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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Too Sick to Write? Maybe, Maybe Not


In response to the previous post, Block Your Saboteur Before It Blocks Your Writing, Glynis Jolly commented that her saboteur was showing up as annoying health problems:

“Being flexible is about all I can do to fight it. Nevertheless, I do have a schedule in place for my writing. Some days are good and I can stick to the routine. Other days I am late getting started or ending early, and sometimes it is both. Occasionally, the writing does not get done at all that day. I do the catch-up routine whenever I can.”

I congratulate Glynis on her strategy and commitment. I know she can and is making her writing a priority and a reality.

However, I caution her and you to avoid labeling health issues the Saboteur. Certainly the Saboteur will use health issues to divert you from your commitments, but the health issues themselves are not the Saboteur.

This distinction matters. Calling health issues your Saboteur assumes that health issues are somehow ‘wrong’ and arise because you messed something up.

While there are a LOT of things we can do ‘right’ to improve our health and well-being and to enhance and prolong our lives, all humans get sick and injured at times.

Illness and injury are not abnormalities that come from doing something wrong; they are part of the human experience.

And since we’re all going to experience illness and injury from time to time throughout our writing lives and the Saboteur will undoubtedly try to use that to interfere with our writing, we need to plan our response in advance.

Call It What It Is

Listen to the things you tell yourself and the assumptions you make when you’re sick or injured. Consider what parts of your inner dialogue might be the Saboteur talking. Remember, your Saboteur will use health issues against you any way it can.  

For example, your Attacker Saboteur will berate you as weak or stupid for getting sick or hurt. It may sound like a drill sergeant screaming at you to quit slacking and get to work. It will demand you show up for your usual Product Time (aka writing time) with your usual energy and focus. Never mind that sometimes that is simply not possible.

Your Attacker Saboteur will also insist that changing your Self-care commitment is out of the question. The real truth is that when you’re sick, you need more Self-care and you probably need a different kind of Self-care (aka more naps, chicken soup, etc.). If you get injured, you’ll get back to your usual exercise routine faster if you take time off to ice, rest, and consult with a physical therapist or other body worker.

Glynis is right to be flexible with her schedule. I hope she (and you) are also gentle and accepting. You’re human, not a writing robot.

But not all Saboteur talk is harsh and critical. The Enticer Saboteur, for example, will attempt to coddle you into doing far less than you can. “I’m sick, there’s no point in even trying today. I’ll probably be sick again tomorrow. I should just give up on the whole week.”

Glynis is right to have a schedule and give herself permission to do less. Be flexible with both the time (show up late or end early) and with the tasks.

Maybe you’re not up to drafting new material or focusing your attention to edit, but ask yourself if there is some other simpler, more routine task you can do. When you’re on the sick/injured list, maybe you read, do administrivia jobs, or neaten your office.

Personalize Your Responses

Consider what guise(s) your Saboteur is likely to take when you’re sick/injured. When you identify the kinds of things do you typically say to yourself and the kinds of assumptions you make when you’re sick/injured, you can plan appropriate responses.

If your Saboteur shows up as in drill sergeant Attacker mode, you need to respond with compassion and truth. “No, I’m not a slacker, I’m sick. This doesn’t mean I’ll never be a writer, it means I need to expect less today and see where I am tomorrow.”

Do you sometimes hear the Enticer suggest that the tiniest of ailments means you “should” give yourself a break and spend hours on Facebook or some other distraction? An effective response to the Enticer is firm truth. “I’m sick, so a nap is a better idea than a Facebook or Netflix binge.” Or “I sprained my neck and can’t sit at my desk, so maybe I can close my eyes and meditate or go into the writer’s trance. And maybe I need to make my work station more ergonomic.”

Maybe your Saboteur shows up wearing the Unlucky face and invites you to a pity party of, “Why does bad stuff always happen to me? How can I get any momentum on my writing project when I keep getting sick/injured?”

Remind yourself, “Okay, this sucks, but I’m not being singled out. Every writer struggles with something and most of them find a way to make it work. I can figure this out.”

Work With What You Have

Whatever form the Saboteur appears in, it will always lie and exaggerate the negative. Despite what your Saboteur claims, being sick/injured a day or two does not have to mean your entire week is shot.

Keep asking “Is what I’m telling myself really true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?”

The next time you get injured or sick, try to see it as an opportunity to gather evidence and practice identifying and dismissing the Saboteur.

Some of my writing students, clients and colleagues face serious, chronic health issues. I admire their tenacity. In some ways, knowing they don’t have unlimited time and energy pushes them to clarify their priorities and put first things first. They make the most of what they have.

And what they don’t have is time for the Saboteur.  

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2 Comments on “Too Sick to Write? Maybe, Maybe Not”

  1. Glynis Jolly September 30, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    It was a week ago that I wrote that comment for your post. I still have annoying health issues but I have found by relaxing about these problems, letting them take their course and adjusting my writing schedule to the time of day when I am usually feeling my best has helped. My old body is not one to recover quickly anymore so I just have to accept it and work around it.


    • rosannebane September 30, 2017 at 10:58 pm #

      Great attitude of accepting and adapting, Glynis! I suspect you get more done by making the most of your optimal time than someone without health issues can do showing up willy-nilly.


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