When Pain Makes It Hard, How to Keep Writing

Filed in Writers on Wellness by on August 17, 2016 • views: 2678

by Pat Stoltey

2015 was a bad year for me, a year of stress and discomfort way beyond my usual challenges with arthritis and fibromyalgia.

The laundry list of unfortunate incidents is too long to chronicle here. Two of the biggies: I spent more than three months early in the year healing from a broken bone in my foot. Then in October I had a total knee replacement.

I spent a lot of time last year whining about crutches and wheelchairs and walking boots and my demanding physical therapist.

Two half-finished mystery manuscripts grew moldy from neglect. The plots began to fade from my memory and the characters wandered off to do their own thing.

But throwing in the towel is not in my nature. My most recent novel was released November 2014, so I pushed myself to do a bit of book promotion through social media and my blog. I dug out an old unpublished historical mystery, tweaked it here and there, and submitted it to my publisher.

We Can’t Afford to Waste Time

In September, between the broken foot and knee surgery, I hobbled through the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference and (unsuccessfully) pitched one of my not-quite-finished mysteries to an agent.

Time must not be wasted. I’m more and more aware of that fact as I get older. I turned 74 in May, and I didn’t start writing for publication until I retired from my real world job and had satisfactorily indulged my wanderlust phase.

I was 65 when my first novel, The Prairie Grass Murders, was released by Five Star/Cengage.

Things That Help Ease Chronic Pain

How does one focus on writing and book promotion when joints and muscles balk at too much sitting? When laptop use leads to neck pain? When lack of activity causes weight gain but exercise results in injury? When all that discomfort leads to sleep deprivation? That’s where I was in 2015.

But where there’s a will, there’s usually a way. Being aware of our body’s peculiarities and limitations is the first step.

For instance, I know that one of my biggest physical challenges is the result of bad posture, partly from years of desk-sitting and computer use and partly from shifting body positions to take the pressure off the parts that hurt that day.

Several years ago, I took a series of exercise sessions from an Egoscue clinic therapist. I have a routine of stretches and positions intended to balance the body and bring it back into alignment while easing the muscle spasms that often accompany injury, arthritis, and other chronic pain conditions.

If I do this easy series of stretches and exercises every day, I feel better. It’s hard to get up and down off the floor with the knee problems, so I’ve adjusted to doing the exercises on my bed.

alignmed-asia-womens-back-black-psThere are Egoscue clinics and workshops across the country for those who want to give it a try, but a full series of sessions is not cheap. Pete Egoscue’s book Pain Free is a more affordable option. It does help to read it and try out a few of the techniques illustrated.

I also purchased an AlignMed posture shirt (pictured at right) that helps on days I plan to sit in front of the computer a lot. Its gentle pull reminds me not to slump.

There’s a cheaper option for this as well. A physical therapist once had me stand very straight, and then she used a skin-safe tape to make an X on my back from shoulder to below the rib cage.

Again, that gentle pull reminded me to sit up straight.

And sitting or standing straight relieves a lot of pain. I’d recommend having a physical therapist help with the positioning of the tape the first time. My therapist even made little x’s on my back with a marker to help my husband learn where to place the tape.

How a Scottish Terrier “Encourages” Me to Walk

As most of us know, weight gain follows inactivity and overeating. Immobility in 2015 left me a good 30 pounds overweight so losing that fat is on my agenda for this year.

My walking encouragement, Sassy.

My walking encouragement, Sassy.

To help with knee surgery rehab and weight loss, I bought a recumbent exercise bike and placed it in front of the television. It has helped increase the flexibility and bend in my new knee, but that process required little resistance or speed. Now I’m working on raising the bar by increasing the resistance.

Walking, a much cheaper exercise option, is also a part of my new routine. Adopting my brother’s Scottish Terrier helped me get moving because she loves to take walks outside the yard.

“Walks” is a euphemism for her dragging me along the sidewalk as I scramble to keep up. I probably wouldn’t be walking this fast this soon without her “encouragement.”

My Novels Are Weeping Because I’ve Neglected Them for So Long

My biggest emotional challenge as a writer is the stress of overcommitting and then scrambling to meet my obligations.

In the midst of arranging to have new carpet installed and trying to figure out how to get my 97-year-old mom moved from Illinois to Colorado, I have responsibilities for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog, my own blog and book promo, the edit letter and materials needed for my next novel release (I just signed the contract), the submissions I agreed to judge for the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, and a laundry list of other tasks I agreed to do.

My two novels in process are weeping because I’ve neglected them for so long.

When I was younger, I pushed beyond my limits and often ended up with a cold or fierce headache and sleepless nights. My busy, worried brain would not shut down.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned a few things about dealing with the overload.

How to Deal with Project Overload

I put a lawn chair outside in the sun and soak up 15 minutes of Vitamin D. I sit up straight and relax my muscles from neck to ankles. If I need more time, I fix a glass of iced tea and move into the shade so I can watch the birds and butterflies.

Several times a week, I take a 60-90-minute nap on the couch with my legs elevated. Often Katie Cat and Sassy Dog are nearby, if not piled on top of me. Our animals can soothe by their presence but if they’re close enough to pet, even better.

Pat napping on the couch with Sassy Dog and Katie Cat.

Taking 30 minutes to use the weed whacker, or plant flowers, or fill the bird feeders, or ride the exercise bike relieves tension in mind and body.

