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Writing with Disabilities: What I Wish I’d Known

If social media is anything to go by, writers can sit down at their laptops, a mug of tea at hand, and effortlessly produce whole books in weeks. It’s not uncommon for aspiring novelists to brag about writing a hundred thousand words in a single month. It’s impressive but it can also be intimidating. It’s very easy to fall into thinking that output ought to be the standard writers strive for. When we’re bombarded by messages that suggest our top priority should be productivity it can be a struggle to reconcile what you’re able to do against what you’re expected to do.

As someone with severe arthritis, these are the things I wish I’d known when I first started writing:

Be Aware of Your Limits.

There’s no magic number that will allow you to work at peak productivity without burning yourself out. In general, I’ve found that my body will reliably tell me if I’m doing too much. Being aware of my own symptomology, and tracking my pain levels have been invaluable for me in helping me determine whether writing is a viable goal for me that day.

The same is true of periods of depression or anxiety. If I force myself to write on days when I genuinely don’t feel up to engaging with my work, whatever I produce turns out badly. I’ve learned to accept that every day won’t be peak productivity and that my energy is best saved for days when I’m feeling ready to tackle the next part of my novel.

Let go of writing every day

I know, I know. It’s the gold standard of writing advice. And there is wisdom in it, for sure. Particularly for newer writers, self-discipline is vital. Making writing a consistent part of my routine during college enabled me to make time for that once college was done.

All that said, for disabled writers, this might not be a reasonable goal. A writer is no less valid and their process is no less important if they can’t write every single day. A good alternative might be to set a weekly or monthly word count or page goal so that it can be more easily adjusted to account for days when writing just isn’t happening.

Step Back from Social Media

Social media can be amazing places to connect with other writers and learn things to help us in the writing and querying process. But there is often a toxic emphasis on productivity and a sense of competition that permeates many interactions.

If I spend too much time on social media I tend to find myself spiraling into anxiety. It can be hard to remember that what we are exposed to online is carefully curated to give the impression of success. Every writer has their own path to publication.

Remember that Writing It Isn’t a Race

The temptation to hurry and finish a book can be overwhelming, especially when it seems as if every other writer has a finished novel, easily finds an agent, and gets a generous book deal. But again, those images don’t tell the whole story, and it’s important to understand that this isn’t a zero-sum game.

Your best bet to produce work of publishable quality is to take care of yourself and go at a pace that will allow you to make the best book you possibly can. Nobody can write your book but you, but to do that, you need to be able to make choices that will support your wellness during the process.

You can request Nathaniel as a sensitivity reader for your project on the Writing Diversely Directory.

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