How to Write Despite … Whatever — Guest: Jenna Victoria
We’ve probably all heard the quote from Dori of Finding Nemo to “Just keep swimming.” That idea encourages us to keep going no matter the obstacles.
We’ve talked about that perspective here many times: The only way we fail is if we give up—if we stop “swimming.” As I’ve said before:
Failure isn’t the opposite of success. It’s part of the journey to success. … “Real” failure—the opposite of success—is when we give up or stop trying to reach our goals.
That’s why I say for things like NaNoWriMo that it’s not about “winning” but about going in with the attitude that any words are better than no words. Any words are still progress. Any words mean we’re still swimming against the dangerous rapids flowing toward the sharp rocks of giving up.
(Good thing too, as I’ve had my worst NaNo ever this year. My sore throat turned into bronchitis, a constant cough that’s prevented me from sleeping well for weeks. Not a good situation for trying to write. *sigh*)
Today’s guest is an expert at learning to write despite serious obstacles like disability or chronic health issues. (In fact, we had to reschedule her guest post to accommodate her health—and thanks to Lisa Gail Green for being willing to swap dates!) I’ll let Jenna tell her harrowing story rather than spoil it here, but definitely check it out below because she’s sharing her 6 tips for how to just keep swimming (or in her case, R.O.W.I.N.G.). *grin*
Please welcome Jenna Victoria! *smile*
Stop Bailing and Start R.O.W.I.N.G.
by Jenna Victoria
(Or, how to adjust your writing sails if a disability or chronic illness is your co-captain…)
As I write this guest post, I am sniffling, coughing, dabbing at watery eyes and feeling generally miserable. This is not unusual as the end of both NaNoWriMo and the month of November approach. ‘Tis the season’ and all that.
I’m not the only writer with a box of tissues and a mug of hot tea and honey nearby. We are all racing to finish our work-in-progress before the cold and flu germs fully debilitate us or November 30th arrives (whichever event crosses the finish line first).
What makes my situation different is that I am a metastatic triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) patient, and have gone through nonstop surgical treatment or chemotherapy infusions for five years now.
TNBC is the most aggressive type, and is only found in 18% of women diagnosed with breast cancer. My chemo infusions will never end.
My entire immune system is compromised. My energy levels spike and plummet (sometimes hour to hour). At times, pain or nausea keep me from the most basic of tasks.
So, beyond the “ugh-not-a-cold-now” factor, a common cough can quickly land me in the hospital with pneumonia if I don’t take precautions.
Oh, did I mention I am also under contract for five novellas through now and September of 2018 and successfully published two books in the last year?
Struggle to Write? Feel Like You’re Drowning?
Let’s be frank—authors without health issues already have a difficult time of typing “The End”—so how can I, as a writer with a chronic, incurable illness, make it all happen?
That’s where this post comes in. I’ve recently come up with the acronym “R.O.W.I.N.G.” to describe actions I take to keep my writing vessel afloat.
I used to feel as if I was bailing water out of my writing vessel with a spaghetti pot strainer. It was exhausting.
I hope you find one or two of these suggestions helpful, especially if you are an author fighting a chronic medical battle or are a disabled writer battling your own unique challenges.
6 Tips to Keep R.O.W.I.N.G. through Obstacles
R — Realistic
The most important tip I can offer is, be REALISTIC.
- What is my writing goal?
- What is my timeline?
- All factors in consideration, are they both truly achievable?
For example, is an 80k book due in four months out of reach for me, right now? Writing a 35k novella might be more in line with my physical energy level and medical status. Maybe a novelette due in one month at 15k or a short story is doable, until I feel stronger.
Struggling to write? Be realistic by matching your abilities to your goals. Click To TweetWould sending off an impromptu poem to a new publisher or an off-the-cuff entry in a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book keep me feeling like I’m still “in the game?” If so, I could do that.
Realistic expectations mean neither you or your agent, an editor or your readers aren’t disappointed. Being realistic isn’t defeatist. It is matching your current abilities to your goals. This is a good thing.
Realistic deadlines are also key. I never know, chemo cycle to chemo cycle, how my body will react. This is out of my control. Other chronic conditions have their own built-in blocks of difficulty.
However, I know the week before chemo day itself is always a good week. Chemo day, I sit in a comfortable lounger accompanied by Mr. IV pole. I can easily write then, using a notepad or index cards.
Only agree to deadlines (even self-imposed ones) which are realistic, given our good or bad days. Then add in some wiggle room just in case of unexpected medical complications.
O — Organization
For someone with physical or medical challenges, this “O” is huge—it stands for ORGANIZATION.
Set yourself up to succeed. After finally finding time and energy to write, it can be disheartening being faced with chaos when you open the door to your writing cave.
- Create a welcoming writing environment.
