Sick or Well,
Keep on Writing
by Susan Varno
My head was pounding, my jaw hurt, and I had slept badly again.
Dragging myself to my desk, I reached for the computer’s “on”
button. After popping an aspirin, I started writing. If you ever
feel this bad, you should go back to bed and take care of yourself.
But what if your illness lasts for weeks or years? I’ve had health
problems for the past ten years, ever since something went wrong
during a sinus surgery. I’ve discovered coping strategies, and I’ve
talked to writer friends of mine about their health problems. Here
is what I’ve learned.
First, get well.
If you patiently accept your illness, you will be sick longer or
possibly forever. Be aggressive. Find out all you can about what’s
wrong with you. Have you been correctly diagnosed? What are all the
treatment options? What are the side effects and long-term effects
of medications? Ask your doctor questions, then find out if he or
she is right. As a writer, you know how to do research. The Internet
is an amazing resource, but it often has conflicting information,
not all of which is true. Your research skills will help you judge
which sites to trust. Libraries and the Internet have books about
many diseases. Don’t overlook holistic options such as vitamins,
herbal remedies, exercise, diet, detoxing and more. The information
you gather may give you ideas for articles or stories.
Don’t suffer in
Discuss your illness with your family and friends. Ask them for
patience and understanding. Accept their help. If you have a
deadline or you write a regular feature or column, talk to your
editor. He or she would rather know up front than be disappointed by
missed deadlines, less than first-rate work, or no work at all.
Make it easier to
Get comfortable. Laptops were invented so you could write in bed or
outdoors—sunshine has curative powers. Paper and pen still work. So
does talking into a tape recorder. Write shorter pieces: flash
fiction, fillers, Letters to the Editor, poems, anecdotes and the
Write how you feel about your illness. This could also lead to an
article in the future.
My friend Alice Reed said, “When I don't feel well, I don't stick to
it as long. I spent more time honing what I have already written
rather than creating new stuff. I don't write anything requiring
writing-related projects such as research, studying markets, typing
up notes or organizing your files. Helen Lindley e-mailed me, “When
I was in the hospital for three weeks last December, I interviewed
everyone who came into my room from nurses and aides to
housekeeping. All the information is stored in files for future
Write in your head. Put
your characters into a scene, and watch what happens. Organize an
article; figure out an opening hook. Only jot down the ideas that
are “keepers.” Helen added, “Years ago,
injured my back and had to remain in bed for over a month. I had
been working on an article about a high school senior who was killed
when his truck skidded on a wet road. I did a lot of ‘dry writing’
for the article, and when I got back to my typewriter, I sat down
and the words just flowed. That was the easiest article I've ever
much as you can.
Finish the work you’ve promised so it won’t be hanging over your
head. Trust your talent; know that what you write will be good. When
I was sleeping badly because of pain, I had promised to write a
program for a family reunion. Feeling brain-dead, I couldn’t judge
if what I wrote was any good. When I felt better, I reread the piece
and was surprised by how good it was. If you have doubts about work
you plan to submit, ask a writer friend for a critique.
Take a break when you run out of energy. Bob
Harper told me, “If my blood monitor says I am alright, then I can
write. But if I press on in spite of my problems, the work is
horrible. So I don’t fight my problem. I lie down and rest. But when
everything is rosy, I have a ball.”
Writing makes you
H. C. Duff, who wrote a humor column for a local newspaper, said, “The
best thing I've discovered is I can vent my feelings as I struggle
to find the words to describe whatever is troubling me. Once I see
it all laid out in nice clean letters, I begin to see that all is
not lost. The world will not come to an end, at least for another
day or two. If my moaning and groaning can be used in a column, then
I have gained even more from my depressive ordeal.”
Nancy Thatcher-Cerny said,
only makes me feel worse when I have a blasting headache and my eyes
won't focus. Otherwise, I feel better as soon as I get a few words
written. Some days, I just make a list of topics I want to write
about. But it is a beginning, and that makes me know I am still
Alice added, “Whether
I'm sick or well, writing has an euphoric effect on me. However,
depending on the sickness, my stamina level is often reduced.”
Don’t let an illness stop
you. Somebody out there needs to read what you are going to write.
The following websites
have helped me:
World’s Healthiest Foods lists food values, recipes and the
benefits of a healthy diet.
Linus Pauling Institute has information about vitamins, minerals
and other nutrients and their effect on specific diseases.
Known for their
independent research, the
site has information about many diseases and their treatments.
compares conventional and alternative/holistic treatments for many
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