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:

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. 

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
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
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

  1. Author
    Rosemary Dun 8 months ago

    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

  2. Author
    Anna Jacobs 8 months ago

    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!

  3. Author
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