I live with fibromyalgia and chronic pain. And while I'd love to say that my disabilities don't affect my ability to write romance novels, they do. Often.
Chronic pain makes everything harder, from brushing your teeth to plotting your novel. Luckily, I've found a few ways to make progress on my latest story even if I'm in a bad flare. These ways allow me to listen to my body's pleas for low light and low cognitive loads as well as my writer brain's plaintive cries to get all the ideas out of my head and onto a page. Hopefully, they'll help other fellow spoonie writers figure out how to escape into their fictional worlds each day no matter their symptoms.
1. Use flare days for character development.
Character development is by far my favorite part of the writing process. I'm a character-driven writer, so once I've created my main and side characters, the rest of the story comes together relatively quickly. Character development is also, I've found, easy enough to do with brain fog, flares, and fatigue—as long as you've found a reliable method that works for you. I have two.
Method A is one I use day to day when my symptoms are minimal. It's an outline of everything about my characters, from their ages to their emotional wounds and hair color. I created it in MS Word, because that's my preferred writing program, in part because you can set the color settings so the screen is black (which is great if, like me, you have light sensitivity). If you, too, are an MS Word fan, then check out the template and tweak it, reorganize it—do whatever you need to so it works for you and your writer brain.
Method B is one I use when my eyes can't handle even the darkest f.lux setting combined with MS Word's night mode, or if sitting in a position that allows for typing isn't feasible. Method B is just good old pen and paper. With pen and paper, I brainstorm how my characters would react to certain situations. How would my hero react to finding out that the coffee he so depends on to start his morning is out of stock at his local grocery store? What would my heroine say to a catcaller? These situations might sound random, but imagining my characters in everyday situations helps me develop their voices, which makes writing dialogue much easier. And yes, I am extremely sad that catcalling is an "everyday situation."
2. Scroll your way through world-building.
When I'm flaring, or if I'm at the end of the day and have run out of energy, the first thing my brain might want to do is escape into my made-up fiction world, but that impulse has to fight against the desire to scroll through social media looking at pretty images on Pinterest. Thankfully, I've figured out a way to do both, and get some world-building in to boot!
World-building, my second favorite part of the writing process, is always primarily visual for me. That's because I'm a visual writer, so I need to imagine the settings where each of my scenes takes place. This means scrolling through Pinterest looking at interiors, using Google Maps to inspire street plans for fictional towns, and browsing for pictures of the season in the real-world area near that fictional town to inspire sensory details. I'm constructing my world, which makes writing way easier, and I'm still fulfilling my need to look mindlessly at a screen.
3. Make a character development playlist.
I find audio very soothing, whether it's music, audiobooks, or podcasts. It's especially helpful when I'm flaring; directing all my attention onto a TSwift beat or the climax of an Anthony Horowitz audiobook never fails to distract me from my aches and pains. Using music as a vehicle for character development is something I was inspired to do by the amazing Sarah MacLean; her newsletter often includes playlists for her books, and one got me thinking: what if I made a playlist for a character? And each song was the vibe of each beat in her character development arc?
I'll confess I'm still working on my first character development playlist, but it's been such a fun activity during my latest flare.
I hope these tips make it easier for fellow writers living with disabilities to get their inclusive romance novels out into the world, because we need and deserve them.