Writing Through Physical Pain

When my kids were toddlers and in grade school, I was wired shut for eleven weeks after two jaw surgeries. I’d had some health problems over the years, but being wired shut topped them all. I couldn’t talk to my four small children or even call a friend.

I was dying to talk, but couldn’t. So I hurried to my computer where my characters “talked” onscreen. Dialogue flew back and forth, and (rather surprisingly) this mental conversation went a long ways toward satisfying me. Usually I wrote a MG novel in 5-6 months, but it took me just two months to write Danger at Hanging Rock, turning this post-surgical problem into salable writing.

A Real Pain

Writing about pain and writing through pain is possible. Not FUN, but possible. Health problems crop up routinely. They range from short-term problems (like your son’s broken leg), to things needing constant close attention (like diabetes or arthritis). The most serious problems (like terminal illness or a death in the family) affect us all, sooner or later.

However, instead of quitting, we can also transform these experiences into publishable writing, whether it’s a simple case of the flu or a stay in the hospital. It’s tempting with short-term health problems to abandon our writing “until things settle down.” If at all possible, don’t do that.

Instead, stand back, rethink, and keep going. For example, I finished a mystery called Cast a Single Shadow during my four-year-old daughter’s hospital stay. I couldn’t sleep, so I borrowed a nurse’s clipboard and wrote while the rest of the hospital slept.

Chronic Pain: Another Story

I’ve had TMJ, facial nerve damage from several surgeries, and arthritis in my jaw joints for 30 years. I’ve also had five neck surgeries to deal with a chronic pain condition. The two main challenges for writers and artists with chronic pain are (1) finding the energy to write, and (2) fighting depression.

Writing, as you know, demands a high level of energy, and people fighting chronic pain may use 30-50% of their daily energy just fighting their pain. If chronic pain threatens to stop you from writing, try these things:

  • Accept pain as a fact in your life.  Don’t compare your life with anyone else’s or brood about “how life should be.” It won’t help. Books like Judy Gann‘s excellent title The God of all Comfort: devotions of hope for those who chronically suffer will help and encourage you. You’ll realize that many others deal with chronic pain–and overcome  it. You can too.
  • Fight the depression.  If possible, try writing about the positive aspects of your situation. (“Life’s Simple Pleasures” was an article written by a migraine sufferer about learning to appreciate what most people take for granted, like a night’s sleep, a picnic with the family, or planting tulips.) Any type of writing you enjoy is helpful in fighting depression because it tends to distract you from your pain (like when you forget your headache during an exciting movie).
  • Find the energy. Create mini-goals (for example, writing just fifteen minutes at a time). Divide each writing task into thin, achievable slices. Assure yourself that you only have to complete one mini-goal or slice, then stop if you need to. Pace your activities, even on the days you feel better than usual. Pushing yourself only increases chronic pain.

Terminal Illness

Terminal illness and a death in the family tax your creativity the most. The shock, numbness, and months of extended grief can derail even the most  dedicated writers. However, even in these cases, certain strategies can keep you going.

Why would you even want to keep writing during such a stressful time? The point of it is so that you still have a career when the weeks or months have passed. You don’t have to start over at Square One. Yes, you take the necessary time to grieve or deal with things. However, if you put your writing “on hold” until things are “back to normal,” you may find it too difficult to get started again.

Keeping that in mind, some tips during a really rough patch might include:

  • Journal your feelings.  Journal in hospitals, waiting rooms, and cafeterias. Your deepest heart-felt thoughts will provide excellent material for later. They may become fillers, daily devotions or even greeting card verses for people in similar circumstances. Or…no one may ever see your writing, and that’s okay too. Either way, you keep up your writing habit, which will pay huge dividends later.
  • Encourage and coax, but don’t push yourself to write. Burnout occurs when the demands we put on ourselves outweigh our energy supply. Some days you just won’t be able to put pen to paper.
  • Again, write about your experiences.  It can be the best healer of all. To deal with the pain after my dad died thirty years ago, I wrote The Rose Beyond the Wall, a middle-grade novel about a grandmother with terminal cancer.  It was a book written from the heart. Despite its subject, it’s a hopeful book for children, and it sold well in hardcover and paperback. Think about doing the same thing with your experiences.

Remember that “this too shall pass,” and when it does, you’ll be in a position to share with others what you’ve learned. That’s a writer’s satisfaction that money can’t buy.

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Round ‘Em Up!

