In the last blog issue about craft of writing, I specifically dealt with writing and disabilities. I spoke about physical disabilities that interfere with the writing process. We covered about transcription and dictation as alternate forms of writing and how they help those who might not be able to sit at the keyboard for long periods of time. In fact, for most people it can be a great option to add to their repertoire beyond writing longhand. Now we’re going to discuss more about those who have mental, emotional and mixed disabilities and what they can to do aid their writing.
Mental disabilities are hard sometimes when it comes to writing. One day, you can remember every character in your story and their entire character arc. The next day, you have trouble remembering their full names. You even have issues with remembering each scene even when you just told your writing partner what you plan to write for the day. I think for myself, it was the mental disability I had the hardest trouble forgiving myself. I felt like I let myself down– which was the stupidest thing in the world. I had lived on borrowed time actually and it caught up with me. My chronic depression and other issues managed to not only cover my ADD, but also helped utilized skills that normally come into play during high stress moments. For me, I had them in use for over twenty years of my life on a daily basis. People were often amazed on how I could hear and keep track of multiple conversations, whatever I was doing and accurately deduce how things might play out depending on what was happening around me. Since my breakdown- not so much. I’m lucky if I can pay attention to what I’m doing much less what’s happening around me. It’s like someone put blinders on me and sometimes they cover even what I’m supposed to be doing.
First and foremost, let me advocate good doctor’s care. If you can go to a doctor or a therapist or both– do so. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself as a writer. Sometimes the problems can be helped with medications, some therapy, and occasionally with going to classes to relearn how to do things in new ways. For me, it was all three and I’m still not done with therapy, nor do I think I will ever be in the long term– and that’s okay. Medication is a must for me– my mental disability is such that my brain chemical makeup is deficient in some areas and without that medication– I cannot function well and at the top of my game without it. To make me do so is to put my at risk emotionally, mentally, and physically. It’s something I’ve accepted and honestly– it’s something you as a writer MUST consider. If your doctor’s have suggested a medication program for you– it’s not just to push a medicine on you- it’s to help you. If you don’t like one medicine, ask about others in the same regimen. There are many that are low cost, effective that can help you no matter what your problem is. I lucked out in one way- the medicine I use for my chronic depression was recently discovered to help with ADD. So by upping the dosage, I don’t have to take two medicines, but stay on one medication only, reducing the chances of interactions. Let me say this as well– therapy helps. It’s a safe place to voice those things you can never say to the people you love and those you admire. It’s a place where you can talk about feeling like crap and wanting to get even but not knowing why you feel that way. Therapy was and is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and I wish I had done it earlier in my life. There’s so much I’ve learned about my past, my interactions with others, and my perception of self that I hadn’t realized– and that plays heavily with dealing with my mental disability.
Second, once you’ve done the medical thing, the therapist thing (you might need to try a few to find one who is right for you), you might also go to some workshops to find out new ways to handle your disability. You might find out that by rearranging your furniture a certain way helps you to feel less stressed because it opens up areas, even if it doesn’t look like it to others. You might learn to keep a notebook to have lists of things to check off because by keeping those daily lists, you feel you’ve gotten something accomplished every day, even if others laugh at your weird habit. One of my ADD workshop buddies taught me something I’ve learned to do every day when I come home after I greet my dog, Shango. I sit on the couch with him and I take three deep breaths. When I exhale the last time, I whisper to myself, “It’s okay, everything is fine. Take a minute to think about what comes next. Don’t just run around looking for stuff.” See, if I don’t do that, I’ll get up and wander around, knowing I’ve got things to do and I’ll do a bit of everything and not get anything fully finished except dinner! But when I sit and I give myself that five minutes to relax and think, I can look around and make a mental list of things I know I have to do now and things I can wait until later on or maybe wait. It helps a lot so I don’t get overly anxious.
Writers need to do that when they have disabilities. They need lists. Whether it’s researching for a book, prepping the book for prewriting, lists and plotting sheets for writing itself, then specialized lists for editing– there are a good many handicapped writers who need that help. We might have been pantsters at one point. In fact, there are moments when we still are. I am once I get going, but I still have my point plot sheets to help me know where I’m writing towards. Without it, I’d be lost. But as things got worse, I’ve learned I need more worksheets and other items to help me keep things straight. You might need that as well. One great place to start is Lynn Viehl’s blog that has a lot of freebies to help with plotting and planning in your writing. Another fantastic source is called Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, PhD. If you don’t have this book, I highly recommend it whether you’ve got writing issues or not. It’s fantastic to help you write faster as well as writing smarter. Beyond that, the worksheets are phenomenal! She’s graciously allowed Writers Digest to have them on their website for downloading purposes for anyone who wants them. Trust me, if you have problems remembering details about your book, your characters, or needing a guide about your turning points in your storyline– these sheets are for you!
There have been many times my emotions have gotten the better of me as a writer. I suffer from chronic depression and in my family, we have members who are bipolar. It’s something I have to watch out for. There are a few other issues as well, something I keep on guard because I have tendencies towards the manic/panic moments as well as blank times where I recall nothing. It’s part and parcel of who I am. I tell you this to let you know, you’re not alone. You’re not. Emotional handicaps come in all shapes, all sizes, but they can be helped and managed. Yes, mine are helped with medication, therapy and honestly– with my writing. How? I make it a point that three to four times a week, I must go walking and I must dictate at least fifteen minutes on those days. A little secret for you, exercise helps regulate the emotions easier than not doing anything. I know it seems weird, I even told my doctors they were out of their freaking minds, but they’re right. Fifteen minutes a day for at least 3-5 times a week helps most people by 70-85%. The idea behind it is that emotion needs a place to go, sometimes it bursts out, other times it fizzles when your mind is engaged elsewhere. You can’t be mad all the time when you’re walking and looking at other things. You can think about what you’re mad at, but after a while, the mad starts shifting, changing into various ways of how to handle the mad, not that you’re just mad. Same thing when you’re anxious. If you’re upset and worried, if you go walk or swim even pick up your crochet, after about ten to fifteen minutes, your heart rate drops, your breathing becomes less intense, your mind starts to less its intensity on the anxiety and more on what’s around you or on whatever you’re doing.
