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Pain and Writing -- by Alex Mcgilvery

Over the years I've dealt with being fired, poor, homeless, not to mention some time as a single parent after my wife's accident left her unable to parent for the better part of a year. There’ve been some real highlights too, the resurrection of our marriage, the continuing joy of being a parent and now a grandparent. Through all that and more I have been an author and reviewer. None of it stopped me from writing though some caused more turmoil for my characters.

The first thing to slow the flow of words is the literal pain in the neck which I carry around as a daily challenge. Think of a mild migraine headache which started some five years ago and hasn’t let up since. If I listed all the things I've tried in that time I would double the word count for this post. Let's just say, if you've thought of it, I have tried it.

So what does this have to do with writing? Imagine my capacity to get through the day as an eight ounce glass of water. In a normal day I might use four to six ounces to do the things I do, including being a loving husband and an author/editor. The left over goes into a reserve which I can draw on during family crises or NaNoWriMo.

Dealing with the effects of the pain takes about two or three ounces. Not too bad, I'm over some days and under others. Problem is I don't sleep well, so my total capacity is lowered to five or six ounces. On a good day I have nothing left, on a bad day, I'm overdrawn.

What happens now is I take the part of the day between the cracks and I write. Mostly working on my client's books to not fall too far behind. That's important, as I need the editing money to pay the bills, not to mention my commitment to help those authors with their craft.

In the remaining cracks, in the car or grocery line, at a coffee shop waiting, in the wee hours of the night when sleep is scarce, I write my stories in my head. Over and over and over so I won't forget them. Then with five minutes here or ten minutes there I type them into the computer.

I'm a writer, I write. That sounds trite until you've spent ten minutes staring at the screen trying to remember what you blocked out at the store. Yet the words build up, the story takes shape. I edited four stories for release as a collection last Fall. I have a novel making the rounds and a novella to be released in October. I plan the impossible and by God's grace and my wife's understanding make it happen.

I'm a writer so I write, even when it is impossible to write I write. I've typed pages with my eyes closed because of the pain. Because I'm a writer.

When I die, my heirs will find unfinished stories on my computer.

One last thing about writing and pain, I believe my writing is richer, has more depth. I know pain so I can write pain, my characters can be twisted by life and still be whole. And one more blessing yet, they may find their way free.

And in that second, that moment of transported joy, I become free too.

I am not made out of my pain, but out of the stories I've been given to tell.


Posted by Alex Mcgilvery 19 Jul 2016 at 00:11
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Responses to this blog

Mayaone 20 Jul 2016 at 22:28  
Hello Alex,
This was a beautiful blog and one I can relate to. I'm in constant pain as well. In addition to my severe hip arthritis, fibromyalgia, this year of intense writing, finishing my second memoir and being here constantly I developed carpal tunnel syndrome with my fingers so swollen I can barely brush my teeth in the morning. But I persevere because I must write. Through poverty, though not homelessness, through divorce, through every trauma imaginable, I persevere. So I salute you, fellow pain sufferer and hope in the end, we will tell the stories we must. Aloha maya
Johnharris 21 Jul 2016 at 20:48  
Carolp 27 Jul 2016 at 19:49  
Cannabis oil, cortisone, morphine?
Alexmcg 28 Jul 2016 at 23:44  
Carolp, I've tried the cortisone and morphine. One didn't work, the other made things worse. I've tried derivatives of cannabis, but given my lack of tolerance for meds, I'm staying away from the weed.
Jsilver 29 Jul 2016 at 08:51  
There is software which will allow you to dictate and then transcript to a manuscript. Fine for getting the words down. Editing will require some keyboard time though.

Good Luck
Alvarokins 29 Jul 2016 at 19:11  
Of course, you are right Bowgaurd. But, I can't recover the name of the software. Editing is a little bit difficult task because we need to read again and again to know the context of the article so that edit can be done according to it. However, you can find best article writing service providers on the web today from which you can ask for an article or to edit your writings with the help of a professional. Getting it proofread by an expert is a great complement that you will get for your work.
Alexmcg 31 Jul 2016 at 21:43  
One of the softwares Bowguard is thinking about is Dragon Naturally Speaking.
Ammonite7 7 Aug 2016 at 14:17  
I feel for you. I get migraines at least once a week and using my eyes, especially on the computer where I write, is the worst thing. Caffeine used to help, not only with stopping the headache, but with keeping me writing. Now I dare not touch caffeine, for it makes the migraines worse. My writing has slowed by half, but I keep doing it.
Redredrose 9 Aug 2016 at 00:21  
Your words are powerful. They speak to me because I too am in ongoing pain and exhaustion. So, although I don't know anything about you besides what you have written here, I hope for you (as I do for myself) that things will improve. You say you've tried everything, so please accept my apologies in advance for asking if everything may have included a classical homeopath. BTW, I'm not asking nor expecting a response. However, the homeopath (and some/lots are charlatans) I've seen for 25 years has helped me become free of enough pain (which was so debilitating, I was in bed all day for 2 weeks out of every 4) so that I can live a life. If this is something you may want to know more about, please feel free to message me. If I don't hear from you, then I'll understand. My good wishes go with you.
Rystalmane 11 Aug 2016 at 10:37  
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. You enrich all of us for having done so.
Ldrwriter 28 Aug 2016 at 23:35  
I have no excuses. Cheers to you, sir. You're made of steel and blood and sheer determination.
Comeaux 6 Sep 2016 at 20:07  
Absolutely lovely, Alex.

