Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 15, 2021

When Illness Interrupts Your Writing

by Julie Glover

The last time I worked on my novel was…

I don’t know.

We don’t have time for me to tell you the whole story, but I turned up sick on October 9, 2020 and haven’t been back to my old self since. I’m better, but I have good days and bad days and too many doctor appointments as I work through what’s going on and how to treat my issues. (No, it’s not Covid.)

But whether it lasts days, months, or years, nearly every writer has had their plans interrupted by illness. How can you still make progress when you don’t feel well? Here are a few ways to keep moving forward.

Take Care of Yourself

Taking a break and caring for your health may seem like stagnation of your writing plans. However, it’s actually moving forward, because if you don’t care for yourself, you’ll get less done in the end.

At times, I’ve felt bad, tried to push through, and ended up spending three hours completing a task that would have taken an hour if I’d only waited until I felt better. I understand the frustration of wanting to get things done, but it’s vital to work smart when you don’t have full energy reserves.

Your best option may be to set your manuscript aside and spend time in the fresh air, grab a nap, or take an Epsom salt bath. Prioritize feeling better so that you’ll have the energy and focus to work on your book when you can.

Study Your Craft

If you can’t work on your book, read someone else’s. Or watch movies or TV series, noting story structure, great dialogue, and setting details. Take a Masterclass or a writing class online. Read blog posts about writing (WITS has a lot of great content!).

When my mind tuned out of my book, I tuned into Netflix, Amazon Prime, and audiobooks, sampling shows and books that made for wonderful entertainment and learning experiences.

While you’re having to take it easy, pick up some great lessons that you can later use to write or edit your novel.

Write Short

Divide your work periods into shorter segments. You may not be able to sit for hours and work on your book, but maybe you can do a scene a day or a set word count. Perhaps what you can accomplish is a blog post, a blurb, or an outline.

One of the lovely symptoms I’ve had is brain fog. I discovered early on that I couldn’t concentrate on a full novel, tracking the character arc, plot, and subplots across chapters and scenes. So, I penned a short story. That was the length I could handle, and my coauthor and I were able to release a fresh story in our supernatural suspense series.

Figure out what length of project you can work or for how long you can focus, and then do that. After all, if you can’t take big swallows, small bites still get the job done.

Do the Non-Writing Stuff

Most authors don’t get to shut themselves away, write their brilliant manuscript, emerge to hand it over to an editor, and move along to the next project. These days, authors also maintain a website, participate on social media, engage in marketing, track their sales, order or create book covers, and so on.

While not feeling 100%, you might still make progress on those tasks that require less effort than writing.

Me? I have a series of paranormal shorts I wrote some time ago that just need a little editing to be publication-ready. Since they will be cheap $.99 buys, I’m doing my own covers. (Not always a good idea. Check out this post, this post, and this post on book covers!) Working up these covers is right at my work capacity right now. It takes little effort to scroll through stock photo sites looking for ideas, download pics, upload pics, mess with text, etc. By the time I get to editing my shorts, I’ll have covers done or mostly done.

What small tasks can you accomplish? You might start by checking off some of these 30+ Ideas for Bite-Sized Book Marketing.

Stay Connected

While feeling unwell, you can also feel isolated. You can’t go places, do things, write stuff, interact like you usually do. Keep your spirits up by connecting with other writers.

My optimism gets a boost whenever I chat with fellow writers and learn what they’re doing. We discuss stories, characters, the writing life, etc., and it reminds me that I’m still an author—just on a brief hiatus.

Whether it’s checking in with other writers in a Facebook group, attending a writers’ event virtually, or calling up a friend, stay connected with the writing community. Your peeps can help you weather the short or long period of illness that knocked you back a little, and you’ll be back on your feet soon.

That’s what I’m planning. Soon, I’ll be back in my novel again, polishing it up to a shine so it’s ready for the world!

What other ideas do you have for making progress when you’re sick? What words of hope or encouragement can you offer others struggling with illness?

About Julie

Julie Glover is an award-winning author of mysteries and young adult fiction. She also writes supernatural suspense under the pen name Jules Lynn.

While not feeling quite herself lately, she still managed to release Gryla's Gift, a Christmas-themed story in the Muse Island series (co-authored with Kris Faryn and free in Kindle Unlimited), and Driving Emma, a young adult contemporary short story.

When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Top image credit: silviarita from Pixabay

25 comments on “When Illness Interrupts Your Writing”

  1. Julie, feel better! I've not been myself either, not for a good few months and it's frustrating, isn't it? Hugs all round and hope you feel yourself very soon <3

    1. Oh no, Angela! I'm sorry you're going through that. I know you're such a busy go-getter usually, and it can be especially frustrating then to not have all your energy and the same to-do list. Take it easy, and a big hug back atcha! ♥

  2. I read this post at about 3:20 a.m. I have been living with chronic fatigue syndrome for several years, since an encounter with a plague of bird mites. My condition has deteriorated since last March when I had Covid or something with similar symptoms. There is no recognized treatment and no cure for this condition.

    I have been able to continue writing because I listen to my body. If I am tired or sleepy and can't walk without a struggle, I take a nap, no matter what time it is. If I overdo and need to spend most of a day in bed to recuperate, I don't argue with my body. I sleep. Time spent resting is an investment, not a waste.

    Figuring out what your best times for writing are also helps. My most productive period is between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. So when I wake up at 2 or 3 I get up and power up my laptop. By going to bed early and going back to bed, I generally manage the to get the 7 hours of sleep I need at night. I usually need another 2 hours during the day.

