Thursday, December 12, 2013

Guest Post by Maia Sepp

Creativity and Chronic Illness

Many thanks to Joe for organizing this fundraiser. My grandmother was stricken with Alzheimer’s in her later years, and it was heartbreaking. Every little bit counts towards ending this terrible disease.

I left a well-paying corporate job a little over a year ago to focus on my writing career, just like that, BAM. It was a supremely risky and out-of-character move, especially since my idea of living on the edge is wearing mismatched socks. I was fully aware that the standard (and sane) advice given to newbie writers was to keep working a full-time job until their books took off, and I was an unknown writer trying to make a living with just one novel and had no business going out on my own. But I had gotten to the point in my life where I couldn’t keep working enormous amounts of overtime in a grueling start-up environment, find time for my writing, and live with a chronic illness (migraine disease) that was getting progressively worse as I got older. It was time to change my focus.

I see a lot of advice around the blogosphere about being an indie writer, and other advice about how to live with chronic illness, but I haven’t seen a lot of advice on how to be chronic and creative, so I’ve put together some thoughts on ways to stay sane as an indie writer, optimize your time, and still hit your word count:

Nuts to That
Have the smallest nut you can possibly manage, and scale your lifestyle down if you need to. Save as much as you can, chuck the plastic, and get a pre-paid credit card. I’m a big believer in the power of living debt-free. Can’t afford a nice car? Get an old, ugly one; no one will steal it, and you might meet interesting people when you need to give it a jump. Can only afford a tiny home? Congrats, now you have less to clean! I’m currently able to write full-time because my husband and I live in a shack and I’ve been saving my pennies for years. Debt-free can mean less stress and better heath. Debt-free can mean freedom.

Find a Community
It’s tough to admit that you’re living (and maybe struggling) with chronic illness. It can be depressing, embarrassing, and difficult to communicate to others*. Don’t spend time with people who say they understand exactly what you’re going through, like the folks who insist that half an Excedrin Migraine tablet will fix you right up, or the ones who try to sell you on trepanning. These are not your people.

Divorce rates for couples with a chronically ill partner hover around the 75% mark. “In sickness and in health,” aren’t just a few mumbled words during a brief ceremony, they’re part of your daily life. Find the most awesome potential mate you can and then con them into dating you woo them with a romantic poutine dinner. Make sure to make your partner a priority, and get counseling if you’re floundering.

It’s also important to read as much as possible about others living with mental and physical illness, like Kiana Davenport’s moving account of her struggle with depression, posted here back in 2011. Find online resources for your illness ( is a great start). Join a support group IRL or online. Know that you are not alone.

Chuck the Chores
Protect your good days. If you can afford it, get a service to take care of household chores that you can’t manage when you’re sick and are not a fulfilling use of your time when you’re well. See if you can barter if you don’t have the cash. Get your groceries delivered, hire a cleaning service, offer your significant other sexual favors in exchange for yard work. Spend your good days writing.

Plunder Like a Pirate
One of the most awesome things about the indie writer community is the generosity of spirit that has motivated successful writers to share a huge amount of very helpful and specific information. But that excellent advice needs to be filtered through our own personal circumstances in order to make it useful for us. For example, there’s a lot of focus in the indie community on producing a large body of work in as short a time as possible**. It’s advice that makes a lot of sense, but committing to a large writing output and strict publishing schedule can be challenging if you simply don’t know how many good days you’re going to have this week. It’s easy to get discouraged by this or push yourself into a relapse. Instead, try to turn your focus on plundering the very best advice from the experts in your creative field and then adapting it to your personal capabilities***.

Then, spend the time to build a business plan that’s attainable but flexible ****. (I have a weekly, instead of a daily, word count, for example.) Learn how to make realistic goals, find out how to optimize your writing and business efforts so you can do more with less, build some buffer into your schedule, contract out publishing services that you aren’t proficient in, and push yourself when you can. It might take you a little longer (our family motto is “We get there eventually”), but it can be done.

