Writing with Pain

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning authorhall, patty with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. Today, she offers suggestions on how to write when you are in pain.  She will also give a copy of her latest book to someone, chosen at random, from those who leaves a comment.

Writers are always told that one key to getting a publishing contract is to ‘put your backside in a chair and write!’ But what if you physically can’t sit for any length of time without being in a great deal of pain? What do you do then?

So how do writers who face chronic, debilitating pain write?

1)  Standing desk and ergonomic rug

One of my favorite people (and best-selling novelist!) Camy Tang came up with a wonderful idea to deal with her chronic back issues. At her desk, she keeps a box that she places on her desktop when she feels the need to stand. It’s the perfect height for her computer and allows her to continue working while giving her a chance to stand and stretch.  If you have an island in your kitchen, that’s also a great place to work without having to sit. If you want something a little more decorative, there are many standing desks available on Amazon, starting for as little as $50.

Another important item that works wonders is an ergonomic rug. These are designed to help relieve fatigue on the lower extremities and is well worth the price (which can range anywhere from $30 to well into the hundreds.) I’d suggest you try it out first–yes, you may look crazy, standing on a rug in the middle of Bed, Bath and Beyond but better to make sure it’s the right rug for you than waste money.

2)  Alphasmart word processor

You’re sitting at your desk or in your favorite chair, ready to write and it’s just not comfortable. You fidget for a few minutes, hoping to find that perfect position but it just isn’t happening. Maybe the chair upstairs would work but that means dragging your computer up a flight of steps and you’re not even sure you can make it without falling down. That’s where an Alphasmart can help. Weighing under a pound, this portable word processor has eight individual files which can save multiple chapters and be downloaded into Word with just the press of a button. And you don’t have to worry about tripping over cables–four AA batteries is all you need to keep writing for months at a time.

3) Egg Timer

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I get writing, time just slips away from me. I’ll look up and two hours would have gone by. Good for my book. Not at all good for my back. So now I keep an egg timer on my desk and set it for 35 minutes. When that bell goes off, I stand up and move. Take a bathroom break. Fold a dryer full of clothes. Anything to get moving. Then I go back to my desk and reset my timer. I may not write as much but I’m not in as much pain either.

4)  Digital pen

The pain is so bad, you can’t even sit up. So now that you’re flat on your back, what do you do? Consider a digital pen. A bit thicker than a standard pen, it has the capability to transfer your writing into Word files while also serving as a recording. It’s not for everyone, and it’s expensive starting at $119 (plus the specialized notebooks.) So once again, try it before you buy it.

5) Pen and paper

Hall - New Hope Sweethearts
Old fashioned, yes, but when you’re flat on your back and desperate to write, it’s an easy alternative. Not much of an added expense – I can buy my favorite pens and writing tablet for under $5. With the back-to-school sales beginning, you can stock up on notebooks and pens for later. Yes, your writing will still need to be typed into the computer (consider purchasing Dragon Naturally Speaking—a wonderful tool for any writer!) but writing freestyle is very liberating. I’ve written the first draft of my last four books like this. It’s slower, but still gets the job done.

JIM:  Well, she has taken away some excuses. And she has offered a lot of good ideas for those of us who find it difficult to sit at the computer for long periods.  Please leave a comment – offer your suggestions for how to deal with pain.  She’s giving away a copy of one of her books to someone who leaves a comment. Her latest book,  New Hope Sweetheartsreleased this month. Check out all of her books on Amazon.



Don’t Annoy the Novelist

Today, our guest is Janet Sketchley, a Canadian writer of suspense and redemption. She has also Sketchley headshothad published over one hundred articles. She likes Formula 1 Racing, adventure stories and tea. She has also generously agreed to give a free copy of her latest book to one commenter, chosen at random. But for now, let’s hear why you should never annoy the novelist. Here’s Janet.

Almost twenty years ago, I was an at-home mom with young children. We did errands together, bought groceries. Took the car for repairs. Since at least one of the boys still used a child safety seat in the car, this meant waiting while the work was done.

I’d had bad experiences with the local dealership, but when they contacted me about a recall, I ventured in.
We must have been in the waiting room for an hour, reading stories and snacking on cookies, when the guy at the desk called my name. “I’m sorry, your vehicle’s not under warranty anymore. The mileage is too high.”
I looked at him. “Your service department called me. They couldn’t do something like check the odometer when I first arrived?”

His smile didn’t do anything to defuse my frustration. “Sorry.”

Most days I can wait with the best of them, but I don’t do well when I discover I’ve waited in the wrong line, or in this case, waited for nothing. I’d been on edge emotionally that week, and a sudden sense of injustice turned this quiet Canadian into a customer-service nightmare.

