Writing with Chronic Pain

I want to tell you a story, one that I tend to vaguely mention in posts with phrases like, “I have eye trouble,” or “I’m light sensitive.” Over the years I’ve stopped talking about it as much because I haven’t wanted to bother/bore people (and it’s just kind of a daily thing for me now), but I’m starting to realize when you don’t discuss chronic pain, people don’t realize the seriousness of the issue. And that while some things you do to alleviate pain may seem funny, it’s really not a laughing matter.

About seven years ago, something changed with my vision. It started with an ocular migraine. One moment I was fine, the next, my vision started to pixelate. A strange line appeared across my eye and kept pulsing so quickly I started to lose my vision. It got so bad that about 75% of my vision went out, and I had to grab onto walks just to walk around at work.

I thought I was having a heart attack.

Ocular migraines can last anywhere from moments to 30 minutes, and I’m on the longer spectrum. I’ve gotten them while driving, working, and writing. It used to terrify me every time it happened. Now? I’m just kind of used to getting them and just wait it out as best I can and hope that it doesn’t spark a full-on migraine.

About a month later, things got worse. My eyes had been wearing out faster than usual and I wasn’t sure why. Then one night, while I was looking at my computer, my vision completely doubled.

Ever since then, I’ve battled with pain in my eyes.

For seven years.

At the worst times, it feels like someone is shoving their fingers into my eyes and shining a bright light that I can’t look away from. My forehead is stuck in a vice. A certain level of light can start up the issue and then something as simple as looking at a computer or reading a book takes a painful toll on my eyes.

I’ve been to eye doctors and ophthalmologists. I went to the Mayo clinic. I tried medicines that have made me suicidal or caused insomnia. I’ve been told not to bother coming back because a doctor didn’t believe me. I’ve used prisms and been falsely diagnosed with lazy eye. I’ve tried eye drop after eye drop, changed glasses, had plugs inserted in my tear ducts, taken antibiotics for inflammation, etc.

The most anyone can tell me is I have severe dry eye, light sensitivity, and I used to have blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids. But even with all the treatments, and with my eyes as healthy as they’ve ever been, the pain is still there. I’m at least to the point that I don’t wake up in the morning and fear that I won’t have the eye strength to do work. But I don’t know how I’ll be in the evening when I want to write.

I live in perpetual darkness. The most light I might have on at my house in the evening is blue Christmas lights, or a single lamp, because more light than that is painful. And believe me, using full-spectrum lights for depression are NOT fun (though at least they help my mood).

To top it off, I also have chronic migraines. I take a medicine three times a day to keep them under control, but when they hit, they can be debilitating. And unfortunately, my eyes are the first to go down. I’ve thrown up because the pain was so bad. I’ve had to lay in complete darkness with cold cloths over my eyes and on my neck to stop the pulsing pain radiating through my skull and eyes. And there’s no telling how long the migraines will last. It could be a day. It could last several. If my eyes become even more sensitive to light, that’s generally my first sign a migraine is coming on.

I’ve had to fight tooth and nail at work to be placed in a darker location so I can actually perform my job. And I still have to wear a hat to block out what light comes near me because otherwise my eyes spasm and start to hurt. Sometimes I even have to wear sunglasses or put a shawl over my head to drown out the light. And you know, it gets tiring when people crack jokes about it. I see the looks people give me when they walk by and I’m wearing a hat inside or donning a pair of glasses so I can finish my work. I hear the snickers or snide remarks when I have my computer settings so low or use a blue background when writing so I can actually do something I love. I also hear the whole, “It’s just a headache,” comment or the scoffing, “WOW, you really are light sensitive, aren’t you?”

And it sucks. Because what people don’t realize is it also affects the things that I love most which are writing and reading. When I say that it takes me awhile to get through a book, it’s because it physically hurts to read for long periods of time. There are nights I want to write pages of my story, but if my eyes are having an issue, that goes out the window. I used to be over the moon when my favorite authors would come out with big books. Now I just dread seeing them because I know how much time and eye strain it’s going to take to get through the story. Yes, I know I can listen to audio books, but for me, it’s not the same. I can’t look at the text and visualize things as easily with audio books as I can while reading and holding books. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t use audio books. I have quite the library stacked up.

Reading used to be my stress reliever, and now I have to really work if I want to get through a story. And when it comes to editing my own stuff? It can be an absolute nightmare. I’ve had tears screaming down my cheeks trying to edit my writing because it hurt to read, but I needed to get my deadlines done. Even now while I’m writing this post I can feel my eyes watering and I’m closing them periodically to give them some rest. And it’s not just from staring at screens. It’s while I’m hanging out with people. Grabbing tea at a coffee shop. Gardening. Cleaning. Shopping at the store.

