and educational

  • Jeremy White2 months ago

    Congratulations on top story. Thanks for all the tips.

  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago

    Definitely my body and mind has been in a state of either pain or exhaustion, it is so hard to keep up with your emotions and ideas. I appreciate your thoughts here and your advice

  • River Joy2 months ago

    Yes to all of this. Really well articulated and some new advice for me! Congrats on the TS

  • Ian Read2 months ago

    CONGRATS! Well deserved TS!

  • J. Jay2 months ago

    This is a very encouraging and enlightening article. I love that you brought up the point that no matter what amount of writing you produce, whether it's a lot or a little, you're still a writer. That's so important to hear, especially in a society that constantly puts value in quantity and hustling. Slow can be better. This article also reminded me of the author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand. She suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, and has to set small writing goals. There have been times she's described the very act of writing as physically discombobulating, because she gets dizzy sometimes. She's a huge inspiration to me, and an amazing writer. I'm glad other writers are talking about this subject. Anyways, thank you so much for sharing your experience and writing this article!

  • Anna 2 months ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

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