How I write, edit, format, and publish 400,000 words a year while battling chronic pain.
I’m asked quite regularly how I manage to stay so productive while fighting EDS, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, POTS, and swings in my blood sugar which affect my health, so I thought I’d give you guys an insight into how I operate. It’s taken me a good two years to perfect this routine, and more than once I’ve thought about delaying releases, so I can lie around and feel crappy in bed. Luckily for me, I haven’t so far, and I think the fact that I’m a professed workaholic without a 9-5 job really does help keep me productive. However, there are some days where without the following tips, the following practices, I’d end up getting a grand total of fuck all done, so here for your viewing pleasure, is how I manage to stay productive as hell while keeping on top of my shitty health.
Eat the frog.
A common piece of advice to help with productivity but one which is the centerpiece of my working day. When I get up, I have coffee, breakfast, take a deep breath, and before I’ve even gotten a shower I begin writing. Writing is the one thing every day I have to fight to get done. Like all writers, I have that resistance against being creative and productive (If you want to know more about it I Suggest you check out THE WAR OF ART on the subject- Awesome book which I highly recommend by the way!) I find that if I leave it past noon, I start thinking, well if I don’t write today I can write double tomorrow, or well I’m ahead anyway so I can just put it off, or if I go for this walk first then I will write for definite! The thing is, eating the frog is the best way to overcome this, but it also works great in the context of having chronic pain and fatigue. When I wake up, I have maybe 3 or 4 hours before I’m exhausted again and need my mid-afternoon nap, so by getting the hardest task out of the way first, and by utilising the hours I have the most energy (after just waking up) I not only finish before I get fatigued but also give myself the satisfaction of knowing I’ve done the hardest task first. With this knowledge, I’m much more likely to be motivated to do the rest of my to-do list without procrastinating.
Sounds obvious right? Not for me! For the first year or so of my author journey, I felt so guilty about not being able to contribute to a regular household income I worked every hour god sent. Result? I ended up actually having less productive time overall because while I was working round the clock, I’d also wear myself out to the point I needed a week or two to recover. I felt like I was always scrambling to catch up after the crash, so no matter how I hard I worked it wasn’t enough. It was because of this I realised that to gain more long-term productivity, I needed to schedule rest periods every day, so I could continue being productive in smaller amounts but for a longer period of time.
Know your limit.
I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it. Working even though we feel like crap because we just have to get it done. I have become aware in the last two years that if I push myself to work when I’m flaring, or when I have fibro-fog or am suffering from fatigue, I’m making more work for myself in the long run. No, really. I’ve finished the chapter in that state but then had to go back and rewrite it anyway, and on top of that, it takes me three times as long to recover to a point where I can rewrite that chapter due to pushing it in the first place. Sometimes what we think is a step forward actually ends up being three steps back.
Get ahead of schedule.
Chronic pain is unpredictable, just like life, but there is a way to be semi-prepared for this. Get ahead of schedule. I get ahead of schedule by being aware of myself, of my limits. So if I’m having a good day, I take the opportunity and exceed my expected word count, or I might start a project earlier than expected. This means if I have bad days- an accident- or a family emergency, I haven’t got that stress of knowing I’m getting behind. It also helps with allowing me to know my limit and say no, because the deadline isn’t urgent, and so I have nothing to worry about. Less stress is the best way to make sure you keep your flares to a minimum. Certain things, like the temperature etc we can’t control, but a certain amount of stress, how we prepare for it and respond to it is within our control, and so I take advantage of my good days where I can, hoping they’ll make up for the inactivity of the bad ones.
Create manageable goals.
Don’t create goals you won’t be able to achieve. It sounds simple, but there’s a difference between hope and stupidity. I know I can write around 5k a day at a push, so I’m currently working to half that at 2.5k a day. If I fail in my daily targets, it makes me discouraged in the long run and I feel like this is why a lot of first time authors don’t finish what they start. If you think you can write X number of words a day, half it, that way you are sure to keep yourself motivated by knowing you are hitting your daily goals. It sounds easy right, 5000 words a day for 40 days is a 200k novel… but when it comes down to it the brain needs time to marinade in a plot, in ideas and just general time to recuperate so that it’s working at it’s most creative on a regular basis. Keep your daily goals small, but manageable for better stamina and more reliable results.
Keep your peeps informed.
More often than not, people are understanding about your health. The people I work with certainly are, but if I’m falling behind, I have to let them know. It’s respectful, and while it makes me feel crappy and sometimes like a failure if I tell them with adequate time before they’re expecting a piece of work, we usually can work out a solution together. Whether that be pushing back a release date, changing the schedule on edits or something entirely different and unique to you, always try to keep the people you are working with informed, they’ll thank you for it.
So, there you have it. Not everything which allows me to stay productive but the main ones which to me have really made a difference! My productivity has improved so much so in the last 2 years that now I’m finding time to run this blog as well, so if that’s not proof in the pudding, I don’t know what is!