Monday, September 25, 2017

Rachel Burton: Living with chronic illness

Today we welcome Rachel Burton to the blog to give an insight into writing when one has a chronic illness. Thank you, Rachel for such an insightful piece.

Writing through Chronic Illness

I work full-time as a paralegal in a large law firm in Leeds and I also struggle with chronic illness -
fibromyalgia and endometriosis in my case. As you can imagine, writing books as well is very much a case of careful management of both time and energy. I know a lot of writers, particularly those writing their first novel are in a similar position, so I thought I'd share a few things that I discovered, mostly through trial and error, that helped me.

Write little and often
When I was writing my first novel I set myself a writing goal of 300 words a day. I know that seems a very small amount but it felt manageable alongside balancing my work and my health. And here's the thing. I often ended up writing more than that, but knowing I only had to sit down and write 300 words meant that I sat down and wrote nearly every day. And sitting down and writing nearly every day is how you get that first book written!

Move as much as you can
This is important for all writers but perhaps the most for those of us with chronic illness who feel too exhausted to go to the gym or for a walk. On days when I know I'll be sitting at my desk writing for a long period of time, I set a timer for every 45 minutes and when it goes off I get up and walk around the room, or have a stretch or dance around the kitchen for a couple of minutes. It really helps get your energy moving again!

I don’t necessarily mean sitting cross-legged on the floor in silence (although if that floats your boat I highly recommend it - nothing beats it for a restorative practice in this crazy busy world). By meditation I mean allowing yourself to find time to just be, to let your brain slip into neutral and have a rest. Not only is this restorative but it's also the place where I unravel the most plot holes. Otherwise known as daydreaming, it can be done in the bath, while staring out of the window, sitting in the garden or on a gentle walk.

Don't forget to do things you love
It can feel sometimes as though every spare minute that you have should be spent writing. I tried to do that and didn’t find it particularly conducive to either my health or my writing process in the end. Give yourself time to do the other things you love as well. Read, knit, crochet, watch TV, cook, go to a yoga class. We can load the guilt on ourselves sometimes and buy into the idea that a lot of time spent doing these things is wasted time but balance is important for your energy levels and your creative brain.

Make sleep a priority
It's tempting to stay up late writing, or to get up early to write before work, especially if we see other writers doing the same. But when we are living with a chronic condition, good quality rest is important - don't compromise. Your first novel will be done when it's done, enjoy the process because this will probably be the only book you write without a deadline…. And speaking of deadlines, one last little tip…

Be honest with people about your health
I used to try to hide my illness and pretend I was "normal" (whatever that means). It doesn't help, and 99.9% of people will support you in any way they can. My agent and my publisher both know that I need flexible and generous deadlines because of my health. I was really nervous when I broached the subject with them but they were so helpful. So always be honest, always ask for what you need - you'll be surprised how much people want to help.

About Rachel:

Rachel Burton has been making up stories since she first learned to talk. After many false starts she finally made one up that was worth writing down. 

 After graduating with a degree in Classics and another in English, she didn't really know what to do when she grew up. She has worked as a waitress, a paralegal and a yoga teacher.
 She has spent most of her life between Cambridge and London but now lives in Leeds with her boyfriend and three cats. The main loves of her life are The Beatles and very tall romantic heroes.
She is currently working on her second novel in which the heroine is a yoga teacher. It has no autobiographical elements at all.....maybe. 

Find Rachel on Twitter & Instagram as @bookish_yogi or search Facebook for Rachel Burton Author. She is always happy to talk books, writing, music, cats and how the weather in Yorkshire is rubbish. She is mostly dreaming of her next holiday....

Can finding yourself allow you to follow your heart?
Julia Simmonds had never been bothered about not knowing who her father was. Having temperamental supermodel, Philadelphia Simmonds, as a mother was more than enough. Until she discovers she’s the secret love-child of the late, great artist Bruce Baldwin, and her life changes forever.
Uncovering the secrets of a man she never knew, Julia discovers that Bruce had written her one letter, every year until her eighteenth birthday, urging his daughter to learn from his mistakes.
Julia begins to dig deeper into the mysterious past of her parents she also begins to unravel her future. With gorgeous lawyer Edwin Jones for company Julia not only begins to discover her roots but she may just fall in love…


If you would like to write for the RNA blog please contact Elaine Everest on


Rosemary Dun said...

Thanks Rachel - important to reach out. I live with M.E. (I just deleted "suffer" as these days I try to "live" with it rather than "suffer")

It's taken me many years to claw back enough health to return to writing novels. Like you, I can't write all day, but write every day.

I find not being able to go to conferences/parties, difficult as one feels one is missing out. But - there we are. It is what it is.

Big hugs and to everyone else living with the same/similar - it is doable - some good tips here from Rachel.

Rosemary xx

Anna Jacobs said...

Well done for telling it as it is, Rachel. I too live with fibromyalgia - and most people still ask what that is. As you say, it's important to move regularly, but I also take acetyl l-carnitine daily and that makes a big difference. Check it out on line if you haven't heard of it. Happy writing!

Elizabeth Lister said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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