In this WMG Writer's Guide, award-winning author Kristine Kathryn Rusch offers words of wisdom for writers who suffer from chronic illnesses and who want to keep working, to improve their craft and spread their creative wings.
A long-time sufferer herself, Rusch reports from the trenches. She tells us her own struggle with health issues and how they challenge her. But none of it actually derailed her career; she worked out ways to keep writing, and in the process became an international bestselling author with hundreds of books in print.
Rusch helps writers customize a plan of action based on the writer's individual experience. She shows how to increase productivity by developing a positive, and realistic, outlook.
Importantly, Rusch points the way to reclaim the joy of writing, and celebrate success.
Last year, I upended my entire life because my chronic health conditions had become so bad that I could barely function. My husband and I moved to Las Vegas to be near some major medical facilities (rather than living in small town Oregon), and amazingly, with the right nutrition and a dry climate, my health has improved tremendously. But I have decades of experience managing ill health and maintaining an international writing career, so I figured I would share what I learned, which I have done here. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"[Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog,] The Business Rusch…is full of sound advice and analysis about what's going on."– Jeff Baker, The Oregonian
"There are lots of books out there about how to market your book. Some of them are good. Some aren't. Discoverability is one of the best…"– TeleRead
"Kristine Kathryn Rusch's new book Discoverability is by far the best resource I have read to date to help indie authors succeed after the book is written."– Chris Syme, Principal of CKSyme Media Group
I used to hide the fact that I had chronic health problems. When I was in my twenties and sick at least five days a month, I figured that was life. Everyone had health problems that knocked them on their ass at least one day per week, right?
I was raised by a difficult mother who had chronic health issues of her own, and who was, by the time I was old enough to pay attention, a full-blown alcoholic. My father, a functioning alcoholic, was never sick a day in his life—or at least, he never missed work. At his job, he accumulated sick days which never expired, and that gave him years of back pay when he retired.
My mother treated his good health like a fluke, and I took that in. Good health was unusual; bad health was the norm.
My health started to crater in my teens, after a very serious bout of mononucleosis. I was sick for six weeks and never quite the same after that. I'm not sure if it was a confluence of factors or if that illness did play havoc with my immune system. I've never asked a doctor about either possibility. I do know that going on the birth control pill in 1979 strongly exacerbated all of my health issues. I was nineteen. My migraines increased dramatically. I nearly walked into a zooming ambulance one afternoon because I was so zoned out with a headache that I didn't hear the siren or see the flashing lights.
The best doctor I ever had told me, in the 1990s, that the super strong pill of the 1970s destroyed the health of many women, most of whom had to go on disability because they couldn't work.
I get that. It would have been a struggle for me to hold a full-time job—the kind you had to go to every day and be present for—from my mid-thirties onward. By that point, I was down with a migraine or other health issues for twenty-one out of twenty-eight days. I learned to grade the migraines by severity. The severity levels had nothing to do with the real world and everything to do with me. Judging severity went like this:
Can I write? Yes/No
If yes, can I write fiction?
If no, can I write nonfiction?
If still no, can I read?
If still no, will a nap cure it?
If still no, take the damn day off and watch TV and hope the migraine goes away on its own.
Migraines were my body's way of shutting me down. I have a host of allergies, from serious fragrance allergies to food allergies that can make me seriously ill for days. I'm pretty sure the fragrance allergies are related to the chemicals used to make fragrances here in the United States; when I traveled through France and found myself trapped in duty-free areas reeking of perfume, I never had more than a case of sniffles. France heavily regulates its perfume industry, requiring natural ingredients.
I have learned, since I moved to Las Vegas, that I can sit in restaurants near all-natural perfume shops, but can't walk past the cleaning aisle in the grocery store. The cleaning aisle is filled with chemicals; the all-natural perfume shops are not.
But you didn't pick up this book to hear about my health problems. You picked this up because you're suffering from problems of your own, or you have friends or family members who suffer, and who also want to write.
When I told Allyson Longueira of WMG Publishing that I was compiling this book from my blog posts, I had thought that there were more posts about chronic health problems than there were. I thought I had been shouting about my bad health from the rooftops. Instead, I would mention the issue in passing and write about the solutions.
The mentions in passing made me realize just how much I've downplayed the illness side of my life, not just on the blogs, but in general. Tough it out, make it through, and never let them see you sweat.
I prefer being that woman. But I have a lot to share when it comes to living with and writing while suffering from chronic illness.
So I've put together this book partly from old blog posts, and with more new material than I expected.
I also decided to divide the book into two parts.
One part will deal with my personal journey. I don't think it's fair to talk about chronic illness without revealing some of what I'm dealing with on a regular basis. I know many of you want to read about that.
I also know that many of you don't care about what I'm dealing with at all. You just want to know what my tricks are for getting through the day.
Those of you who don't want the personal side should skip ahead to the section titled "The General Useful Stuff." The chapters in there will show you the structures I imposed (and still impose) on my day and life in order to get as much done as I have.
If you are suffering from debilitating health conditions, you have my heartfelt sympathy. I hope this book can help you. If you bought this book for a friend or loved one, thank you for recognizing what they're struggling with. A journey through bad health is always easier when someone sees what you're going through, even if they can't fix it.
I hope this book provides a few solutions for you. If nothing else, I hope it helps you realize that you're not alone. We all have issues and, I'm slowly realizing, it is easier when we discuss them with each other. That way we don't reinvent the wheel. We can build on what others have learned.
I hope you can build on what I have learned. And I wish you all the best.