It’s always there.

I’m not writing all this to have people feel sorry for me, or to whine, that’s not the point. I just want people to understand that I do things like wearing sun glasses and hats or rarely pick up books these days not because I want to, but because of chronic pain. It’s not always visible, and believe me, eye problems and migraines have definitely caused my anxiety and depression to escalate.

I’m grateful the eye doctor I have now wasn’t like the others who told me not to come back. She stuck with me and has made things bearable for me. And we’re still hopeful that things will continue to improve over time.

So be kind to people who have invisible issues. You never know what’s going on behind their exterior wall.

Tips for Attending Conventions

One of the exciting (and scary) things about being an author is promoting your book at signings and conventions. Some people thrive on it, while others find it quite daunting, depending on the size of the crowd. Whether you’re eagerly awaiting your next convention or dreading it, there are a few things that you can do to make your table (and yourself) desirable to your customers and ways that you can also take care of your mental and physical health.

Presentation

  • Table display: Take time when setting up your table display. You want it to be eye catching and connected with your book in some way. Don’t just scatter things about. Have a method and direct customers’ attention to your most important pieces, whether that be the book, swag, newsletter, etc.
  • Appearance: You want to be yourself, of course, but there are ways you can dress to help promote your work. Perhaps wear a shirt with your book’s cover art or characters on it. Choose a saying from your book and proudly display that. Or just wear something that’s comfortable but also appealing to the eye, something that welcomes people to your table. Whimsical can also attract attention!
  • Bookmarks/business cards: Make sure you have plenty of these with you whether you’re at your table or walking around. This is a great way to make connections and also show off that you have all your ducks in a row. If they can’t make it to your table, at least they have something to take with them to look at later.
  • Elevator Pitch: Have an elevator pitch prepared for your book when you present it. This should last maybe two sentences or 15 seconds, something to engage the customers but not bore them. You don’t want to tell them your whole story over a five minute interval, otherwise what’s the point of buying the book? Now, if they ask more questions about it, be sure to answer them and let your passion shine.
  • Greeting People: You can set up your own routine for greeting people, but make sure to be friendly, open, and honest with them. Even if you’re having a down day, try to put on a smile and engage with your customers. You’re more likely to attract their attention and get them interested in your book.  Consider standing, too, when you greet people. You seem more engaged that way.
  • Dealing With Time Monopolizers: It happens. Someone stops at your table and starts chatting with you about your book but then goes off onto tangents or starts rattling off conspiracy theories while you’re still trying to sell. Obviously you don’t want to chase a potential customer away, but there are ways to halt the conversation. If another person walks up, politely say, “Excuse me” to the monopolizer and put your full attention to the other person. It might help them realize that you still have work to do. Try to disengage by saying, “It’s been great talking to you. I’ve enjoyed talking to you, but,” and indicate you need to get back to selling. And if they still won’t step back, you have to remember that this is a job. Sometimes you have to be a bit blunt and more curtly excuse yourself from the conversation.

Saving Money

  • Bring Food: When you attend conventions, quite often food prices are jacked up so you’re paying an arm and a leg for it. If the convention allows it, consider bringing your own food (sandwiches, power bars, chips, pita, etc). You’ll save money eating your own stuff and have plenty of it available too. Likewise, bring plenty of water too, because water bottles cost a ridiculous amount of money (and kill the environment). I typically just fill mine up at the water fountain.
  • Set a Budget: Just like the rest of the convention goers, it’s hard not to get swept up in all of the amazing books and items around you. If you plan to buy a few things, set a budget for yourself so you don’t spend more than what you make.
  • Purchase a Cart: You’re likely going to have a lot of items to drag around with you to conventions. Instead of straining yourself, and possibly risking medical bills by breaking your back, get a cart or dolly that you can easily move around with your merchandise. It’ll make loading and unloading much easier as well.

Health

  • Stay hydrated: It’s easy to forget to drink something while you’re busy greeting people and selling books. But it’s vital to stay hydrated. You’re going to be working the convention for several long hours, possibly in the heat. I’ve gotten sick from not drinking enough. So fill up that water bottle!
  • Eat: Same with drinking, make sure you eat something. You might want to wait until there’s a lull in people walking around, but you can take 10 minutes to eat a power bar or a sandwich. It’ll keep you energized and fight off the dreaded “hanger.”
  • Take a Break: If at all possible, try to take a break if you feel like you’re getting too overwhelmed. Maybe have a friend come with you who can cover the table while you go sit in quiet for a few minutes. Or, befriend your neighbors who can keep an eye on your things while you run to the bathroom or take a walk. It’s hard to be “on” for so long. Give yourself chance a turn off.
  • Wet wipes: This was actually a great suggestion from my friend Brian K Morris. It’s easy to start feeling sweaty, dirty, and just uncomfortable when you’ve been working your table. Have some wipes with you to clean your face, neck, and hands to help refresh you.
  • Wear comfortable shoes/clothing: I know this can be hard if you’re cosplaying, but try to wear something comfortable, especially when it comes to shoes. You don’t want to be hating your feet an hour into the convention.
  • Know the Ins and Outs of the Convention Place: You can save yourself a lot of stress if you know 1. where you’re supposed to set up, 2. where the entrances and exits are, 3. where the bathrooms and water are located, etc before you actually attend the convention. I’ve gotten so busy setting up before that I just blanked out on some of these basic things.

