Shelley Sly on Writing With a Chronic Illness

Writing isn’t easy when you’re sick or in pain all the time. As someone who suffers from chronic migraines and fibromyalgia, I’ve had to find ways to remain productive even when I’m feeling sick for weeks at a time.

Some things that have worked for me:

1) Working While Resting

When I have a headache that feels like someone’s stabbing my eyes, or I’m leaning over a trash can about to vomit, I’m obviously not able to get anything done. But if I’m just feeling drowsy from medicine, or feeling too achy to move but not so sick that I’m about to pass out, I try to use my time wisely.

I keep a pencil and Post-Its by my bed, so while I’m resting, I can take notes on future story ideas or jot down ways to improve my current manuscript. If I can tolerate a bright screen, I’ll sometimes email myself story notes on my phone. If I’m too sick to write or email, sometimes I’ll just let my mind wander and see what kind of story ideas I come up with. (And with the migraine meds I take, sometimes I come up with really weird stuff!)

Resting and recovering is the absolute priority, but there’s no harm in doing a lot of thinking during that time.

2) Utilizing Waiting Time

While people with chronic illness frequently lose time in their day from feeling sick, they also lose time because of doctor appointments. I, personally, spend a ton of time in waiting rooms. But I bring a notebook with me and use this time to get writing done.

Now, I’m not the type to write by hand, so this means I prepare my notebook ahead of time with some information from my current WIP’s Word document. Usually just a few notes that tell me what just happened in that scene.

Other ways I’ve used waiting room time wisely include reading books on the craft of writing, reading other books in my genre, and bringing a printed out manuscript and going over it with a red pen. (I only did this once, and it was a time when I had to wait over an hour in a waiting room. It was fabulous.)

Being chronically ill can be a pain—literally—but I don’t let it take away too much of my writing time.

Thanks, Misha, for letting me share my experiences!

Shelley Sly lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband and their chocolate lab mix. Her debut middle grade novel, Wishing for Washington, is available on and You can find her at

30 thoughts on “Shelley Sly on Writing With a Chronic Illness

  1. So much excellent advice! I agree, it's great to utilize waiting room time. (I often find myself stuck in one of those because of diabetes and such, haha.) Might as well use that time for something productive!

  2. I really admire people like yourself, Shelly, who manage to work through a chronic illness. Your motivation, your way of working through/around it, is inspirational.

  3. What a brilliant woman. Wonderful tips and very useful. I once sat in a doctors waiting room for three hours and I could have used that time so much better. You're an inspiration Shelley.

  4. You're so dedicated Shelley. Best of luck. And I hope things with your illness get better soon, but I know I've been saying that for years.

  5. Great suggestions. I, too, suffer from a chronic illness that can keep me from writing. You just have to stay flexible and keep on keeping on. Good luck to you!

  6. Oh… migraines are the WORST. Poor Shelley!!!! So sad that some people have to live their lives in chronic pain. But what a wonderful post on how to work through it when possible. ❤

  7. Sorry you haven't been feeling well; I wish I could give you a magic potion or something that would make you feel 100% better. I especially like your tip about making the most out of waiting time; I spend a lot of time waiting for the bus/train and in line, so it helps to have my journal or a book with me.

  8. You are an inspiration to write so much when feeling ill much of the time! I need to bring more productive things to do than Words with Friends when waiting for my kids' activities1

  9. WOW, Shelley… you are a real trouper! I have chronic arthritis, so I get the the pain thing. But in my head would be horrible. My sinus issues are enough to drive me insane… I admire your tenacity…

    Take care and keep at it! You're an inspiration to us all!

  10. I'm so sorry you go through all that. I think of all the writers who complain about tight deadlines and too much work and realize that we're all lucky just to be able to be well enough to work when we need to. I can't imagine what it must be like for you.

  11. I do everything I can to write during my small quiet moments! But if I am not there mentally (like the stress of having a baby and taking care of him as well as losing sleep), that is the real challenge for me! But it doesn't deter me whenever those small quiet moments in between happen! Great post. 🙂


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