Writing With Chronic Pain
Many creatives in the world suffer from chronic pain issues. I’m here to help you discover new ways to fit writing into your schedule and around pain flare-ups!
I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis when I was about eleven years old. I wore a back brace until I was almost seventeen. I managed to live relatively pain-free up until I had my two children. Then I developed much worse curvatures and an arthritic disease called ankylosing spondylitis, which makes my back and joints very stiff and painful. I also have narrowing discs and sciatica as a result of scoliosis. Now, I can say all of this and describe it to you, but most people don’t really believe anything is wrong with me until they see my x-rays, so I’ll post them below. I also happen to have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), which causes me to have cysts on my ovaries that can be very painful and which mess with my hormones, causing weight gain, insulin resistance, fatigue, and even some vitamin deficiencies. These illnesses all work together to make my life and my career as a writer and author service provider more difficult.
Why I’m Not Giving Up
It’s very easy to fall more and more into despair with each diagnosis and with each “bad pain day” that occurs. But ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of being an author and writing something that impacts others. I couldn’t stop the stories in my head if I tried! They’re always waiting to spill out and be developed into something greater. Being diagnosed with chronic illness doesn’t mean that I have to give my life, my hopes, and my dreams to it. Those are mine, and it can’t take them away from me.
Strategies To Get Those Words Down Despite Pain
I’m going to first acknowledge that some pain days are much more intense than others, and it may not be possible for you to do more than rest. That is okay. Self-care is the first step to being able to achieve more tomorrow. If you feel you can use an alternative method of writing, here are a few suggestions on how to get that started!
I have used the voice recorder on my phone for years to get ideas down quickly. I even do the accents from time to time! There are oodles of voice recording apps out there, and one may even be pre-installed on your device. Use this and type up your words when you are feeling more up to the task. There’s also the option to send these voice files to a professional transcriber who can send you back your spoken words in text format, word for word.
Voice to Text Mode
Microsoft Word and many other writing-related apps have a voice-to-text mode in which the program will listen to what you have to say and type it into the document for you. While this isn’t always 100% accurate (I definitely didn’t say “Love Youtube” that one time. I mean, I do love Youtube, but it was supposed to say “Love you too.”) Most of the time, however, you should be able to go back and figure out what you were trying to say. You can do this from the comfort of your favorite squishy chair or bed. There is also a software called Dragon Dictate that you can train to understand your voice and which can transcribe your speech to text more accurately. This does have a fee attached to it and of course the time to train the program to get a more accurate outcome.
Writing The Old-Fashioned Way
This may not be an option if you have carpal tunnel or problems with your wrists and/or fingers, but I find that I can lay down on my heating pad and scribble a few ideas in a notebook if I don’t think I can handle sitting at my desk. This lets me move my body into a position that is comfortable to me while also being creative. (Sometimes that means I have to take extra time to decipher my horrible handwriting later, but that’s another problem altogether!)
Phone a Friend
When even the act of using technology or a pen and paper isn’t an option for you, you may be able to get a friend or family member to transcribe your ideas for you to pick up at a later time. This can be a fun way to brainstorm and to let them in on your creative process.
Why You Shouldn’t Give Up
Life is short and fleeting. The life of someone with chronic pain can be turbulent, with new obstacles springing up without notice. But life was meant to be enjoyed, and if writing brings you joy, please don’t let that be quashed by your health. You are more than your diagnosis, and you have so much to share with the world.
Famous Writers With Health Issues
George Orwell battled Tuberculosis and wrote, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.”
Herman Melville suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, like me. He also likely had bipolar disorder and problems with depression.
Ava Jae, author of the young adult book, Beyond the Red, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 20.
Leigh Bardugo who is one of my favorite Young Adult authors suffers from osteonecrosis and sometimes requires the use of a cane. She ended up giving a similar disability to her character Kaz Brekker from her Six of Crows duology.
John Milton and James Joyce were both legally blind for long bouts of their lives and produced some of their masterpieces at these times.
Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken, wrote both best-selling novels while battling encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome).
Stephen Hawking wrote 14 books while battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Christy Brown, who was the subject of the Daniel-Day Lewis film My Left Foot, had cerebral palsy and wrote or typed with the toes of his left foot.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment while suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy.