Monday, February 10, 2014

Nearly a year has passed since I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. There have been ups and many, many downs. Living with this disease has been harder than I thought it would be in a lot of ways, but I've discovered I'm tougher than I ever imagined. While this is not a curable disease, it doesn't have to be the default winner in the ongoing tug of war it initiates.

The cycle of life this past year has very much been
  1. try something to see if it's still possible
  2. fail
  3. try it in a different way
  4. repeat steps 2 & 3 until I'm either sure I can't do what I set out to do or I've found a way to do it within the limits I now have
Sometimes the experiment is exhilirating. I discover ways to overcome and beat this thing. Sometimes it's simply discouraging. There are inevitably things that cannot be done at all. There are other things that require such an enormous change of approach that the difference is stark and impossible not to notice. RA has taught me a lot of things, not the least of which is the importance of patience.

This past week I reached a milestone in learning to live with this disease. Although I had three books released last year and two already on shelves this year, I haven't written a full-length novel since RA entered my life. All of these releases are works I had already finished. The work I did on them last year was editing--while not an insignificant effort, it wasn't as all-encompassing as crafting a story anew.

I can do some typing, a small amount for a small amount of time before my hands simply can't manage it any longer. I use dictation software to speak the words my computer types for me. It isn't always accurate, is far slower than I used to be able to type, and stands as a glaring reminder of how much has changed. The physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion of chronic illness has sapped me of the energy I used to tap into when drafting a new book, and I found over the past year that I simply didn't have it in me. I wondered, honestly, fearfully wondered, if I would ever be able to write another full length novel again. And if I managed it, how long would it take? At one time I could knock out three novels in a year. On my best year I completed 4 1/2. Here was yet another adjustment, another change I would have to learn to be okay with.

I spent the early fall outlining and researching a new story idea, hoping against hope that I would be able to see it through to the end. I dabbled in the beginnings of the story, moving slowly & feeling pulled down by so many weights. After a break to finish up a short story, and on the heels of a firm talking to by author and good friend J. Scott Savage, I told myself I'd never know if I could still do this if I never even tried. So in December I buckled down and got to work.

Last week I finished the first draft of a novel, the first I'd written beginning to end since Rheumatoid Arthritis changed so many things in my life. A first draft is far from done or ready or even good, but it is a start. It is something I wasn't sure I'd be able to do again. Having a better understanding of my new pace, I realize I won't be releasing books as often or as quickly as I once did. I'll not be as prolific as I once imagined I'd be. But I know now that I'm not finished telling stories. Even with a stiff, pained, uncooperative body, I can keep doing this. And that is a wonderful, wonderful gift.

I began each writing session with this song from one of my favorites bands (a great group of lads from Dublin) as a reminder that I can do hard things. So, hip hip hoorah, and here's to doing hard things!

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