For some, it has been a term haunting them their entire lives, while for others, this new set of words just sent their lives spinning out of control.
Writing is hard. Chronic illness is harder. Putting the two together may simply seem impossible. Can writing with a chronic illness work?
I have been sick for as long as I can remember. While most days are a struggle, my illness is so unpredictable I can be fine one day, then lying in a hospital bed the next.
And when I found my love for writing, I remember wondering exactly how I was going to do it with school, life, family, and sports on the days I actually felt well enough.
Why would God give me this passion? How could I craft magnificent worlds when most days I couldn’t pull myself out of bed?
You may find yourself in the same situation.
You love to write, but you believe you will never have the physical or mental strength to get anywhere with your writing, as long as your illness remains. And there is a reason it’s called chronic.
As long as your illness pulls you down, you feel unworthy. You feel that even if you could ever get your words down, they wouldn’t be of much value anyway. Why would they be?
I’m here to tell you, these thoughts are not true. There is a way for you to write, even with your body’s limitations. There are strategies to keep doing what you love around the pain. And you are so worthy, in fact, you can tell perhaps one of the most valuable stories in the world.
And it’s yours.
So here are those strategies that helped me keep going through the darkest times of illness, and to realize the worth in my words, no matter the state of my health. My prayer is that they may help you, an aspiring writer, to know your worth and to rise even in the suffering.
In this guide, you will find tips to keep you inspired on the rough days, help you write the way that works for you, and a reminder that your stories have power — you have a journey to share only few can tell.
9 Tips for Writing With A Chronic Illness
1. There Are Days You Won’t Be Able To Write, And That’s Okay
It sounds very counterproductive; I know.
After all, you probably came here wanting to know how to write more with a chronic illness.
But sometimes your body and mind need rest, and that is okay.
Trying to force yourself to write, when your illness says no, is setting yourself up for failure.
Listen to your body. It’s cliche, but it’s true.
Accepting the fact you cannot do what you want to do takes time. It is a struggle like no other to realize you are different.
I have always had high aspirations. With my illness, I was heartbroken when I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I hated my body for doing this to me. I was not like other kids — I couldn’t do what they could, and I had to face that fact.
It’s a long journey, but a necessary one.
Stretching yourself to the max isn’t a solution. This can lead to physical pain, burnout, frustration, and maybe even losing your motivation to write.
It is necessary to realize this and accept it.
There will be days you just can’t do it. So if you are having a bad day, don’t beat yourself up for taking a break when resting is the best thing you can do.
2. Fight The Temptation To Compare Yourself To Other Writers
We have all had those thoughts, and personally, I have struggled so much with this.
She wrote her first draft in a month. He got his book published. Their blog has so many followers.
Comparing yourself to others is so easy to do, and the result is destruction of your self-esteem.
But they are so much better, you say. Healthier.
But it’s like comparing the sun to a star. The sun may shine brightest in the day, but it takes the darkness to see the star had always been there, prospering and glowing on its own path through the night.
You’re just like those writers you aspire to be, but with one difference.
You have a chronic illness. And you have conquered it.
Living with a chronic illness is a nightmare, but you prosper through it, and achieve your goals even if it takes longer than some.
You are correct, all those authors you compare yourself to have something you do not have.
They have a healthy, normal life.
But you have so much more. You have the power to rise against a debilitating illness. Even though it is painful, you write anyway. You listen to your calling. You stand out. You are special.
And now you must do another hard thing — resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Every person is different, and just because your journey as a writer differs from others, remember you are no less of a writer.
In fact, you have a special ability. You are a fighter with words of truth, of rebellion against the inevitable.
3. Do What Works For You
It is so important to figure out what works for you and make a plan to do it.
When dealing with chronic illness, weeding through strategies and tailoring them to your needs is essential.
Chronic illness is tough, and so are you. But that does not mean that you have to write like other writers. In fact, you shouldn’t!
Stuck at the doctor’s office? Try getting your thoughts down in the notes app on your phone.
If you cannot type due to joint and muscle pain, try getting a dictation app and voicing your ideas. It won’t be perfect, but you can always go back and edit on a “good” day.
Planners never quite worked for me, but if they work for you, use them. Writing by hand in a journal didn’t really work out for me, but if that is your style, grab a pen.
Plotter? That’s awesome! You are my kindred spirit. Pick up some books on outlining and get to work.
Pantser? You go my friend!
Early birds write with the rising of the sun, while night owls type frantically at 3 a.m. Which are you?
Answering some of these questions for yourself can help you pick your writing style and make the times you feel like writing more productive.
Remember, just because some other writer you know does it one way does not mean you must follow in their footsteps. A huge part of writing is finding a routine that suits you, even if the schedule becomes interrupted by sickness.
4. Set Realistic Goals For Yourself
Again, being good or accomplished at something isn’t about selling a book or meeting some giant goal. Sometimes it’s as simple as finishing a blog post, writing two hundred words, or even just reading a book.
But whatever your goals, they must be realistic.
Let’s say you have a goal to finish the first draft of your novel.
That is one huge goal, and the mere thought of doing this around an illness is draining.
But say you made your goal to just write one thousand words per week (or whatever amount is best for you).
This is a much smaller task that will eventually help you meet your larger goals without becoming overwhelmed.
This is why it’s important to be honest with yourself and realistic. Set goals no matter how small. Every single accomplishment adds up.
So, after finding what works for you, set attainable goals to get where you want to go without suffering from burnout.
5. Write When You Feel Like It, Where You Feel Like It
Take advantage of the times you do feel well enough to write.
I knew I could probably never get anything done in the morning time. I am so blessed now to be in almost complete remission, but even now mornings are my struggle.
I quickly realized you don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. to be a good writer.
