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 silence. 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 write. 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 like. 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 intense concentration.”
Work on 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 reference.”
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, I 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 written.”
Do as 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 feel better. 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, “Writing 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 alive.”
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:
The World’s Healthiest Foods lists food values, recipes and the benefits of a healthy diet.
The Linus Pauling Institute has information about vitamins, minerals and other nutrients and their effect on specific diseases.
Known for their independent research, the Mayo Clinic site has information about many diseases and their treatments.
This site compares conventional and alternative/holistic treatments for many diseases.