Six Ways to Keep Working When You're Sick

What happens when you're in the midst of your work-in-progress, and sick happens?? Here is a handful of ways to keep working. |

I've read a number of interviews with successful authors, who say that they keep RIGHT ON WORKING when they're sick. Apparently the thinking is: What, I have the flu? Pfft. There's this NOVEL I need to write. Let's DRAFT. And off they go.

Man. I applaud that. But that is not my experience when I'm sick.

As timing would have it, I'm sick at the moment. Some kind of stomach bug thingie that I'm not especially enjoying. (And I can't tell you how funny I think it is that this hit right after my #30DaysNoWhining challenge started on Monday!)

So. I'm not whining. (I promise!) I'm just making sure my lunch stays in place and my cookies don't get tossed. So far, so good.

But it got me thinking about writing when sick. (Which, can we all say, is SO MUCH EASIER than traveling when sick. How many terrible stories are there about getting sick on the road. Yiiiiikes.)

I'm not all tough when it comes to working while being sick. Really. I wish I was rah-rah-rah about it, but I'm pretty much a softie.

That said, I still have a few questions for myself when those germs show up. I'll push through for a bit, but then I start asking myself: How can I step back from this hardworking pace, and yet still feed my work? How can I take a break--and, you know, get HEALTHY--but then re-enter my writing work in a good way?

My immune system is not completely super, so I've had a lot of chances to explore these questions. And at this point, when I don't feel so good, I have a good list of habits to help my work along while I rest. 

#1: Put your daydreams to work. 

Being sick has two qualities that are pretty great for writers: 1) most people will leave you alone when you get the word out, and 2) your brain is floating around in a dreamy state.

This is like a perfect recipe for daydreaming.

I think of intentional daydreaming like making a smoothie: put a few good ingredients together in a blender, and flip it on.

So when you're sick and you're crawling back to bed, mentally grab about three things from your work-in-progress. Maybe: a setting you want to explore, or a relationship between characters, a scene or a plot point that you're stuck on, a beginning or ending that you want to rework.

Stick some paper by your bed, and then crawl under the covers and doze. Let your mind wander about. Take naps and wake up and sleep again. And every time you're awake, take your brain for a little walk around those story questions you have.

Honestly, you might surprise yourself with what you dream up. Keep feeding your subconscious during the day, and jot down notes as ideas float by. You can deepen so many parts of your work this way... and it's practically effortless!

#2: Mindmap your way to better ideas.

More focused than daydreaming, but still along those same lines: Being sick can be a great time to explore your ideas in a more concentrated way. 

I've heard again and again that if you want to do better brainstorming work, you need to put yourself physically in a different space. And if you're leaving your desk for your bed, swapping a screen for paper and pen--well, you're halfway there! 

If you're feeling up to it, prop some pillows behind yourself, grab a big pad of paper, and create a mind map of a project or two.

Thanks to the dreaminess of being sick, you have a chance to have a looser process, to let more air into your work, and to just think differently as you brainstorm.

Take that chance to pursue some new ideas and let your mind ramble around in new territory. (I'm only just getting interested in mind mapping... here's a quick explanation if you're new to the concept.)

#3: Create a mini writing retreat.

What's something you want to learn about in your writing, but you don't ever seem to have a chance? Grab that writing book you've been meaning to get to, or explore the writing website you found but haven't yet read.

Fill your feverish little noggin with writing articles and podcasts.

And hey--if you're sick RIGHT NOW, and this writing retreat thing appeals to you, there's an online writing conference happening, the Self-Publishing Success Summit, which is free for a limited time. I've caught a few interviews and am definitely enjoying it! Perfect timing for sick little me! (I don't know when it stops being free, so run check it out!)

#4: Fall into an excellent novel.

This is a great time to dive deep into a book. Declare a reading holiday! 

Pick up a novel that's like the one you're trying to write, and as you soak in the words, push yourself to think like a writer.

Pay attention to where the plot tightens up, to how the character relationships unfold, to whether you want to keep reading (in spite of being sick!), or where the tension slacks off and you'd rather nap.

Jot down page numbers for where the description is spot on, or that perfect way they opened Chapter 14. Make a few notes, so that when you're back at your desk, you can analyze that good writing.

(If you can't keep your eyes open: let a quality audio book send you to sleep. Fill your dreams with superb sentences.)

#5: Have yourself a movie festival.

Find a few movies about authors, or writing, or really--anything to do with books. (When I seriously can't work for one reason or another, it's still nice to give the writing life a big old hug. It helps remind me why I love this work... and that never hurts!) 

You could also dive into a handful of that kind of movie that reviewers call "visual feasts." (Or any other kind of feast, really!) Rewatch some quirky films that delight or inspire you. 

Have yourself an inspiration picnic, right there amid the tissues and cough drops. Get your imagination all revved up. Nourish the places that might have gone a little dry, while you were being so productive before. 

#6 Exercise your grace muscle by letting yourself off the hook.

Look. If you're really really sick, just put the work to one side. Let yourself sleep like crazy. Heal.

Because ultimately--and you know this if you've been around here a while--I'm all about taking good care of yourself as a person first, and as a writer second.

And honestly, illness is a good time for me to re-orient on this principle. 

Because when things are going super well, I can start believing this lie that says, if I check every box on schedule, I can have a perfect writing life.

And then when I get sick, I am tempted to believe that everything is ruined.

Well, frankly, it doesn't work like that. And I'm slowly learning that really good things can STILL happen, even when our plans wreck and our perfect little schedules hit a snag.

So give yourself a ton of grace. And maybe some balloons and flowers. Snuggle into bed. Your work will still be there when you get up. You'll find your way back into it. 

And no fellow lionheart will get all furious with you if you just take the time to get well. Okay? 

Okay then. 

On that note, I'm off to bed. And until I'm on my feet again, I'll be doing a bit of #3, #2, and #5.

What sounds good to you? What will you be up to?