Sometimes it’s hard for people with emotional issues to put those emotions on paper. It can bring up a lot of other things in their mind. Let me be honest–I sometimes deal with touchy subjects in my writing. Some of those subjects I am on intimately familiar terms. Do those emotions come up when I write about them? Damn straight. Does it make it hard to get on paper? Yes, every single moment of it. But once it’s down on paper, there’s a release of sorts. It’s a catharsis for me. I get to let most of it go because though it’s not exactly what I’ve gone through, there’s enough of the emotion there, that I’ve relived it, I’ve changed how it could and should have been handled and I’ve made a peace that I didn’t get to do back then. Many times, that’s what those of us with emotional issues wish we could do– go back and change time. Go back and tell people off who raped us, told us we were worthless, who devalued us, and more. We want to stand up to the bully and give them what for and more. We want to tell the passive aggressive that mistreated us as a child that they need to grow up and get real. Yet, every time we write, emotionally, it can get very weary trying to deal with emotions that sometimes we’re unfamiliar with and some we’re so familiar, it can damage us further. There is a book called Coping with Trauma by Jon G. Allen. It’s the book that my doctor and I went through my first 6 months of therapy. I bought the book for my own personal reading and let me tell you, as a writer, as a person– it’s one of the best investments in myself I could ever make. I learned about PTSD (which I badly suffer from), attachment issues (which are correctable, regardless of your age!), and how to change the way you respect yourself. What I find funny now, when I read the book, I thought I’d keep it because it would be good for me to review it when I got stuck. I never realized I’d be looking in it because I’d need to bring out points in my characters to life because they had issues just like we do and I wanted to be sure I dealt with them correctly.
Memory disability is something particular I want to say in closing. A friend of mine deals with this. In fact, it’s something we share, though mine isn’t as bad as hers, though I have to worry about Alzheimer’s as time goes on. As an author, she’s been a good friend and a fantastic writer. What stunned me is when we talked recently, she shared just how much she had to put down on paper to track because of her memory issues. I thought I was the only one. I knew about her back problems, so I knew she couldn’t always sit at the computer writing. She needed constant up and down breaks, as she called them. She shared a lot of worksheets with me. In fact, she reminded me of the workshop we had taken together of Morgan Hawke’s that became a book, The Cheater’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance For Publication and Profit. It sent me scurrying for my old binders with worksheets and such that I had acquired when I was first writing and I needed these things because I was learning the process of writing. Then my friend said something very profound to me. She said, “You’re relearning what you learned again. The only thing different is that you’re going up to a higher level this time, just like we were told by another author, remember? Just keep working on it, in time this too will ease up until you have only the things you need and nothing more.”
She’s right, of course. I still have my writing skills, I just can’t access them as easy as I used to. Funny thing, I actually write on a deeper level. My characters want to do more. They want to have this richer plot and save the universe kind of things. Which means I can indulge my other dreams and expand my genre horizons. It’s part of being handicapped- you’re not burdened by being told it can’t happen that way. You can make it happen any way you want because you’re the one living this life– and if you can dream it, put it down and make it sound feasible– then it’s happening. For me, it means I’ve got tons of worksheets, figuring out which ones I like and which ones are useless to me. It might mean I might need to make up my own that are crosses between a few of them. Yet, it’s okay. It might be the same way for you. One thing is for certain for those with memory issues— lists, marking the time, and how you feel is always important. I discovered this when my friend got me to sit with her and write for a bit. She kept asking me how I felt after we would write for 20 minutes. After about 40 minutes, I realized why. I was starting to tire a bit, but more importantly, the head was a bit fuzzy. It was time for a break. Still, at the same time, I felt good. I had written/transcribed a lot of story and my memory had popped in with what was going to come up next. It was amazing! So don’t sell yourself too short. Train yourself on those short minutes. Take that time, start at 5-7 minutes intervals of writing or dictating, even just writing by hand. Then when you go to the next step, you’ll remember what you were thinking as you type it up, if you were dictating or handwriting. It’s so nice when just those things bring back memories you thought you had lost for good. Worksheets and scene cards come in handy for these as well. I think my writing life will be ruled by scene cards as time goes on. But that’s okay–if it means I’m productive and my work is better each and every book– I’ll take it.
So remember, regardless of your disability– make peace with yourself. Take the time to see a doctor or a therapist if you haven’t yet. They might be able to ease some of your burden and even refer you somewhere to get you some help that might be free or low cost to you. Further, make use of online resources for writers. Seriously, that’s why they’re there. Research the topic “worksheets for fiction writers” and see what you find. Check other authors’ websites, you might find they have worksheets from workshops they’ve given. I do a worldbuilding workshop and have worksheets that I use. I’m actually revamping my Plotting for Pantsters workshop and worksheets to reflect the change in how I’m having to do things. Don’t think you’re alone– you’re not! Find others like yourself. Let people know that you might not be able to do some things because you have a handicap– that you might take a bit longer. You just might be surprised if someone else pipes up saying they are too! Disabilities sometimes define who we are, but they don’t have to limit us– we can redefine them as we learn how to use them to the best of our ability. We might never be able to fully BICHOK, but in the spirit of the term, we will always give our best and write as much as we are able!