What about you folks? What kind of tips can you offer when attending conventions or signings?

Pirating Books

Pirating books. You’ve probably seen this topic in the news over the past couple of weeks and heard the heated discussion revolving around it. In short, a website called OceanofPDF, known for hosting pirated books, was recently shut down. Publishers like Penguin, HarperCollins, and Random House issued tons of take down notices, and eventually the requests went through. You can read more about it here.

This should be a good thing, right? A site that’s allowing people to essentially steal an author’s work is no longer able to distribute the pdfs. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of backlash in which authors are being called “Elitist” and selfish for wanting money for their work. Now granted, some of the people do have a good point. If they’ve already purchased the books and something happened to them, shouldn’t there be a way to get them back? Or what if they bought a paper version and want an e-book for the road that came out later?

First, if you lost the book, I’m sorry, but if you lost a DVD or music, you’d have to pay to get that back, too. If you want the e-copy, some authors will sell packages of e-books and the paper book, so you can just get it that way. Or just buy the e-book. Generally, e-books are priced a lot cheaper anyway. My paper book is $15, but my e-book is $3.99. I’m not asking you to pay full price for the e-book.

Some people have argued that 1. they don’t have the money for books or 2.  they can’t get them from the local library. Generally if you speak with a library about wanting a book, and there are enough requests, the library can buy the book or even loan it from another location. If you get the book around the time it launches, many authors put their novels on sale. Or they’ll do low sales or offer giveaways.

We’re not dragons stealing your money and cackling on top of our glistening hoard. Most of the money we actually make off of our books goes towards expenses in order to bring more books to you. Spend money to make money. So to have our work put on a site without our permission and to watch hundreds and thousands of people download it without us seeing a cent from it is…how is that fair?

I want to give you a look into how much it costs to actually publish a book. It’s different for traditional and self-published authors, but we all put money into it.

First, it starts with our time. I work a full-time job, and I spend most of my free time (what little I have), writing my novels. This is not just a casual hobby. This is something I want to turn into a profession, so I dedicate my time to it. I’ve taken courses in writing, storytelling, plot development, creative writing, (which costs money,) so I can create my books. It also causes a lot of emotional strain to do what I do. See Writing with Depression for clarification.

And then there are the other expenses once I’ve actually written the book. I have to pay for things like:

  • an editor
  • proofreaders
  • sensitivity readers
  • cover artist
  • promotional materials
  • book swag
  • programs like Scrivener and Adobe DC to format the books or a designer who can do it for me
  • buying the books themselves
  • tables at conventions to sell my books
  • hotels/gas/meals to travel and sell

It all adds up.

Most of the money that I’ve made from sales have gone back into my book or is being used to take care of costs for the next one. I’m not rolling in money, so yes, every dollar does help. Some people say, “Well, I’ll give you a review. That’s payment enough.” Look, any review is wonderful, and I’m grateful for it whether it’s good or bad. But the thing is, if everyone decided that’s how they were going to pay for the book, I’d have hundreds of reviews, but no revenue.

We pay money for movies, music, theater, etc, but when it comes to art and books, suddenly it’s just too expensive. I understand our economy is awful, and I’m drowning in debt as well. But it’s heartbreaking to realize that something I spent months or even years on is being handed out for free. If I want to give it away for free or drop the price, that’s my prerogative, and I would promote it so that people who are having trouble buying my book can get it for cheaper. Some say I get more readers if my book is given away for free. Hey, that’s great. I love getting more readers. But what about all the time and effort writers put into their craft? Does that mean nothing?

If it was just happening here and there, that would be one thing. But there are whole sites dedicated to this. I give books away. I reach out to libraries to see if I can get my books there so people who are low on cash can at least borrow the book. But that’s my decision and my right to do that.

I guess what I really want you to understand is that being a creator and doing something I love doesn’t mean that I don’t put a ton of work into it. I’m providing a service. Is it so bad that I would want compensation from it so I can keep creating and bring more stories to my readers?