I may have yelled. May even have cried, I’m not sure. I’m rarely tempted to swear, but right then it took a conscious effort to use only clean words.

Management tried to shoo me into a quiet room, out of the main waiting area, but I wouldn’t budge. I’d seen them do that with a businessman when I arrived. How many unhappy customers did these people have today?
As soon as I had my keys in hand, I gathered my children and left. Fuming.

This particular dealership wasn’t far from home. Many times the traffic lights would stop me directly in front of it. Every time I saw the building, resentment bubbled and I chose to let it go. It didn’t go far.

I was writing a novel about forgiveness, and here I had this experience I couldn’t put behind me. It wasn’t even an intentional hurt, just a poorly-run business where customers fell through the cracks.

My second novel gave me a chance at catharsis. One of the characters, Joey, had some things in his past that he’d rather forget. Including an impaired driving charge that ruined his career and landed him in jail.

Coming home from a party, with his boss’ daughter in the passenger seat, Joey decided to plant his fancy sports car through the dealer’s showroom window – “returning it for poor service.”

Yes, the thought had crossed my mind. No, I’d never do it. And no, I’ve never driven a sports car. But Joey gave me the chance to entertain the thought vicariously. Not in the “I wish it would happen” way, but in an offbeat, darkish sort of amusement that I can’t explain.

Something shifted. I still made a conscious choice to forgive, whenever I stopped at the lights facing the building. But now I had a little grin on my face, and my private joke took the barb out of my old wound. Eventually, I could drive by with a smile and no hurt feelings at all.

For the fiction writers reading this post, I’m curious: what’s something from your own life that has crept into your stories? Have you done this sort of stress-release intentionally?

sketchlley - cover lies - AFor the readers (including writers): if you’d like to see how Joey’s past comes back to cause trouble in his present, I’m giving away one copy of my Christian romantic suspense, Secrets and Lies. It’s really Carol’s story, the single mom threatened by a drug lord, but Joey would very much like to be her friend – and more.

One commenter’s name will be chosen at random to receive a copy of the book. Offer void where prohibited.


JIM:  Thanks, Janet.  Good story.  I saw a writer at the last conference who had on  a Tee that said, “Be nice, or you’ll appear in my next novel.”  I’ll bet many of us have included a caricature of someone in our novel.  If you have a story to tell on that front, leave a comment.  AND, you’ll be entered in the drawing for a free copy of Janet’s Secrets and Lies.  Thanks.

Your Writing is Like a RaceHorse

I guess everybody knows American Pharoah won the Belmont race. That, coupled with his wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes,  earned him the Triple Crown, the ultimate honor in horseracing and the first horse to accomplish that in thirty-seen years.

I thought about all the preparation and work that went into accomplishing such a feat.  And then I thought, “That’s much like writing a novel.”

For the racehorse, there’s lots of training over some years, something like the work and preparation necessary to develop the writing skills. A racehorse must be lean and strong, just like your writing – lean and strong. Neither the racehorse nor the book can have a lot of fat.  Both need strong bones (structure). For either to win, it needs superior muscles (strong verbs).

When the race starts, the horse must be out of the gate fast to secure a good running lane. Your book needs to start fast, with a compelling hook on the first page.  Without a good start, the horse will have a long race of catching up.  Forget the enticing hook at the beginning of your book and the reader may put it down and never read it.

With horse races and books there is a danger of a weak middle. This makes it difficult for both animal and writer to ever regain the lead and finish a winner.

And both need a strong finish. How many races have been lost when the horse in second place gives a little extra and finishes just a nose ahead of the front runner.  For the writer, the ending must be strong. It’s the last thing the reader sees, remembers.  The ending can cause the reader to immediately look for another book by this author, to tell friends about this great book, to recommend it on social media. Or, the reader can put it away, not mention it to anybody and avoid picking up another novel by that author.

A true champion horse needs little encouragement. He takes the bit and charges out. He intends to be ahead of the others in the race. He will do his best to finish first.  A great story can actually lead the author in the right direction. Characters will speak to the writer, demand to be heard, dictate how the plot unfolds. The wise jockey gives the horse his head. The smart writer pays attention to what the characters need and often follow their lead.

Not all great racehorses win the Triple Crown, and not all great books will sell a million copies. But the really good racehorses will win races and the really good novels will gain a following.




I Am My Words


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Today’s guest is Grady Jane Woodfin, who just finished her BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment. She’s been published in several literary magazines such as Crab Fat and ThickJam, and her short story “Twizzlers,” was a 2015 Pushcart Prize nominee.  Today, … Continue reading

Imagination, not invention


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Today’s guest is John Lindermuth, a retired newspaper editor, and the author of 14 novels, including six in his Sticks Hetrick crime series. He currently serves as librarian of his county historical society, where he assists patrons with genealogy and research. … Continue reading