7 Tips for Writing With a Chronic Illness

These seven tips for writing with a chronic illnes are from Suite101 writer Barbara Melville.

“Writing always poses challenges,” says Melville. “Having a chronic illness, disability, or indeed any circumstances that makes us housebound, can make the writing life seem overwhelming. I took a year out to write, but badly injured my back at the very start. At first, I wanted to give up, but after careful thought I realized I could keep my writing passion alive if I made a few adjustments.”

Below are her tips for writing  while struggling with an illness. For more specific writing tips, click on Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (one of the best writing books I’ve ever read!).

7 Tips for Writing With a Chronic Illness

1. Take care of yourself. This might sound obvious but it’s easily overlooked. Taking care doesn’t just mean following your health care regimen, but looking after yourself in other ways too. Even the basics – such as staying warm and nourished – can get forgotten about.

2. Keep others in the loop. Loved ones and health care providers may be able to lend a hand. For example, my physiotherapists helped me devise ways of safely working with pain, and my partner still has the slightly tedious job of proofreading my work. I also have online writing buddies there to share ideas and provide support.  

3. Embrace isolation. Writing Magazine‘s Diana Cambridge (“The Lone Writer”, Feb 2008, p34-35) suggests that being isolated at home has its upsides. Although alone time can be difficult, it can also be turned into pleasurable and productive writing time.

4. Set achievable goals. This is one of the most important tips of all. For some, these may have to be very small goals. Make a note of what you want to achieve, but be realistic. At the beginning of my injury, when it was at its worst, I wrote 50 words a day. It might not sound like a lot, but it adds up. In one month, I had 1500 words.

5. Forget convention. While some might be able to sit comfortably at a desk, there are others who won’t be able to. And you don’t have to. There are desk and computer gadgets to allow for writing while lying down, and chairs that are made for standing. (I opted for the cheaper version of lying on my side and using dictation software, or standing with my laptop on my bookshelf.)

6. Accept your situation. Every writer has days where it just isn’t happening. Let yourself off the hook! If you really want to write but can’t find it in you, consider doing related tasks instead. I was encouraged to move around to help my pain, so sometimes I’d sort my books or organise my desk. But beware – don’t let this become procrastination!

7. Reward yourself. There is no achievement too small. Whether it be a poem in the local paper or reaching the week’s goal of 300 words, reaching these goals deserves to be celebrated.

Of course, illness and/or disability (and writing passions) will vary from person to person, so keep in mind that these tips are general and open to adaption. Good luck!

Barbara Melville is the Genetics and Evolution Feature Writer at Suite101.com. To get to know her more personally, visit her blog.

Are you a writer struggling with health problems, such as a chronic illness? I hope the above tips help you – and if you have different ones, please share below!

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