8 Things Writing and Chronic Illness Have in Common

Recently while watching Golden Girls, Betty White’s character, Rose Nylund, had a particularly rough day and said something that both made me laugh and nod my head in agreement: “I feel like crawling under the covers and eating Velveeta out of the box.”

writer, writing, chronic illness, 8 Things Writing and Chronic Illness Have in Common

Photo credit: Nana B. Agyei

Not only do I feel this way on occasion due to my illness but writing can make me feel this way too. That’s when I realized that writing and chronic illness have a lot in common.

1. Waiting
Waiting to hear back about your query, waiting for inspiration to strike, waiting for your writing career to truly start … writing is a waiting game. Chronic illness is no different: waiting for a diagnosis, waiting rooms, doctors’ waitlists, waiting for a treatment to work, etc.

2. Rejection
Every writer has stories about rejection. The agent/publisher/magazine said no, their platform isn’t gaining traction, or readers are being haters. Sometimes you doubt you even have a shred of talent. With chronic illness, we all know it is common to be rejected by friends, family and society, but the ultimate rejection is handed down by your own body. “How could my body have the audacity to betray me like this? We had been through so much together.”

3. Opinions: Everybody Has One
For every person who likes your writing, there may be 10 more who don’t. Putting yourself out there as a writer can bring quite a few back-seat drivers and armchair quarterbacks out of the woodwork. And if you want to be inundated with a bevy of unsolicited opinions, get yourself a chronic illness. “You should eat this/take this/do this/think this, and you will be cured.” Smiles politely and nods.

4. It Can Be Easier to Share with Strangers
Writing is very personal. Not only does the content often contain a certain degree of your beliefs, thoughts, emotions and dreams, but the very state of being a writer is personal. This vulnerability and exposure is often easier shared with strangers: anonymous readers, online writing groups and faceless agents and publishers. I find the same to be true with chronic illness. It is so much easier for me to share my feelings, symptoms and experiences with strangers in online support groups than with my family and close friends.

5. Learning Can Be Easier Than Doing
For beginners and people who dream of writing, a lot of time  is spent reading about writing and studying the craft. Rather than take the scary leap into the deep end of being a writer, they hang out in the comforts of the writer-adjacent pool. With a chronic illness, a great deal of time is dedicated to learning, especially learning about possible treatment options. In this case, applying the learning to doing isn’t often a matter of will but rather a matter money, physical ability or the necessary support.

6. Forces You to Face Your Inner Self
We’ve already determined that writing is personal, and part of that comes from the introspection required to write. When exploring a characters motivations or emotions, you have to reflect on your own. When you have a chronic illness, you spend a lot of time alone and a lot of time feeling emotions — especially in the beginning. This forces you to face your demons, take stock of your life and examine or re-establish your priorities.

7. Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
As a writer, you’ve had a really productive day. You outlined your book idea and even got 1,000 words down on paper (or on word-processing software). You’re feeling great; you’re feeling validated as an author. The next day, you receive a rejection note for a submission you made a few months earlier. As a chronically ill warrior, you accomplish a doctor’s appointment, grocery shopping and a quick jaunt through the bookstore all in one day. You feel proud, rejuvenated and strong. The next day (or three), you are trapped in bed.

8. Small Victories Keep You Going
Despite the frustration of gaining ground and losing ground when you are having a two-steps-forward, one-step-back moment, the small victories really do keep you going. The like or gracious comment on an article you wrote, finally figuring out an ending to your story or sending off that query letter are simple things that can be very fulfilling. Equally as fulfilling: making it through a physical therapy session, taking a shower or cooking dinner by yourself. You did it! You give yourself a gold star for the day!

The thing about small victories — whether you are a writer, someone surviving a chronic illness or both — is they give you a bit of amnesia about items one through seven and help you relish the “now.” It’s just enough to keep you trying again the next day, and that’s all we can really ask of anyone.

What was your small victory today? Share it in the comments!

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