I’ve had an interesting year. It turns out I actually really enjoy the business part of writing, and my background is in tech, so managing my website and coding my books is a snap. I’ve sold over 6,500 books in 25 countries, hit the Amazon top 100 (briefly), learned a ton, and have put together an awesome publishing team. But it hasn’t been easy; instead of getting better like I anticipated, my health is still a real struggle. On the bright side, the income from my debut novel is the sweetest money I’ve ever earned, and in a lot of ways this has been one of the best years of my life. I love my job and I still can’t believe that I get to fulfill my lifelong dream to be a writer.

Have any tips on how to be creative and chronic? Drop your idea into the comments!

My latest novel, “The Migraine Mafia”, is a humorous look at a nerdy thirtysomething’s attempt to come to terms with a chronic illness--and a tenacious support group. It has just launched, and is on sale everywhere for .99 from now until December 16th.

Happy Holidays everyone,

* If you’re having a hard time explaining your illness to your loved ones, check out the Spoon Theory.
**An interesting recent thread on tackled this issue:
****A good example of a business plan for writers is in “The Naked Truth about Self-Publishing.” Definitely worth picking up a copy.


Jill James said...

Maia, I suffer from 2-3 migraines a year. (yes, I know that is nothing in migraine-land) Every time I have one I lay there and try to imagine how others go through this monthly or weekly. I can't even begin. I can see, how you said, that a partner must be very understanding. Best of luck with your current book and future ones!!

Maia said...

Thanks Jill!

And thanks, Joe, for posting this.

Patricia Preston said...

Love your advice about being debt free. That is truly freedom in this day and age.

Maia said...

Agreed :)

Donna said...

I don't suffer from migraine's, but do suffer from another ch. disease. I like ur cover and looked at the bk on amazon. Most bks don't draw me in. After reading the excerpt I just had to know what happened. Yes. I bought the bk. I KNOW people like the people u wte about. I will keep an eye on ur carrer because u are a fantastic writer. I only read a bk thru til the end very rarely. But I'm doing that w/urs. Please keep wtg - u r GOOD.

Maia said...

Thanks so much, Donna!

antares said...

Took me a couple of days -- I have my own issues -- but I read the samples of both Sock Wars and Migraine Mafia. Good writing. Bought both.

ViviAnna/TawnyStokes said...

I too suffer from a chronic condition that has made writing difficult. But I believe I may have cured it, by getting some major dental surgery believe it or not. My blood pressure has even dropped. And I finally feel good for the first time in over 2 yrs.

Good luck to you Maia. I wish you mega success with this book and all your others.

Maia said...

Thanks, Antares!

Maia said...

Vivi - that's excellent news, hope it keeps up for you! Thanks for the good wishes.

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daayur said...

Great post. So interesting and full of facts

H. Raven Rose (@chocolatevamp) said...

Great post! Inspiring and useful. I have a sensitive immune system (POTS) and go in and out of symptoms, so this article was a treasure... as no writers that I know really discuss this topic. Checking out your web-site now. Kudos to JAK for his fantastic fundraiser, and exposure to so much inspiration.

Judy Walker said...

Thanks, Joe, for posting this on your blog, and thanks Maia, for sharing. I bought your book and read it in two sittings, nodding my head nonstop for the first few chapters. Not only did I enjoy "Migraine Mafia," but I felt almost normal after reading it, or at least part of a tribe again. ;) I suddenly developed chronic migraines 2 1/2 years ago, in the midst of fieldwork. (I highly recommend collapsing on a research boat an hour offshore with divers down--it makes the trip to the ER in rough seas so exciting!) Fumbled my way through my master's with perpetual sunglasses and meds that made me stupid. (I am now off the meds and have only my neurons and never really finishing Moby Dick to blame for the stupids.) For me the uncertainty is the hardest part. Uncertainty and backslides. I am never without some manifestation of crazy brain, and I never know when that will escalate into something exotic or something I can't fix with a protein bar or sacrifice to the almighty Java God. I'm freelance writing now, and I appreciate what you said about taking all those productivity recommendations and making them your own, in a structure that works for you even when your brain doesn't work for you. Lately I've been experimenting with scheduling, trying to match my daily brain rhythms to what I'm most capable of doing at that time of day. For example, even when I'm in my early afternoon fog, I can usually do research for nonfiction articles, maybe write queries. I'm having problems meshing my brain with my fiction writing, but it'll happen. Thanks again for reminding me it can.