Disclaimer: The following article is based on Laurie’s personal experiences with managing chronic pain. Always consult your own medical professionals to ensure you’re getting the best advice for you!
Don’t get me wrong, summer is my favourite season. Usually.
It’s hot, so the cold doesn’t make my bones ache. It’s dry, so the damp doesn’t trigger my arthritis. The sidewalks are clear, so I don’t risk a disastrous fall and can get out and see people.
This summer has been hot, I’ll give it that. But we’ve hit 40C (104F) regularly and even hit 50C (122F) several times. I live in Canada; we’re not designed for that kind of heat! Even worse, it’s been 80-100% humidity most days. In other words, damp AF!
So my bones and my arthritis and my crushed vertebra (yes, the bone, not the little rubber pad) have been, shall we say, acting up a touch. A tad unpleasant. Uppity, even.
Why should you care? Because I have still written over 70,000 words since May. Despite the seemingly unending headache/migraine from the endless thunderstorms. And it wasn’t entirely due to good drugs, although I do have them, too.
As some of you know, I attended a four-week pain clinic at the Ottawa General exactly one year ago. They taught me several coping mechanisms for just this reason. Writing hurts if you do it for hours every day, all day.
Now, it did help that this was a story I’ve wanted to write for years, and I have the luxury of staying home. Also Tor had a brief window for open submissions, and I desperately wanted to submit.
The lessons from the pain clinic that helped most were as follows (in no particular order):
1) Pace yourself. You don’t need to do 5,000 words/day every day. Some days 500 words is a major accomplishment.
2) It’s easier to edit than write on a bad day, so do that. Bonus! Rereading yesterday’s work can get the old brain cells working to write more.
3) Move! I hate this one, but they were right. Go get a coffee, or the mail, or go cuddle a cat. Just get up and stretch and walk around a bit.
4) Ergonomics, a made-up word that means setting up your desk so it doesn’t hurt to use. Or hurts less. I’m still working on this, trying to find the magic balance of monitor height, chair height, footrest height, mouse and keyboard wrist rest thingies… But basically, you shouldn’t have to tilt your head to see the screen, your elbows should be at about a 30º angle, your knees should be at 90º. It helps.
5) Change up where you write if that also helps. I was writing with pen and paper in my Lazyboy on bad days, on my laptop in a coffee shop if I got out of the house. Dictate to an app on your phone if you prefer. Be like Dory; keep swimming. Or take the day off to recharge.
6) Maybe you’re still trying to reach pre-Spoonie goals? Maybe this heat and humidity require a slowing down of everything, including demands on your cranium? Maybe we just need to go outside (when it’s cool) and enjoy the deck.
7) Read other books in your genre to recharge your enthusiasm because chronic pain sucks it right out of you. Read books on streamlining your writing process so that it takes less work to reach your goals. Chris Fox has some good ones.
8) And the most important one, be kind to yourself. You wouldn’t dream of berating another writer for not making their word count goal, so don’t beat yourself up either. It happens.
It also helps that I have (finally!) managed to balance my meds for the average day. Not so much for really bad days, but mostly. I listen to my body. If it says, “DRUGS NOW,” I generally finish my sentence and go get my pills. That saves a lot of whining later.
As the great god Stephen King recommends in On Writing, be happy and healthy. Eat well, drink in moderation, get enough sleep, yada yada yada, because these will also lower pain levels.
Find things to be happy about. Choose to be happy and notice things to be grateful for. When everything hurts and you get the horrible brain fog, it’s easy to get depressed and down on yourself. At least, that’s when my brain demons come out to play and call me useless and horrible and a burden.
But I choose to call them liars, like the mean girls at school who were just jealous of your talent, they lie to bring you down to their level. I choose to believe that my life is awesome because no matter what the world threw at me, I’m still writing.
Laurie Stewart is a Spoonie author of two YA/NA literary novels, several high and urban fantasy stories in anthologies, and an advocate for medical marijuana as a miracle drug for chronic pain. She is also still working on streamlining her process so she can try this “rapid release” publishing plan without killing herself.