I haven’t done a round-up of “best writing articles on the web” in a long time. So, with that in mind, here’s what I’ve been reading lately. I think you’ll find these four articles helpful too.

In The Seven Stages of Creativity: A New Perspective on Writing a Book, I discovered that I didn’t actually understand what to do in critical second stage. A good article to print out and save.

If you ignore the author’s opening where he says that every blog post should take twenty hours to write (!), the remainder of 101 Writing Resources That’ll Take You from Stuck to Unstoppable is a real gold mine. There are ten article links on ten different topics close to a writer’s heart.

When Your Writing Routine Goes Poof is full of good common sense wisdom for re-establishing a writing routine when your old routine is interrupted, and you change to a new season of life. These are good principles to keep in mind because the seasons change with great regularity!

We all have days when we get stuck. Here is some good, sound, easy, practical advice: Procrastinating on a Writing Project? Use the 300-Words Trick.

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Renewed and Revamped!

For thirty years, I’ve designed and maintained my own website. I added onto it as my needs grew.

Until recently it resembled a one-bedroom house that, over the years, had four bedrooms, three porches and a garage added on. 

You won’t recognize KristiHoll.com now!

It’s New!

A couple months ago I had a chance to have my website redone by an actual web designer starting a new company, Write the Next Book Web Designs. I actually met Christie Wright Wild through this blog. She took my unwieldy website and redesigned it into something beautiful. It’s easy to navigate now. The free resources are easy to find. It even has some childhood photos.

You can see a few “before and after” comparisons on her website. As Christie said:

“I’ve been a reader and a writer my whole life. We all have stories to tell. That’s why we’re writers. Working with Kristi Holl was a dream come true! I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with her on her visions to share her work with the world. Being a writer allows me to be creative. But being a web designer allows me to be supportive of other writers. Every time we bring literature closer to readers, it touches a life. Words and stories heal. They are powerful. And that’s why I do what I do.”

Do YOU Need an Author Website?

At what point do you need an author website? And what do you want a website to accomplish? For answers to those questions, you can get Christie’s free report 9 Things Every GOOD Author Website Must Have To Attract More Readers and Make More Money.

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Undo-It-Yourself Projects

(Due to illness, I am re-posting a popular article from a few years ago.)

“A bad habit never disappears miraculously; it’s an undo-it-yourself project.”~~Abigail Van Buren

We all have some self-defeating behaviors, and sometimes these behaviors can cause our writing dreams to be grounded. Through my years of writing, I certainly developed some bad habits that are counter-productive to my writing. I’m still working to break a few, but most of them are a thing of the past. We all have those habits, but no matter how or why we acquired them, breaking them is an undo-it-yourself project.

Reasons or Excuses?

Quite often I hear a list of reasons why a writer isn’t writing much–or doesn’t plan to get serious about her writing until a future time. (You know, that fantasy we all harbor somewhere deep inside about endless uninterrupted hours of quiet, someone else fixing the meals, and words flowing like water.)

There will always be reasons not to write–college classes keep you too busy, babies keep you awake, day jobs take your time, teen-agers take your energy, or elderly parents require attention. There will always be reasons to feel depressed about writing: rejections, lack of family support, or poor economic predictions.

It can be good to analyze why you’re not writing. Obviously, if you can’t pinpoint the problem, you will have trouble fixing it. While it’s good to know the reasons, though, don’t let them become an excuse to stay in your miserable non-writing rut.

Plow Past the Problem

Find a way to get past it. Talk to friends. Learn more about your craft. Set goals and deadlines. I pray first, but I don’t stop there. I also take action. (Like yesterday–I finally realized that my restless ants-in-the-pants feeling in my office was nothing more serious than the fact that I had piles of books and magazines everywhere. I don’t create well in chaos, but I’d run out of room. Solution? A new book case and instant organization. The restless block magically disappeared.)

Last month I blogged about Margie Lawson‘s online course called “Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors.” I was dragging and had been for nearly a year, thinking my writing life was about over. The only self-defeating habits I uncovered were severe sleep debt/deprivation, a need for more stretching-type exercise, and a need to give up chocolate and sugar. I kept careful records, promising myself at the end of thirty days that I would go back to the chocolate. I just needed to know if it was contributing to my lethargy and headaches. (Oh, how I secretly hoped it wasn’t so!!!) Well, it was…

I had a bad habit of eating sweets for rewards and pick-me-ups and times I needed soothing. I stayed up too late reading (while eating chocolate), and I always thought stretching exercises (like gentle yoga) were a waste of time. Wrong on all counts! Each one was a big factor in the daily headaches, which I’ve almost licked!

