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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.

Real Writers Power thru the Flu, Right? Wrong!


“Is the flu a good reason to break your habit? That’s what happened to me and I still feel bad about it.” – Tamara, comment on the About this Blog page

When you have the flu (or other illness/injury/crisis), you’re suffering enough. There’s no need to make yourself feel worse by berating yourself for breaking your writing habit.

Here’s my guideline: if you’re sick, injured or going through a family emergency that would cause you to take time off from a job that paid you to show up, take PTO (Personal Time Off) from your writing habits with no guilt, no blame, no remorse.

Stay Flexible

You’re a human being, not a writing robot.

When you’re sick, you need to invest less (or zero) time on Product Time and Process  and spend more time on Self-care. For example, instead of coloring, painting or fooling around with an instrument, you take a nap. Instead of going to the gym or yoga class, you take a nap. Instead of meditating, you take a nap.

Likewise, when you’re injured, taking time to ice, rest, and consult with a physical therapist or other body worker will get you back to your usual routines much sooner than trying to force yourself to carry on.

Trying to power thru illness or injury only prolongs the down time. If you keep telling yourself you “should” be writing when you can’t, you create a habit of thinking you’re a bad writer or don’t have what it takes. The most effective way to regain your usual energy and focus is to take time to rest and recover.

As you recover, flex both your schedule and the tasks. Maybe you’re not up to drafting new material or can’t focus enough to edit, but there may be 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.

Tell Yourself the Truth

If you’re tempted to criticize yourself for being weak or lazy, tell yourself the compassionate truth: “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.”

If you’re tempted to justify hours on social media or other distractions as giving yourself “a break,” tell yourself the firm truth: “I’m sick, so a nap is a better idea than a Pinterest or Netflix binge.” Or “I sprained my neck and can’t sit at my desk, so maybe I can close my eyes and go into a meditative, writer’s trance. And maybe I need to make my work station more ergonomic.”

If you’re tempted to throw yourself a pity party and question how you’ll ever get momentum for your writing when you keep getting sick/injured, tell yourself the calm, dispassionate truth: “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.”

Being sick is certainly nothing to celebrate, but comfort yourself with the knowledge that this, too, is grist for the mill. Shivering  under a mound of blankets or wondering if you’ve just blown your own brains out with that last sneeze is just another kind of research. Suffering prepares you to write more compassionately, vividly and honestly about the human experience.

I don’t do my best thinking when I’m sick or stressed. That’s when I need to remember the writers I know who face serious, chronic health issues. They know when they can carry on and when they need to stop. They know they don’t have unlimited time and energy. Instead of letting that push them away from writing, they use it to push themselves to clarify their priorities and put first things first. I do my best to follow their courageous example.

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