Writing offers a greater sense of control, along with symptom management, connection with others, and a sense of accomplishment.
As a professional communicator for over 20 years, I wrote daily for work, producing everything from email campaigns to press releases. While I enjoyed these projects, nothing fulfilled me as much as my first love: creative writing.
On the weekends and after hours, I wrote short stories and essays based on personal experience and eventually published many of these in journals or magazines. These endeavors challenged and fulfilled me in ways that my professional life never could. I’m so grateful that I always made time to nurture this hobby because when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 32, creative writing proved to be a lifesaver.
Although I had never been busier professionally, and a chronic illness now complicated my life, I still carved out time for my personal writing. I enrolled in night courses to learn more and to improve, and at the age of 42, I wrote my first novel, which was published by an indie press in 2011.
A teacher introduced me to writing poetry, and in 2019, my first poetry collection was published by another small press. Writing creatively while living with MS has brought me countless benefits.
Perhaps the primary benefit is that it restored my sense of control. With so much change in my life over the years brought by my relapsing-remitting MS, different jobs, new doctors, retirement, divorce, and remarriage — my writing turned out to be one of the few constants in my world, and it gave me the reflective space I needed to learn and grow as a person.
Drawing from life experiences for inspiration is a common practice among writers. In his article, “The Health Benefits of Autobiographical Writing: An Interdisciplinary Perspective,” psychologist Jussi Valtonen notes, “Both experimental neuropsychologists and philosophers agree that narrative is an essentially human medium of existence, one by which we seek to understand unexpected, untoward, and problematic events.”
Coping with MS can be lonely and scary, as we never know what each new day holds. Creative writing helps me cope by offering the opportunity to create something of value and to share experiences from my life that may help others.
Writing also brings a welcome distraction from the anxiety and even from some of my MS symptoms. When I’m fully engaged in my “writing zone,” I’m less aware of the numbness and tingling in my legs. The intellectual stimulation gives me a boost of positive mental energy and lessens my physical fatigue.
In addition, writing offers a tremendous sense of accomplishment, especially when a piece of work is accepted for publication, or it earns some money or a prize.
You don’t have to be a professional to benefit from a writing practice.
“In writing experiments conducted by psychological researchers,” Valtonen says in his article, “the majority of lay participants — with no training, experience, or commitment to writing regularly — who are asked to write about their life experiences over a few repeated brief sessions report finding the experience subjectively valuable, even when instructed to write about the most painful experience in their lives.” This means that this practice is accessible to almost anyone with an interest in writing.
If you’re interested in writing, the tips below are intended to help you get started, introduce you to the types of writing available, and help you build a practice that will endure and bring you fulfillment for years to come.
For years, I’ve kept a daily journal. This allows me to jot down all of my assorted thoughts, whether it’s a new metaphor for the sound of deer moving through the forest or my feelings about my health at that particular time.
It also allows me to fit even the smallest amount of writing into every single day. Sometimes I journal for just a few minutes and at others, I may write for as long as an hour. While these free-flowing and often random thoughts often find their way into a more formal piece of writing such as a poem, story, or essay, it feels good mentally and physically to write uninterrupted without any imposed structure.
Coping with MS can be lonely and scary, as we never know what each new day holds. Creative writing helps me cope by offering the opportunity to create something of value, and to share experiences from my life that may help others.
Valtonen concurs that “even brief writing sessions can provide surprisingly substantial changes, not only in the writers’ psychological but also their physical well-being, according to the empirical biomedical evidence.”
To begin journaling is as easy as picking up a pen and notebook or opening a blank document on your computer. But if you have days where you’re experiencing fatigue or fine motor challenges, you can journal simply by recording yourself on a smartphone or voice recorder and transcribing your words later.
Writing from personal experience is one of the most popular forms of writing and offers myriad opportunities for publication. Whether you’ve navigated your first year of MS or even just organized your pantry in a more efficient way, there’s someone out there who could benefit from your experience.
For years I concentrated my energies mostly on writing fiction, but after my retirement from the professional world in 2017, I started writing more nonfiction. To my great surprise, I found a sea of other people who were interested in my expertise on a range of topics, from how to make inexpensive crafts as gifts and how to set a budget, to how to live well with MS.
If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, I recommend making a list of all the areas in which you have direct experience. Ask yourself: “What am I good at?” or “What have I learned about life that might be useful to other people?” Try to boil your experience with one of those topics into a short (1,500 words or less) list-style article that provides succinct and actionable advice to others.
For publication ideas, take a look at the magazines or websites you like to read and imagine how your expertise might complement the pieces published there.
If there’s a match, write a short email (or pitch letter) to an editor with a few lines about yourself and a short summary of what you’d like to write. If the editor is interested in your work, you’ll likely hear back within a couple of weeks, though sometimes editors are slower, depending on a multitude of factors.
Be patient and flexible. If you don’t hear back, pitch the same piece to another editor at a different outlet.
My creative writing truly soared when I committed to improving.
For years I took classes at the local community college, which exposed me to new writing techniques, new avenues for publication, and people willing to give me advice. Since the pandemic, I‘ve enjoyed taking advantage of the abundance of online classes, which means I can learn without ever leaving home.
If you write just 100 words per day, you’ll have 3,000 in 1 month alone, which is the equivalent of 2 essays or 1 complete short story.
I’ve taken several classes from one of my favorite nonfiction authors, who is based in Manhattan, courtesy of Zoom. In this class, I learned how to pitch nonfiction articles to editors of commercial outlets, and due to her guidance, I’ve seen my work published in prestigious publications such as the websites for NBC Think, The Independent, Real Simple, and Poets & Writers magazines.
Any writer, whether nonfiction author, poet, short story writer, or novelist, benefits from the communion of kindred souls. I strongly urge any new writer to join a local writing group that meets regularly and offers you the opportunity to share your work and receive feedback from others.
I’m a member of a writing group with two other people who I met in an online class. We concentrate on memoir and call ourselves “Memwarriors.” Because my fellow members live in California and Wyoming and I live in North Carolina, we trade writing samples and communicate via email and Dropbox.
I’m also a member of a regional writing group that covers all genres. That group gathers twice each month, primarily via Google Meet, but we also meet in person a few times each year.
Additionally, I belong to two membership-based writing organizations, the statewide North Carolina Writers’ Network, and the North Carolina Poetry Society.
Both of these organizations email me newsletters with information about author readings, classes, conferences, and publication opportunities. They also sponsor writing competitions and I have earned money and publication by placing in a number of them. My membership has introduced me to even more fellow writers and editors who have invited me to speak about my work through the years.
If you want to establish a regular writing practice, it’s imperative that you set aside a regular block of time, either daily or weekly, to devote to your work. You can also set a goal to write a specific number of words in each session. If you write just 100 words per day, you’ll have 3,000 in 1 month alone, which is the equivalent of 2 essays or 1 complete short story.
I find it helpful to write each morning at 8 a.m. because that’s when I feel most energized and creative. It also gives me a little burst of confidence to do something for myself first thing.
Establish a system that works for you and stick to it. In no time at all, you’ll have a writing practice that will sustain both your body and mind. Persistence is key.
In the words of the author Ray Bradbury, “You fail only if you stop writing.”
Medically reviewed on July 30, 2023
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