Bean60 9 Nov 2016 at 12:50  
I, too, started writing because I could no longer not write. And it has helped me get 'outside' the pain. Pain wakes me within a few hours, three to four, every night; then I'm up and at my computer, after feeding the cat. She thinks being fed at 3:00 am, and napping at 8:00 is normal. Probably so, for a cat. Now it is for me, too. Luckily for me, I live alone, and except for annoying phone calls, it works.

Writing, CC, my local writers' group, and another writers' group I've recently joined all help a lot to bring me out of the doldrums of living with the pain of fibromyalgia, a torn rotator cuff, bursitis in both hips, arthritis, migraines, and the general aches and pains of getting older. Still beats the alternative!

Like Alex, when I die, my family and friends will find many unfinished stories and a couple of unfinished novels on my computer, but that will be their problem - to delete or not. I even have some things there that my grandchildren and I have been working on; they may choose to take and finish those, who knows? If anyone reads the notes attached, they'll know which ones they are.

Sunami 29 Nov 2016 at 17:13  
Alex and everyone,

I read your painful stories and now am part of a new support group. I have chronic pain, as well. I can recommend acupuncture as well as massages by a certified masseuse. My family gave me those TEMS (the kind physical therapist and Shaquelle O'Neil promotes on TV) but I keep forgetting about them.

I think most people with chronic pain who do not let it identify them and won't let it control their life (like what I've read above) just take it slow and do what we can. We know taking NSAIDs (Advil, Ibuprofen) several times a day will cause worse damage to our body in the long run. I rarely take those. My physicians won't give me pain pills for fear of addiction and I have chronic vertigo (loss of equilibrium) and typically the safest place in my house is my hallway where I can trail both hands on the two walls.

As a writer, I don't want to be under any kind of influence stronger than my nightly low-carb beer, as a clear head is the only way I can write.

Normally when I write, the joy I feel does diminish the pain, but since I'm now writing about pain, my debilitating headache has returned.

Kind of proves my point. Do what you love and you'll feel better.

PS: A hot shower does wonders; where I plan my next scene in the steam.

Happy soap suds to you all.
—Sunami Jones (from a fortune cookie) "A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever."

Bgood 18 Aug 2017 at 11:56  
Hi everyone

Bev here. I didn't know this site existed. Great site! I have fibro, arthritis and something called PMR (Polymyalgia Rhumatica), which is an autoimmune disorder which tightens up all the large muscle groups from your knees to your neck and your elbows up, too. There are a hose of other painful issues going on inside my body, as well. I've tried some drug therapy, but I seem to be allergic to a lot of them, or I have the worst of the side effects happen. I'm currently working on getting rid of the inflammation in my body by taking a more natural approach to my health issues. Seems to be working better than anything else that I've tried. Massage and acupuncture do work, but it gets costly over time, so I've altered my diet and trying some herbal supplements, instead.

Anyway, when I write, I get so lost in my picture book writing, that I totally forget that I have pain, at least for a little while. Too bad that I have to come out of my writing trance, because often when I do, the pain is back in full force. I forget that I need to move.

Thanks to whomever started this group. It's always nice to have some peer support with both our writing and health issues.
Chica__45 11 Nov 2017 at 12:35  
Wow, thank you for writing something so personal and heartfelt. I have pain too. Often I don't feel it until I try to get up. I spend way too many hours sitting in front of the computer screen. It's not my fault, I write better when I type. Trying to write by hand feels weird, like trying to jump in a swimming pool when you know it's going to be cold instead of using the ladder.

It's true that writers write. If they feel pain, they write about the pain. They express what they're going through in their characters and the story and what the characters face.

23 Feb 2018 at 15:44  

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31 Jul 2019 at 10:28  

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Chris889 23 Apr 2020 at 17:24  
The laundry list of unfortunate incidents is too long to chronicle here. Two of the biggies: I spent more than three months early in the year healing from a broken bone in my foot. Then in October, I had a total knee replacement. But throwing in the towel is not in my nature. My most recent novel was released in November 2017, so I pushed myself to do a bit of book promotion [DELETED] through social media and my blog. I dug out an old unpublished historical mystery, tweaked it here and there, and submitted it to my publisher.

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Glitterpen 9 May 2020 at 13:30  
Great blog post (I see that it's an older one but I want to respond to it anyway). It's awesome that you can keep writing despite the pain. I get very frequent headaches (and I end up getting sick in a garbage pail if I try and work through the pain because the nausea becomes so intense). I have two other nagging physical pain issues. I understand how hard it is. Writing is a life-line for me.
Hollydae 26 Jan 2021 at 16:30  
Your analogy of the water glass reminds me of the "Spoon Theory", which is very similar. A lot of people with chronic pain, or with things like autism or ADHD, talk about "not having enough spoons" and I've related to those discussions as well. I get headaches, but mine are intermittent as they are directly related to stress and anxiety.

For me writing actually helps. I know that's not the case for everyone, so I'm extremely grateful. My made up worlds distract me from my thoughts and give me that serotonin boost.

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