No More Excuses

Breaking those three bad habits became my “undo-it-yourself” projects. Was it fun? No–especially going without chocolate. But I sure don’t miss it like I thought I would. The habits (dare I say excuses?) that interfere with your writing dreams probably aren’t the same as mine, but I can guarantee you one thing. Breaking those habits is going to ultimately be your own “undo-it-yourself” project.

It’s your life. It’s your writing life. No one will create the writing life of your dreams for you. It will require effort of your own–and lots of it. So what are you going to do with your bad writing habits?

My advice is a paraphrased Nike slogan: Just Undo It! [NOTE: Make it easier on yourself. Remember the power of mini habits when  making those changes! See Not Enough Willpower to Reach Your Goals? Make Mini Habits!]

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The Best YES

One of my friends is a writing coach. She spots things in my writing life when I can’t see “the writing forest for the trees.”

She recently asked how the writing was going with my new contracted mysteries, the ones with firm deadlines that are longer than anything I’ve ever written before.

How many chapters had I written?

Truth Telling

I was embarrassed to tell her how little writing I’d accomplished in August so far. It wasn’t my fault that my writing timetable got derailed. Yes, I had scheduled quite a few babysitting days for various events. But that isn’t what did it. They were planned for weeks ago and fully enjoyed.

“It’s other people’s emergencies that got me,” I confessed.

Tell Me More

“What emergencies?” she asked.

I gave her the last week’s list. It included things like cars over-heating when someone needed to get to work. I was glad to help out, taking people to work one day and loaning my car another day. (And doing my errands during rush hour instead, a time I usually avoided.) I watched a neighbor’s kids when she didn’t want to take them with her to the dog grooming place. I filled in for someone when I should probably have been home with my sore throat. 

I didn’t feel resentful. No one’s “stuff” happened just to derail my writing or make me work late four nights in a row. I just felt tired by the time I got to my writing. Too tired to get much of it done, which made me sad. (And fearful that I might let this opportunity slip through my fingers.)

Some Hard Truths

“Yes,” my writer friend said, “emergencies DO happen. But everything you described to me is more of an inconvenience than an emergency. It’s stuff that happens to everyone: a sick child, a car needing repair, packing for a vacation, or a dog needing to go to the vet. They aren’t emergencies.”

I pondered that. Each phone call had sure sounded like an emergency.

“These people wanted you to drop everything and make their lives EASIER. They didn’t want to deal with the normal problems that everyone runs into who have children, cars, and pets. You stepped in so they didn’t have to cope. If you didn’t have some big deadlines, it might not matter. But if you don’t let others deal with their own normal problems, you’ll just fall further behind.” And maybe lose those contracts, I added silently. 

Paradigm Shift

Hmmm… It’s true that I often call other people’s problems “emergencies” that really aren’t. And it’s true that even if I still choose to help, often it could be done later, after I finish work. Just because someone wants it done now doesn’t mean it always NEEDS to be done now. Or, horror of horrors, when asked for help, I could have said, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t today.” Period.

Writing and making deadlines is a good thing. Helping someone truly in need is also a good thing. But choosing between them can be hard.

A Christian author who deals with the tough issue of choosing between one good thing and another good thing is Lysa TerKeurst in The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands. If we use up our time and energy by saying “yes” to many unnecessary things, we won’t have any time or energy to say YES to the best things. As Lysa says, we don’t become Wonder Woman; we become worn-out woman.

If you find yourself also in the position of wanting to devote more time to writing opportunities—but so many people are wanting your time—you might enjoy this book too. I expect I’ll be blogging about it in the future.

Time for Change

In the meantime, today when you are asked to postpone your writing in order to assist someone else, stop first. Think about it.

  • Does it really require your help?
  • Does it have to be right now?
  • If the person has to wait for your help, do they take care of it themselves? [This happens a lot!]
  • Is this just a normal problem any person would have in that situation or season of life? In that case, you might be doing them more of a favor if you let them struggle and grow and mature in their role.

And while they do that, you can struggle and grow and mature in your writing. A win-win solution!

Sometimes we worry so much about being selfish that we go overboard the other way. It’s not wrong to say “no” or “not now.” And if you do it often enough, you might actually get some writing done!

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