Writing and the Ebb and Flow of Health

Yesterday was a good day with a lot of energy. Today I woke fatigued, which is undoubtedly part of the natural cycle of this illness. That reminded me of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s excellent book, Writing with Chronic Illness.


We are often so hard on ourselves about writing. We set daily word count goals and if those goals don’t happen we punish ourselves with a harsh internal dialogue. But there is an ebb and flow to life. A skillful practitioner takes that into account.

Right now there are a few people in my writing group that are trying to write one million words in 2020. They post their daily totals each day in the group. I love a good challenge and that is certainly a challenge. I respect the hell out of them and hope they make their numbers.

However, I wonder about the message it sends to people who cannot afford the time to write that much. Or those like me who are simply slow writers. Because they post so much, it pushes other posts down, leaving the impression that if you are not writing 5,000 words a day you don’t really belong. Or if you don’t write every day you are not a “real” writer (whatever that means).

But none of that is true. Writing habits and methods are amongst the most individual things there are. Writers Routine, a podcast that interviews bestselling writers about their daily lives, is a great way to see into other writers’ lives. What you find when you do is that the diversity goes way beyond planner vs pantser. It is everything. Writing is wonderful because it allows for that individuality.

Back to Kris Rusch’s book. She writes with honesty and practicality of how to be a bestselling writer, an award-winning editor, and a consistent writer while dealing with chronic illness. The first part of the book describes her struggles and how she created and re-created systems and structures to allow her to write and produce despite dealing with chronic issues that could flare up at any time forcing her to her bed.

She talks about how to set priorities that work for life. How to structure life so that you maintain as much health as possible. Because skimping on health-supporting activities with a chronic disease means that one eventually has neither health nor the ability to work.

She talks about how to make choices when faced with the reality of not enough time or energy for everything that needs to be done.

So many writing gurus advise that you set an hour count (work five to eight hours per day) or a word count. Which is well and good for the healthy folk, but for someone with a chronic illness, a daily quota is as impossible as a day job.

–From Writing With Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

So what to do then? She structures her work depending on her brain’s alertness or her level of health. She takes advantage of her healthiest times to write fiction. She has a list of descending activities for less healthy periods. She makes lists. It’s a good method.

She talks as well about the importance of arranging life so that you experience victory on a regular basis. This is something that Steve talks about as well and has for as long as I’ve known him. But he is another person who suffered with chronic illness for a very long time and became productive despite it.

Victories are important. Because in a world where everyone else seems to have more energy and an ability to get more than one thing done per day, it’s so easy for a chronically ill person to see life as a series of failures.

–From Writing With Chronic Illness by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

I can’t really summarize the whole book here. I do recommend it though. Even if you don’t have a chronic illness, there are a lot of tips that you will find useful.

Now I am going off to do my Sales Copy homework. I wrote to Dean and asked him for an extension of time to get it in to him since I was sick. I am healthy enough this morning to get that done. Later today I will generate precious new words of fiction. Those will be my victories today. Anything else is lagniappe.

Victory to you, my friends! May you find health and productivity today.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Don’t compare yourself to everyone else. You’re a faster writer than you think. You’re writing a short story a week. I’m in a writing group where people openly talk about taking months to write one story. Slow writing generally means, “I’m not spending much time writing.”

    1. You’re very sweet and encouraging! We have people in my writing group that spend a long time on a single story as well. Nothing wrong with that. Once The Great Challenge is done, I plan to slow down my output of short stories.

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