- Has your desk, like mine, become cluttered with a pile of mail to deal with? Does the wall calendar still show the month of August, in mid-November? Are manuscript notes or printouts hidden under stacks of paper?
- Take a few minutes each day to de-clutter so that your manuscript and research notes are in a position of prominence, ready to greet you when you get in front of your keyboard. It may take some time to do this before getting new words down, but it is time well spent.
- Check your supplies. Do you need printer paper? Toner? Pens? A Thumb drive?
- A daily planner is your friend. Schedule Social Media time, but no more than 1/2 hour a day. Schedule writing sessions (but use a pencil!).
- If you are doing guest blog posts, schedule a pre-deadline exactly one week before the actual due date on your calendar.(Note from Jami: Scheduling pre-deadlines is great for more than just guest blog posts! They help us build in that wiggle room Jenna mentioned above.)
W — Wise
“W” stands for being WISE with your time and abilities at any given moment.
Writers with health issues typically spend more time at the doctor’s office, in a medical facility or pharmacy than others do. I’ve learned to turn this down time into productive time.
- Create a ROWING writer tote bag (or small duffel) and keep it with you when you are heading to a medical appointment.
Don’t read those old magazines in the waiting room—open up your bag and get to work. It should contain the most current printout of your manuscript, a handful of pens, pencils, and highlighters, some index cards, sticky-note pads, and a writing how-to book of your choice.
- Smartphone technology can be used for research (most doctors offices offer free Wi-Fi).
On your phone’s browser, look up your character traits or a specific setting—copy, paste and save to your phone’s Notes app. Download photos you find that remind you of your main characters.
- Purchase a cheap dictation device and use it to record thoughts, scene ideas, and snippets of dialogue. Some phones have this ability included; check with your provider.
- On telephone hold with an insurance company or state agency? Keep a small notebook in your purse or beside the phone and scribble notes or facts about your WIP while you wait. Multitasking saves energy.
Being wise also means paying close attention to your body. If you wake up and feel exceptionally well, make it a habit to write first, before any other “fun” activity you might plan otherwise. Writing with a disability or chronic illness means sacrificing moments on a good day, to offset the bad days down the road.
Alternatively, if your body is telling you to rest, listen to its nudge for self-care. Gracefully accept healing time. It will strengthen you.
I — Identify and Improvise
This “I” has often saved the day for me. It has a double meaning. It stands for IDENTIFY and IMPROVISE.
At my core, I needed to identify myself as an equal member of the writing community, and equally deserving of acceptance of the reader base at large. Having cancer does not make me less than, it makes me determined.
Equally important, identify means I am always seeking out tools and methods that physically make writing easier for me.
- For a time, during a bout of Lymphedema in my hands, I used speech recognition software that typed as I spoke into the microphone. As mentioned, I have also used a digital voice recorder.
- Online communities and support groups that concentrate on a specific disability or illness often discuss new “ability” products on the market. (They also provide a captive audience for book release announcements, if you keep it low key and don’t include a buy link unless someone asks).
When health setbacks occur, be ready to improvise.
- If you are unable to sit up for periods of time, get an anti-gravity pen and write on a notebook while laying prone.
- If you are bedridden, focus your attention on your manuscript setting, characters or dialogue. It can help pass the time and relieve stress.
- Keep a small notebook and pen beside you on the bed. Jot down random thoughts and ideas.
- Use your Smartphone Notes app. Some writers swear by Evernote. Other writer-focused apps I’ve heard of are Brainstormer, Mindnode, and Goodreader. This last one allows you to save your manuscript as a .pdf and mark up your draft.
(Note from Jami: I use OneNote because everything is searchable. Guest poster Jenny Hansen shared her tips here.)
Any time—even “thinking time”—on your book is valuable time.
N — Need and Negotiate
My least favorite letter, but most helpful, is the “N.” It stands for NEED and NEGOTIATE.
Many disabled authors need a bit of extra help from friends and family. It is still difficult for me to let go of control and full self-sufficiency, but guess what, Jenna? Suck it up! My pride isn’t as important as my goals are.
Think about actions others can take to increase or improve your writing productivity. You will be surprised how many helping hands are out there.
If you are attending a writing event or workshop, you need to ensure the organizers make your time there fully accessible and disable-friendly. E-mail the staff ahead of time and explain your needs, and ask who at the organization will ensure your needs are taken care of.
Negotiate—There are times, through no fault of our own, we are in danger of missing a deadline. It is important to communicate with your blog hostess or publisher or editor. Be professional.
This guest post is one example of that scenario. I had an exceptionally difficult chemo cycle, with horrible side effects, when the post was first due. Jami was gracious, and we arranged a switch with another scheduled post. Then I got sideswiped by this cold and was 100 percent offline in the days leading up to the second deadline.