I’d love to hear your opinions on it.

 

Self-Care for Writers

It seems fitting that I’m writing about self care after having to take time off of work due to a migraine. This is also why my post is coming out on a Wednesday. Normally I would have fought through it, kept working, and made it worse. The fact that I was going to write this post made me rethink my decision because, truthfully, if I’m going to tell you how to take care of yourselves, I need to listen to my own advice.

I’ve covered some of this in other posts, but I wanted to create a comprehensive list for anyone who feels burnt out or needs some support in regards to taking care of themselves. Many writers don’t know what kind of self care they should do when they feel low or if they need self care at all. Here are a few warning signs to start off.

  • Anxiety/depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of desire to write or writer’s block
  • Irritability
  • Self-doubt or feeling hopeless
  • Overwhelmed

Some are you going to say, “Well, Erin, I feel this all the time!” I understand. I feel a lot of this as well, but when it’s starting to affect your everyday life, you need to step back and take care of yourselves so you can stay healthy. A healthy mind and body will lead to better writing.

  • Take a break/ Do something you love: If you’re feeling low and the depression is creeping in, try to take a break and do something you love. Even if you think it’s just “wasting time,” it’s not if it makes you happy. Play video games. Read a book. Go to a pet store and play with some critters. Host a movie night. Watch youtube videos. Or sleep! Basically do anything except write if writing itself is causing so much stress. Contrary to what others say, you don’t have to write everyday.
  • Sleep: Writers are pretty bad about getting enough sleep. Either we stay up too late or get up too early trying to get those words out. Consider adjusting your sleeping schedule so you’re getting more rest both for your brain and body. You’ll find you’ll become more productive and feel better.
  • Get off social media: If you’re struggling with self-doubt or comparing yourself to others, get off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, etc. Shut technology down for a day and focus on you. Studies say that people often become more depressed after seeing all the accomplishments or exciting adventures their peers talk about on facebook. I know when I’m feeling overwhelmed, shutting down technology is my best route to recovery. It’ll still be there when you log on the next day.
  • Shower/Take a bath: If you’re stuck with writing, take a shower. Some of my best ideas come out there. And if you just want to get away from ideas and relax, take a shower or a bath for your body’s sake. I love how the water pounds across my ears and silences the world. For a moment, I just feel safe and like the world doesn’t need me. I’m doing this for me.
  • Take time for yourself: Make sure you’re taking enough time to rest and relax. If all you’re doing is overworking yourself to get that book done or meet social media standards, you’re going to burn out very quickly. Take time, again, to do something you love, or take care of yourself. Even setting aside a half hour a day to watch a favorite show or sit under happy lights is a great way to decompress.
  • Chores: This may seem like a strange thing to add in here if you’re stressed, but sometimes getting chores done helps me unwind. Cleaning, paying pills, making medical appointments, going shopping, etc.. Sure, it might be boring or frustrating at the time, but by the end of the day, you’ll have accomplished so much. Last Sunday I managed to get a bunch of chores done and that cleared my mind up to write for a little while.
  • Therapy: If you’re struggling with crippling self-doubt, depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, consider talking with a therapist. I see one regularly to help me keep my head on straight. People will say, “Oh, others have it worse” but whatever you’re going through is valid. If something is making you upset or hurting your quality of life, then it’s important to get that treated. Seeking out therapy is not a weakness. It shows strength.
  • Listen to your body: If you’re getting sick a lot, or you just don’t feel well, listen to your body. It may be telling you that it’s time to slow down. We only have one body and one brain. If either goes out on us, we’re in trouble. So take care of yourselves. If you’d tell someone else to go to a doctor, take off of work, or rest if they feel like you do, then please take your own advice.
  • Support team: Build a support team so that, when you’re struggling, you know who you can turn to. Maybe you just need someone to listen to you as you struggle through your writing ideas. Maybe you need a hug or a reminder that you’re enough. Either way, reach out when you need support. You don’t have to go this alone. That’s what’s both so important and wonderful about having a writing community.
  • Write your feelings: We may all get writer’s block, but I guarantee we can all write about how we’re feeling. No one else has to see it or know that you’re writing it. Create angry poetry, construct short stories, write a blog post…do whatever feels right to help you acknowledge your emotions and work through them.
  • Hydrate: When we get wrapped up in writing, it’s easy to forget some basic needs like drinking water. And sometimes we can forget that tea is a diuretic. So make sure you’re hydrating your body (even if it does mean a lot of pee breaks away from your computer).

These are just a few tips to keep in mind when things feel rough. I’m sure you all have your own self-care methods, so feel free to share them below!

Just remember, you matter, what you feel is valid, and you are worthy of self care.