About twenty years ago, with both forearms strapped into splints due to constant pain when I worked on the computer, I shuffled into a rheumatologist’s office. He diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. I was writing my first novel at the time, and I feared that the pain would make it my last.
Because doctors don’t know much about this disease—many won’t acknowledge it’s a disease and some don’t believe it exists at all—we “fibromites” have learned that the best treatment often lies in managing our own health and lifestyle. By taking a few simple steps, and a lot of trial and error, I’ve learned to minimize and even avoid flares altogether. However, I didn’t anticipate that these same steps could allow my writing not just to continue, but to flourish. Here’s what I’ve learned to do, for my health and for my writing. It even works if you don’t have fibromyalgia. (Note: As always, your actual experience and mileage may vary.)
• I get regular, appropriate exercise. I need to move and stretch my major muscle groups every day. Not only does this keep me healthy and reduce my pain, it allows me to spend more time at the keyboard, day after day, year after year, novel after novel. I also need regular writing exercise to keep my “chops” up. Not just sitting down when I feel inspired, but meeting inspiration halfway by being at the computer to receive it.
• I take advantage of stress. We all have stress. I can allow it to be my enemy, robbing me of energy and causing illness, or it can be my friend. I’ve learned to manage the “bad” stress. But the motivating, “good” stress of a (reasonable) deadline or a public event is a way I use stress to my advantage.
• I have learned to play to my strengths. To each day, we bring a set of bell curves: our natural biorhythms. By paying attention, I’ve learned that my mental acuity and creative energy start high in the morning, peak again just after lunch, and taper off at night. Physical flexibility starts low in the morning and increases by evening. Understanding this, I can choose when I’m best suited for particular activities. Eight a.m. yoga class? Uh, I don’t think so. Morning writing? I’m there, with my coffee and a smile. Knowing the flow of these rhythms, I don’t normally sit down at nine p.m. to start editing. I know I won’t be applying my best self to the work.
• I try to cultivate a flexible attitude. Sometimes despite doing everything right, flares happen. I may back off on other responsibilities, but very little keeps me from writing. I’ve just learned other ways to do it. Voice activated software programs are wonderful if it hurts you to type, and they can be trained to respond with decent accuracy. Setting up my writing space to fit my ergonomic needs initially cost a bit, but it was worth every penny to prevent injuries from poor posture and repetitive stress.
• I ask for help. Although I wear many hats and do a lot of things, I’m not Wonder Woman. It’s hard to admit that to myself at times. But I have learned that if I try to tackle it all, I’ll pay later with pain and fatigue. Learning to delegate tasks or ask for help around the house has made it easier to ask for that second set of eyes on my manuscript, a review, or a friend to help spread the word.
So…how are you turning your writing lemons into lemonade?
Laurie Boris is the author of The Joke's on Me, from 4RV Publishing. She also blogs about writing, books, and the language of popular culture at http://laurieboris.com.