Despite It All, I Keep Writing

Writing has been a long and twisty journey for me. My real world work experience included long hours, crazy deadlines, and the pressures of working with people in teams, preparing me well for the writing life.

My expectations were reasonable, so I was not devastated by rejections or the months and years of work before getting published. My worst moment was my first face-to-face agent pitch session that did not go well. Now I tell that story to make people laugh.

In spite of the hurry up and wait, the nose-to-the-grindstone push to finish by a deadline, the uncertainty, and the necessity to do all that blatant self-promotion, I keep writing. There’s always one more idea I want to explore, one more character that’s begging for a chance to be heard.

I expect I’ll keep on writing until something in my mind or body breaks down and ends it all.

The Only Person I Would Encourage is the One Who’s Already Writing

Anyone who’s toying with the idea of becoming a writer is probably not serious.

The person who says she’s going to write a book someday probably never will.

The only person I would encourage is the one who’s already writing, who can’t help it because the ideas and the characters are rushing around his head and the only way he can make them stop is to put them on paper.

I would tell that person to grow a very tough skin, be calm and patient, work hard and educate himself in grammar and writing rules (so he can break the rules deliberately instead of accidentally), sit up straight when at the computer, move around every 30 minutes, and never ever give up.

* * *

Patricia Stoltey author photo 3Patricia Stoltey (aka Pat) lives in beautiful Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Katie Cat, and Sassy Dog. She has written two amateur sleuth mysteries starring older protagonists, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders.

Her standalone, Dead Wrong, was a finalist for the 2015 Colorado book awards in the thriller category.

To learn more about Patricia and her writing, visit her blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Goodreads.

DeadWrongFrontDead Wrong: Newlywed Lynnette Foster’s cop husband punches her in the face, but this first assault will be the last. She leaves him and boards a flight from Miami to Los Angeles. At the airport, a foul-mouthed thug known as Fat Ass Sammy Grick carelessly switches Lynnette’s laptop case and his own. Sammy’s boss sends a hit man to recover his property.

To complicate Lynnette’s life, eleven-year-old Grace McCoy follows her off the plane during the Denver layover. When Lynnette discovers her husband was murdered a few hours after she walked out and she’s a person of interest, a killer is hunting her down, and she needs to protect the runaway child as well as herself, she doubts her life will ever be normal again.

Available at Amazon.

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Comments (20)

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  1. You’re so inspiring, Patricia. I also bought a recumbent bike last year. I don’t use it much except in winter except when my knee hurts too much to walk.

    • Hi Susan! The bike is a big help in winterwhen the sidewalks are snowy or icy or the weather too darned cold and windy. When it snowed this spring and Sassy was here, my husband shoveled trails around the yard and that’s where we did our outside exercise. When I got on the recumbent bike, I had the cat in my lap and the dog barking at my feet on the pedals. It was a challenge.

  2. The way you handle obstacles is very impressive, Pat. Hope everything goes well for you from now on!

  3. So delightful to see Pat here! Thanks, Pat, for sharing your experiences dealing with chronic pain, and your solutions. I think you make such a good point in saying that time needs to be used wisely. Just because life throws things our way, doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to deal with it all. Thanks for your example.

  4. Natasha Wing says:

    I’m getting one of those shirts. Computer posture and inactivity is a problem for writers. Thanks, Pat. Be well.

  5. You and your posts always inspire me, Pat. I’m even sitting up straighter now. 🙂

    • I even do that to myself, Madeline. I realize I’m slumping or something starts to ache, and I straighten up fast. Even walking I find standing straight takes the pressure off my knees and I feel better.

  6. I’ve been kicking myself lately because I don’t seem to have the drive or energy I used to. Ha! I’m sorry for your pains last year and hope you’re getting back to normal.

    • Shannon, I feel lots more normal…at least I did until I tripped over a rolled up carpet runner four weeks ago and smashed my nose against the arm of a chair. It seems funny now (haha) because the bruises are almost gone and the nose is still sitting at the correct angle where it’s supposed to be… Okay, that aside, yes, we do tend to drag a bit more as we get older, but a lot of stretching (and some serious relaxing) help a lot. It’s important to keep moving, but also to learn the art of relaxation. In today’s world, it’s not always easy.

  7. April Moore says:

    Pat, I have always admired your tenacity and productivity. I firmly believe that it’s because of you our critique group is going still going strong after…what–14 years?! Your attitude, perseverance, (and probably a bit of stubbornness) is what keeps you publishing amazing novels and I’m fortunate I get to work with you!

  8. Mason Canyon says:

    Great photos, Pat, and great advice. I’ve discovered that since I sit at the computer more than I use the weight gain is a problem, along with neck pain. It’s easy to lose track of time and spend way too much time sitting in the wrong position. I’m making an effort to get up more often and make sure I sit properly. BTW, you don’t look 74 – more like 64.

    Thoughts in Progress
    and MC Book Tours

  9. I love that picture of you.

    Be glass Sassy is an English Terrier and not a big dog. Then she would be dragging you.

    I sit in front of the computer a lot but I’m up every ten minutes or so moving around. Having a ton of nervous energy helps me ther.

  10. Smart to realize that at a certain point, you just can’t do it all anymore.
    Getting exercise and stretching is great for any age.
    Sassy should be grateful she’s a small dog or she’d have to join the cat.