It’s not about where you write or when you write, it’s just about you and the wonderful pieces you create.
Experiment to find your ideal location and time to write. This is something every writer must do to be productive, but it is even more crucial when you have a chronic illness.
Maybe your comfort zone is cuddled up late at night with a blanket in complete silence, or perhaps it is sitting in your garden with your favorite playlist blaring.
Find your happy writing place, and your bearable writing times, and there you will find inspiration and productivity.
6. You Can’t Write, Daydream!
We have already covered the fact that some day’s writing won’t happen. When you feel it is one of those times, don’t be discouraged! I am proud of you for putting your body’s needs first, and do not fear — there are things you can do to enhance your writing skills while you recover!
There are several ways to hone your craft that do not take the mental toll that writing takes.
First, you can daydream! It probably sounds silly.
But believe me, it is where talented authors find their best-selling story ideas.
Make-believe is the language books are made of.
Your imagination can take you anywhere, whether you are lying awake in your bed or sitting in the doctor’s office waiting to be called back.
And for me, letting my thoughts run away with me was not only a way to brainstorm plots but a slight distraction from chronic illness.
7. When You Can’t Write, Read!
Reading is one of my favorite pastimes.
I’m a bit of a book nerd. (By a bit I might mean huge!). I remember reading in bed, sick and feeling guilty.
I could be writing, I would always think. I’m wasting time.
It was not until much later that I realized I was actually doing the best thing possible with my time.
I was not feeling like writing, so I read. What I thought was a crime was actually building my knowledge and teaching me the science of storytelling!
Never feel ashamed to be honing your craft instead of writing. In fact, be proud of yourself! Every page you read is making you a better writer.
So what types of books am I talking about?
In short, any kind. Books (and articles!) on the writing craft are a wonderful resource, but I also highly recommend reading fiction books in the same genre as your own.
Analyze them. Identify plot points and character arcs. Ask yourself why the author did what they did. What would you do differently if it was your story to tell?
8. Find Unique Ways To Fill Your Creative Well
We have discussed some aspects and ways of honing your craft, but let’s cover some tips for more unique ways to stay inspired.
Especially with chronic illness, writer’s block can be a struggle. And one of my favorite ways to combat writer’s block and regain my inspiration is by filling my creative well.
What is your creative well? In simple terms, it is the place that holds all of your creativity inside you, and sometimes it can be filled to the brim, while other times it can run completely dry.
I’ve covered reading, perhaps the most common thing that pops into your mind when you think of refilling your inspiration. But sometimes it takes something a bit more unique, a bit more out of the box to get your words flowing.
Many of these can be done when your illness strikes, and do not take quite as much mental and physical energy as writing.
- Watch TV: Yes, it is educational! Movies and shows follow a plot structure very similar to fiction writing, and you can draw ideas for plot, characters, and dialogue when you are feeling down. The best part? You don’t even have to leave the couch!
- Scroll through writing prompts: I have used these many times to get my creative juices flowing. Whether or not you write the prompt, it can generate ideas for your own story!
- Ask someone to tell you a story: It can be a true life experience or something entirely made up, but try asking a friend or family member to tell you their favorite story. My grandfather is the master of storytelling, and even if I do not draw inspiration from his work into my own pieces, it is always great to hear him tell me one. You never know, you may learn something about a person you never knew about before.
- Draw a scene or character from your story: if you are artsy, this is a perfect exercise for you. Grab your sketchbook and get all the scenes, plots, and characters swirling in your mind on paper. It does not matter if it is from your current writing project or not, just draw anything and everything you can think of.
- Listen to music: sometimes the simplest tunes strike up new worlds. I once thought of a whole book idea based on one line of a song I was listening to!
- Spend time with others: As authors, it is our job to understand people. We have to analyze others’ mannerisms and personalities because we have to create these characteristics from scratch! Observe and learn.
9. Celebrate Your Accomplishments, No Matter How Small
Like I said — you are incredible. And as you continue to do incredibly difficult things, please remember to celebrate yourself.
I’m not talking about celebrating the huge things like publishing a best seller.
I’m talking about having a dance party in your room over two sentences.
I’m saying treat yourself for getting out of bed.
I’m asking you to celebrate you. The writer that you are.
Because you are enough.
Never let anyone tell you your accomplishments are not big enough, or your goals are too big.
Rise above the voices of doubt, including your own, and celebrate it. Shoot for the moon. At the very least, you will make it among the stars.
Some of the Best Stories come from Painful Places
What if I told you that your illness is a gift?
All the close calls, medications, doctors, procedures, and desperately trying to be “normal”, all of it adds up to pain for you.
But what if it only gives you a story to tell?
Not just any story — a story with heart, that you put together and poured your suffering into. A masterpiece that proves the fight in you, and carries that on to the reader.
The best stories are told from places of pain. And you have a wealth of knowledge pounding to escape. Use your pain; grow from it and learn from it. Write your story with it.
You possess something not all writers can — the ability to write from your soul, about the hard times and the good. The story of a lifetime is yours.
Don’t let the words written on your heart go to waste.
You understand the importance of your words. You understand they must be shared with the world.
You know your story is unique because it has risen from the ashes of pain — it has endured a chronic illness.
In fact, your story is what it is now because of your chronic illness.
So now you must ask yourself: What is my story to tell?
How have my trials shaped me?
How is my view of writing and literature changed by my circumstances?
How will I use my experience with hardships to tell a story that needs to be heard?
Can I show my story through a character, plot, or theme?
Identify your story. It is there; I assure you. Even if you have to dive deep to retrieve it, it cannot be taken away.
Even when illness cannot be defeated, illness cannot defeat the writer. It may tear at us, pain us, or downright crush us, but in the end, it can only enrich our words.
Click the image below for a worksheet to help you put this into practice.