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You’ve hit a chronic illness flare. Here’s what to do about your writing practice.

I'm a writer, speaker, teacher, and babe about town. I'm the author of the award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of The Collected Schizophrenias, as well as a award-winning novel, The Border of Paradise. As someone who has been living with mental and physical chronic illness for most of her life, I'm an expert in being a working writer who is living with limitations. Learn more. about me below.



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For some of us with chronic illnesses, the ebb and flow of our health can be unpredictable. One moment, we may feel like we're *on top of the world*, with energy and inspiration to spare. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a chronic illness flare hits, leaving us feeling drained, in pain, and struggling to function. A survey conducted by the Disabled Writers Collective found that 75% of respondents with chronic illnesses reported experiencing flare-ups that significantly impacted their writing practice, with symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and brain fog being the most common challenges faced.

As a writer who has experienced her fair share of chronic illness flares, I know firsthand how discouraging it can be. But fear not—I've learned a thing or two along the way about how to navigate these challenging times and keep your writing practice going. So: if you find yourself in the midst of a chronic illness flare, here are some tips to help you weather the storm and keep your writing practice alive.


First and foremost, it's important to embrace your reality. Chronic illness is a part of your life, and it's okay to acknowledge and accept that it will impact your writing practice at times. It's not about blaming yourself, or feeling guilty for not being able to write as much as you'd like during a flare. Instead, it's about recognizing that your health needs to be a priority. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself first. Be kind to yourself, and let go of any expectations or pressure you may be putting on your own shoulders. 

Remember: you are not defined by your productivity or output as a writer, and it's okay to take a step back when your body needs it.


Option 2 is an idea that advocate, speaker, and psychotherapist Grace Quantock taught me. As she states:

“At times [when illness flares], you have two options:

Option 1. You can keep pushing to try and ‘fix your day.’ As you try harder and harder—“relax body, come on!”—you watch your work piling up.

Option 2. You can do it now, get on with things as best you can today—accepting that the work won’t be as good as you’d like.

I choose Option 2. It’s no more fun, but at least it’s distracting and satisfying. Are you waiting until you feel well enough to do what you need to do?

Yeah, me too. But if you have a long-term illness, you can’t guarantee you’ll know when you’ll feel ‘well enough’ again.”


When you're dealing with a chronic illness flare, it's important to adjust your expectations for your writing practice. Recognize that you may not be able to write as much or as frequently as you would like during this time, and that's okay. Be kind to yourself and lower the bar if needed. Set realistic goals that align with your current health status, whether it's writing for shorter periods of time or focusing on smaller projects.


Living with a chronic illness can be challenging, but it can also provide a unique perspective and inspiration for your writing. Draw from your personal experiences and use them as fuel for your creativity. Your illness may give you insights, emotions, and stories that are relatable and impactful to others. Use your writing as a way to express your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and create a connection with readers through your words. Your perspective and voice as someone with a chronic illness can be a powerful tool in your writing practice.


During a chronic illness flare, it's important to create a writing environment that supports your health and well-being. Make sure your writing space is comfortable and ergonomic, with proper seating, lighting, and ventilation. Be like me, and work from bed if you’re weak and fatigued. Take breaks as needed to stretch, move, and rest. Surround yourself with tools and resources that can help you stay focused and motivated, such as supportive writing communities, calming music, or uplifting quotes. (I personally like fresh flowers.)


Flexibility is key when it comes to writing during a chronic illness flare. Listen to your body and be willing to adjust your writing routine as needed. If you're feeling too fatigued to write, try other creative outlets, such as journaling, drawing, or brainstorming ideas. 


Taking care of yourself is crucial when dealing with a chronic illness flare. Make sure to prioritize self-care activities that support your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This may include getting enough rest, eating nourishing foods, staying hydrated, practicing relaxation techniques, and seeking support from loved ones or a therapist. Taking care of your overall health can have a positive impact on your writing practice as well.


Even during a chronic illness flare, it's important to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Did you manage to write a paragraph despite the pain? Did you brainstorm a new essay idea during a flare-up? Did you revise a chapter despite feeling fatigued? These are all achievements worth acknowledging and celebrating. Give yourself credit for every little step you take towards your writing goals, and be proud of yourself for persevering despite the challenges you're facing. Remember, progress is progress, no matter how small.


Dealing with chronic illness can feel isolating at times, but you're not alone. Reach out for support and connect with others who understand what you're going through. Join writing communities, support groups, or online forums where you can share your experiences, seek advice, or simply find comfort in knowing that others are going through similar challenges. Having a supportive community can provide encouragement, motivation, and a sense of belonging, which can be invaluable during difficult times. 


Chronic illness flares can be challenging, but it's important to stay hopeful and keep going. Stay committed to your writing practice, even if it's at a slower pace or in smaller increments. Celebrate every small win, and keep your eyes on your long-term writing goals. Remember why you love to write and let that passion drive you forward, even during difficult times. And if you're interested in a structured writing curriculum that will still allow for flexibility in times of illness, check out The Unexpected Shape Writing Academy

In conclusion, dealing with a chronic illness flare can disrupt your writing practice, but it doesn't have to derail it completely. With the guidelines I’ve shared, you can continue to pursue your writing goals despite the challenges you face. Remember, your chronic illness does not define you or your writing practice. With patience, self-compassion, and determination, you can navigate through the flare and come out stronger on the other side. Keep writing, and keep believing in yourself. You've got this.


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