Not many people in the writing community know this story, so deep breath and here goes. Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. At the time, my GP and endocrinologist ignored the full-body rash I had. I’ve told every doctor I’ve had since that I’ve never felt right since the radioactive “cure” I was made to literally swallow. The last two and a half years of my life have been a kind of painful hell that doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, and chiropractors couldn’t figure out. I then learned that Graves’ is often a misdiagnosis for Lyme disease. Remember that rash that went ignored? I don’t have any pictures of it, but that’s okay, because all I have to do is Google “Lyme full body rash,” and plenty of photos of what I had come up. I’m told I’m being worked up for a chronic Lyme diagnosis, and I’m finally getting treatment as a result, but my path out of pain is non-linear and uncertain. Now you have context for why I wrote this non-exhaustive list of writing advice that has a ring of ableism to it:
- “Write everyday,” goes the flawed adage. With antibiotics, I average seven days a month where I can’t feel all my muscle dysfunction creeping back in. I have to be careful not to further injure myself, so, no, I cannot write everyday, and it makes me feel less than every time I read “write everyday” advice that doesn’t make allowance for disabled writers.
- “Write wherever you can.” A keynote at a writing conference I went to some years ago said this, and now it pings around in my head everyday. I’m still mourning the ability to to cozy up with my laptop in any old place. Fact is, I can’t allow myself imperfect posture anymore, because if I write wherever I can, I pay for it pain-wise in the days that follow.
- “Read everyday.” I have these masses of muscle in my shoulders that haven’t released in about two years. Holding books, print or e-, can land me in muscle spasm territory, so, no, I cannot read everyday right now, even with the device I half-found, half-built to hold books, print or e-. Every time I come across this advice, it makes me feel like I’m a slow reader and worse, that I can’t be a writer anymore.
- “Use voice programs.” This is great advice, and everyone is giving it to me. I’m not an audial learner or writer, though, so the transition doesn’t feel as easy as my advice-givers make it sound, and while I’m sure advice-givers just want me to once again have the enjoyment of being able to write everyday, I feel like there’s something wrong with me for not being ready to adapt to my disability.
- The ever popular, “Don’t use a thesaurus,” piece of advice is an ableist derivation of Mark Twain’s quote about never using a five-dollar word when a fifty cent one will do. When I was in my late teens, people could ask me what a word meant, and I would cite three synonyms. Most of my adulthood, however, I’ve had problems recalling a lot of words. So, yes, I absolutely always have multiple thesauri at hand whenever I’m composing anything, because even though I can’t recall some words, I can recall others and use those to find the ones just beyond the fog.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.
Can you think of other examples of writing advice that might be ableist? Off the top of your head, what is one thing the publishing industry could do to be more inclusive of disabled people, including those whose disabilities are invisible or dynamic, those with sensory disabilities, those whose disabilities are as a result of chronic illness, and those who are neurodivergent or neuroatypical?
I learned a lot from New Zealand-based writer Elizabeth Heritage’s article about ableism in the literary community.