Thursday, December 8

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, December 08, 2016 4 comments
I hope to return to my series on expanding underwritten manuscripts in the coming weeks. But since I'm sick, and my family is as well (on and off for about seven weeks now. Not kidding.), I thought I'd address the problem at hand: writing when ill.
Photo by barterville on Morguefile

The idea of "touch it every day" when it comes to large writing projects seems sensible and exciting when you're in the bloom of health. When you have a pounding sinus headache, a fever and chills, it sounds like yet another source of unneeded guilt.

But when you get hit with one of these long, lingering illnesses that can wax and wane repeatedly over months, you can end up kissing goodbye a wonderful project that just totally stalls waiting you to be well enough to return to it.

So how do you keep up with writing when you really, in all honesty, CAN'T write?

1. Refill

I'd heard author Veronica Roth on her author blog compare a writer's mind to an ice cream maker. If you want to produce interesting flavors, you have to pour interesting ingredients into your vat. In other words, times of illness are times to sack out on the couch filling up with creative works--be they TV shows, films, YouTube videos, magazines, novels, reference works, or audio books.

Soak up settings that excite you or intrigue you with travel shows, foreign films, or back issues of National Geographic. If you're able, jot some notes on what strikes you about the setting and make a list of some aspects you could research further.

Hang out in the genre world you are writing, by watching TV shows and films or reading books in the genre. This will help you become more familiar with the tropes (expected elements) as well as cliches (overdone elements) in your genre, so that you can make your works stronger players in your genre.

Get some emotional comfort by returning to old familiar favorites. This can be a tremendous morale boost when you feel most down and discouraged about your poor health. Let these stories restore your faith in yourself and the world.

2. Analyze

While on the couch soaking in all these stories in films, TV shows and books, you can also learn quite a lot if you put on your analytical thinking cap.

Watch for instances of great pacing, plot, or characterization and consider what makes them work well. Ponder how you might make use of these observations to improve your own work.

Watch for instances of terrible pacing, rotten plots and unappealing characters. Consider why they don't work and consider how you can use this insight to avoid--or edit out--similar problems in your own work.

If you're able, jot down these observations, or leave yourself a short audio message to transcribe when you're feeling better.

3. Brainstorm

Many forms of brainstorming don't require quite as much mental or physical energy as drafting and revising do.

Jot quick notes on any of the following things: character traits, plot ideas, possible settings, cool details you could add, relationships and potential causes of tension. These could be electronic jots in a document that you can copy and paste into order later, note cards or post-its or pages in a journal.

Use the "reel it" method to visualize multiple ways a scene might play out.

Make messy mind maps--diagrams in which you jot words and draw connections using bubbles and arrows.

Make lists: of character's fears and pet peeves, of locales where scenes could take place, of possible false clues to plant in your mystery, of tech to research for your space-age setting, of songs to add to your prom-scene playlist. You get the idea.

Are you able to be creative when ill? Which of these ideas might you try?


  1. Hope you're better soon!

    I can usually write with a cold. But not with nausea, nor with intense pain.

    1. I fortunately didn't get quite as ill as my family members, but being nurse for them did make the topic fresh in my mind. Indeed, pain and nausea are "fill" times when you just rest and enjoy some light entertainment.

  2. Refill!!! I like that. I am a full-time freelance writer, so I'm expected to produce about 1,500-2,000 words a day for my clients. I can take a day off here and there, but something that lasted weeks? I'd have to power through. And as long as I'm writing about social media marketing and cloud computing, I may as well work on one of my books. That makes me happier!!!

    1. I can only imagine what full-blown flu might do to your schedule, when you have to be so very productive. Glad you found some useful ideas here.