G — Generate
Finally, we reach the last letter, “G”, which represents the core action we all need to take, whether we are physically challenged or completely free of medical needs.
G is for GENERATE, as in generate words. Write fresh content.
It doesn’t matter if it is a solitary sentence, or five pages. A paragraph is as meaningful as a page, if you are committed. Consistently generate words.
Use a steno pad, a tablet, a stack of index cards, or your computer. Dictate to your neighbor over coffee. Phone a friend and ask them to take notes as you talk. Whatever it takes, generate fresh writing, every single day.
You Can Do It!
Author friends, strap on your life vest and get into the boat. Stop all that bailing with a sieve and start R.O.W.I.N.G. at your own, unique pace.
I am confident that you (and I) will be crossing the finish line to NaNoWriMo in a few days. Typing “The End” is within your abilities. Go for it!
About Jenna Victoria:
Sweet is in her genes… Ever since her grandfather co-created Twinkies, Snowballs & Hostess cupcakes for Intercontinental Baking Company, circa 1959, Jenna’s yet to taste a cake she hasn’t liked.
Jenna writes books for readers who enjoy sweet but compelling romances, and also for those who want “fiction that feeds your faith” titles — Happily-Ever-After romance & romantic suspense stories with a Christian world view. Her stories emulate those she enjoys reading…with a heroine who is in grave danger & a hero who is smart enough to get out of her way as she kicks butt & takes down names… and those that feature satisfying fairy-tale-endings and stories of faith restored.
Her triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis in 2012 led to surgeries, radiation, re-occurrences and now, incurable metastasis. Yet, Jenna continues to praise God and trust His oversight in her life; and she continues to write more books as He allows.
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon
About War of the Heart
When a vintage snow globe sends Boston dress designer Louise Martin and British B&B owner George Walker back in time to London, December 1940, they race against the clock to reconcile a feud between their families and solve a 75-year-old mystery.
As Louise relies on God; and on George for guidance, friendship then love, will the future George envisions strangle her own dreams? Will their love survive generations of mistrust, the Blitz and being stranded in wartime 1940, possibly never to return to their former lives?
Available at Amazon: Kindle, print, and audiobook!
Thank you, Jenna! Your advice here is so spot on, and I greatly appreciate you taking some of your limited writing time to share your tips with us.
I know many of us struggle with challenges, and I have several posts here to encourage us with thoughts of how we’re not alone and commiserating with chronic issues. However, actual advice we can apply is harder to come up with, so it’s great to get solid, tangible tips that we can implement and make our writing lives easier.
I don’t know about any of you, but I needed this post. *grin* I can’t even pick a favorite tip, as they’re all fantastic.
No matter your situation, I hope you found something helpful here. Maybe from now on, instead of thinking “just keep swimming,” I’ll reword that quote in my head to “just keep rowing.” *smile*
Do you struggle to write sometimes because of life issues? Do you have chronic medical issues or a disability adding to your difficulties? Do you have a favorite tip here, or one you can’t wait to add to your toolbox? Do you have any advice to share? Do you have any questions for Jenna?Pin It
All of this is kind of common sense stuff but I know that I need this as a reminder constantly. When the frustration and doubt set in, all my common sense hides somewhere. Thank you, Jenna.
Great tips for everyone, but especially if one struggles with health issues. Thank you, Jenna!
Awesome post!!! I really needed to read this today! Thank you so much for sharing these great tips!
Thanks for all those tips! Your post gives me a lot of hope. 🙂
Not sure if my condition can be called chronic, since I still hold out hope that it will heal one day. Anyway, I have some dry-eye like problem (even my optometrist has only just heard of this condition sometime this year). My eyes are extremely sensitive to bright light, so it’s painful for me to look at anything on the computer for long periods of time, unless it’s something as mindless as Facebook, lol. What I did to help myself, is to put a large piece of cardboard to cover up my laptop screen, and just type! Occasionally I would glance back at the screen to check that nothing went wrong, but otherwise, I’m typing without looking at that bright screen. (Even with the brightness set to the lowest and even when I use Flux, such prolonged exposure to a computer screen is too much for me.) This is extremely helpful and is surprisingly a time I get to rest my eyes.
Well done and thanks for the tips. I find even moving furniture a little to give you more space to reach whatever you need – like a wall socket or bookshelf – can help your day.
Thanks. Some days I plan too much. I’m trying to get better about setting realistic goals.
[…] For those in need of inspiration or motivation, James Scott Bell lists 10 ways to goose the muse, and Nils Ödlund gives 6 simple tips on creating a writing habit. However, if you can’t find even a few free minutes, Lisa Tenner shares 7 ways to keep your book alive when you don’t have time to write it. Some writers face obstacles other than the lack of time. Jenna Victoria discusses writing with a chronic illness — or whatever other problems life sends your way. […]