Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Are You Sick?

"I have an answer to your question," he announced as he walked into the Sunday school classroom that then served as my "submissions station." I was working the Bayou Writers Group conference in Lake Charles, Louisiana, taking queries for Port Yonder Press and Hartline Literary agent Terry Burns.

The man surprised me. Not only had he carefully followed my instructions for submitting to me--amazing in itself--he had read a few posts in my (currently dormant) blog, 777 Peppermint Place.

I'd written one piece during a period when I thought I was coming out of a Crohn's disease flare-up (I was wrong. I'm still fighting it), and was wondering how other authors who suffered from chronic illness managed to keep writing. Even now, I find more solace in editing than in writing. My creativity seems to have abandoned me--I can't develop a scene that doesn't get axed upon the reread. So I asked my readers what tricks they used to keep writing.

The young man who faced me in my submissions station has a chronic illness that is in the same family as mine. Getting "well" isn't in his future. Like me, the best he can hope for is a series of short-term remissions punctuated by surprise flare-ups. He knows his condition is going to get worse, so he has a pragmatic view of his writing career now: "I don't want to look back at these times when I'm not as bad and be angry that I didn't take advantage."

His carpe diem attitude is a great response to the question I posed. It encompasses other responses I received, particularly one by "mlfables":
I am a habitual writer. I sit down in the same place at roughly the same time of day, so my writing is automatic. It's been the most effective way (that I’ve found) to keep myself writing, no matter how else I may be feeling.
For an hour each morning, I can let go of the stress of life and disappear into the imaginary world of my story's characters. 
This takes self-discipline. Writing regardless of how ill you are or what you're facing in your daily life takes will and determination. Professionals don't wait to write when inspiration hits or when they "feel like it"; they don't wait until they have time or can make time. Writing is their job, and like anyone else with an eight-to-five schedule, they work at their jobs and "make time" for everything else. Sick leave is reserved for serious illness.

My inspirations are Diann Hunt, who has been battling cancer for quite some time and still managed to publish one book and several short-stories for anthologies last year alone, and Debbie Macomber, who wrote through her grief after her son's suicide in 2011 and continued to meet her deadlines. These women, and others like them, are amazing. What they've accomplished isn't easy, but they are professionals. They take their jobs seriously.

Of course, there will be days when working is physically impossible, but when you can, seize the day. Disappear into your story world. You may find you feel better when you re-emerge, or at least feel a little more light-hearted. If, like me, you can't seem to work on your WIPs, work with writing prompts, work on your journal, write for your blog, or start something entirely different. Don't lose the habit of writing.

Be a professional.


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16 comments:

  1. Great encouragement, Linda! I always say putting new words on blank pages is only a small part of writing. Writing is a process that has many phases, and authors are processing those phases constantly. I personally like the one that looks like I'm just sitting there, staring into space while I'm listening in on a conversation only I can hear.

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  2. Yes, it took a while to convince my husband that staring out the window is part of the writing process. :D

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  3. Good advice. I also have some health problems. I muddle through the best I can. Thanks for your encouraging words.

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  4. Sometimes "muddling through" is enough to keep you in the habit. Good for you, Sheila!

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  5. Linda, so glad you have kept up with your writing, despite your health difficulties. Life is filled with obstacles and the less-than-perfect bodies we have certainly can draw us away from the calling to write. May the Lord continue to strengthen you as you seek His will, and continue to be the professional you are.

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    1. Thanks, Elaine. I wish I could take credit for continuing writing--I need to take my own advice! This post is the first thing I've written in months, but my freelance editing job has kept me going. Does that count? :D

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  6. I have several health issues, including CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), pain issues, IBS, IC ... some days it's all I can do to just get out of bed in the mornings! My biggest writing hindrance is the brain fog from the CFS and pain meds. It's so difficult to write when your brain isn't functioning! I try to spend the worst days imagining what happens so when I CAN write I'll have something to work with. I don't know that editing is any easier than brand-new writing because I'm trying to polish, to make it the best, and the ol' brain feels like it's wrapped in a wet wool blanket. But I do try to write/edit as much as I can, when I can. Sometimes that's only fifteen minutes' worth, but every little bit counts.

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    1. You're so right, Stacy. Brain fog is my greatest hindrance, too. But I applaud you for keeping up with your writing when you can. That's admirable!

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  7. Great post, Linda. Quite inspirational.

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  8. Good advice very well presented. I know the difficulties that you have been having, but the message here could translate even for those who are not having physical problems. There isn't time to write, it doesn't exist. People who are waiting for those problems to subside, or the kids to leave home, or to retire, or whatever reason they feel will suddenly magically present them with the writing time or desire that they want will find that life expands to fill the time available. It will never be there unless it is carved out and jealously protected. As to inspiration, there was a well known writer, I forget which one, who said he only writes when he is inspired . . . and he makes sure he is inspired every morning at 9 am.

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    1. Absolutely right. It's amazing how many other things can fill the void once time avails itself. It takes dedication to fill that time with writing.

      I've forgotten who said that about being inspired by 9 too, but my favorite quote is by Jack London: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

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  9. Just keep plugging away. Even when you don't feel like it. The mind usually gives out before the body does, and I've found my mind will whine at me to stop and I just have to keep going. (as long as I can)

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    1. That's it in a nutshell, Linda. "Just keep plugging away"!

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  10. Linda, I agree with everyone above! I'm "retired" from my full-time job, but manage to find dozens of new things to fill my days. Carving out time to write is sometimes akin to carving Mount Rushmore with a toothpick. I have health issues too, and sometimes the best way to forget about them is to write--even though I don't feel much like it. Hope you get back into the swing of writing soon and that your health problems subside.

    Blessings,
    Deb

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    1. "Carving Mount Rushmore with a toothpick"! Love that! Thanks for your comment, Deb.

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