    Keep a sense of humor. Learn to tolerate a messy and dusty house. Finally, nothing can replace having someone in your life who supports you, steps in when you are too exhausted to cook dinner or clean and best of all, encourages you to take care of yourself.

    1. Great advice. Thanks for adding all that! For me and all the others who needed to hear it. Some days, I'm nearly embarrassed how much I sleep, but it is what it is, and if I don't do it, then I don't get the good days where I can get stuff done.

      I'm sorry about your situation. Praying for some better treatment to come along and ease your burden.

  3. Julie- I'm so sorry you've joined the "spoonies" club. I joined about 5 years ago, and it sucks. Believe it or not, Twitter is my go-to place when I can't do much else. I've had some interesting conversations, and have built my following, hopefully including a few future book-buyers. I feel somewhat productive, connected, and purposeful. I hope you soon bid the club farewell!

    1. My illness was interrupted by my writing! I've had ME/CFS for over 31 years, and it cost me my career in research physics. And pretty much everything else.

      I had always planned to be a writer when I retired, so when the three kids were old enough to be left with their father after a hard day's work (1995) I took a few hours worth of a class designed for grownups who always wanted to write, at the local community college, all the formal instruction I've had.

      I write despite illness. I write in the occasional crevasses in the illness, when I can have a brain for a few hours. It takes a very long time to write a novel that way. So? You just do it if you're a writer, and I am. Published the first novel in 2015 and am halfway through the second in a mainstream trilogy now, and hoping to finish it this year. Or next. So I can get the trilogy completed maybe 5 years after that.

      It makes you focus on the content, because you are putting all your remaining energy into a legacy. Without that focus, knowing you may never be well again would kill all the desire to spend your days hoping this one will let you create. And the illness has become part of the work.

      Life goes on, whether you use it well or at all. I'm trying to make mine count.

      1. You, my friend, are a champion! Overcoming tough odds to find your way to success. What lovely inspiration! Thanks. And may you have more days of writing energy than not.

        1. Thanks. I try.

          You deal with what you get, if you can - this is important to me, and I have used a lot of that time to make sure I can do it to the standards I want.

          Most people do the best they can in the race. And you need to laugh about it, and not let illness take one iota more than it has to.

  4. Julie, I hope you feel better soon. I've struggled with brain fog ever since my late husband passed away (someday I'll be able to tell my trauma story). It's better now but not great. While I'm in a much better place than I have been in a long time, the process of writing is harder. I've had to learn to be kind to myself about my abilities at any given time. Sending hugs!

    1. I'm sorry you've gone through that! Yes, trauma isn't just a mental or emotional thing, but your body can be genuinely impacted by what you've gone through. Here's to using all the brainpower we still have to write great stories. ♥

  5. You are an inspiration, Julie! Some would dive under the covers and give up. Luckily, my health held and I finished my book in the year of Covid. I'm definitely a must-feel-good writer. A headache sidelines me. Congrats on your awesome accomplishments and I hope you feel much, much better soon.

    1. Headaches are one of those symptoms that make it "can't write" day for me too. I've had some doozies lately, and that can shut down the ability to track anything. So you're not alone!

      And yay to finishing your book! Rather than feeling envy, I'm honestly excited to hear about others writing, finishing, and publishing books. It cheers me up for the writing world as a whole, makes me happy for them, and gives me hope and inspiration to do the same. Congrats! ♥

  6. Julie, my thoughts are with you for a speedy recovery. Sincerely.

    I know what it's like to be severely ill--unfortunately. I spent a large portion of 2018 and 2019 in the hospital very sick. After two major surgeries and over a year in recovery, I can attest to the debilitating affects of illness.

    My advice? Try to find a silver lining. I learned how my passion for writing can fuel me in ways I didn't understand before being sick. I knew I loved editing manuscripts as much as I loved writing them, but being sick forced me to find ways to make a living from editing, so I'd be closer to writing while feeding my kids. I dived head-first into my editing business, http://www.beop.ca, and have been happy since.

    Good vibes your way. Your silver lining is just waiting to be discovered, my friend.

    Denise (Dee) Willson

    1. Thanks so much, Dee! I hate that you went through that hard journey, but how lovely that you discovered something positive along the path. It's strange how as my challenges have increased, so has my gratitude for what I have and can do. My priorities have also rearranged a little, and that's a good thing overall. Take care of yourself! And hoorah for great editing.

  7. Chronic disease is just a part of my life. Some days are worse than others.

    Wishing you wellness and discernment as you figure out a treatment plan.


    1. You have my sincere well-wishes! I'm sorry you've gone through that. Hugs and good vibes.

  8. Journaling, meditation, going for a walk, reading self help books, reading feel good novels ir watching. Feels good films, a chat, coffee, with a trusted friend, these things help me. I've been there a few times over the last 60 yrars and I've learned say to myself, you're in a tunnel now and the only way out is forward, but there is a way out, eventually. Hope the spring brings new hope and joy to your life. Take care?

  9. I'm so sorry you're going through this, Julie. I've done so multiple times in the past, the longest lasting years a decade ago. All of your recommendations are excellent. The first priority is, like you say, taking care of yourself. That's the long view that's vital. Beyond that, the priority isn't allowing your writer brain to wither. What that looks like varies depending on how you're feeling, whether it's brainstorming, writing notes, or examining the movie you're watching. The best medicine for recovering is focusing on recovering. If that's rest, then rest. Feel better soon and be everwell. ?

    1. Thanks for your wisdom! I hope you can avoid more flare-ups. Take care of yourself!

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