An Author’s Journey ~ With Chronic Pain

A Guest Post by Alex McGilvery

Over the years I’ve dealt with being fired, poor, homeless, not to mention some time as a single parent after my wife’s accident left her unable to parent for the better part of a year. There have been some real highlights too, the resurrection of our marriage, the continuing joy of being a parent and now a grandparent. Through all that and more I have been an author and reviewer. None of it stopped me from writing though some caused more turmoil for my characters.

The first thing to slow the flow of words is the literal pain in the neck, which I carry around as a daily challenge. Think of a mild migraine headache which started some five years ago and hasn’t let up since. If I listed all the things I’ve tried in that time I would double the word count for this post. Let’s just say, if you’ve thought of it, I have tried it. Now I’m off on disability while I go off all my pain meds to get a baseline for a treatment I’m hoping to try in the next month or so.

The upshot of this is me leaving a figurative trail of headless bodies behind me as pain disguises itself as crankiness. I don’t know how much I hurt until I think about how much it hurts. That wouldn’t be bad except for those headless people around. I can manage pain better than the crankies.

So what does this have to do with writing? Imagine your capacity to get through the day as an eight- ounce glass of water. In a normal day I might use four to six ounces to do the things I do, including being a loving husband and an author/editor. The left over goes into a reserve, which I can draw on during family crises or NaNoWriMo.

Dealing with the effects of the pain takes about two or three ounces. Not too bad, I’m over some days and under others. Problem is I don’t sleep well, so my total capacity is lowered to five or six ounces. On a good day I have nothing left, on a bad day, I’m overdrawn.

Instead of eight ounces of capacity, I have two or three to do things I used to do with six ounces. My first priority is family so most days that two or three ounces is spent on being a loving husband to make up for the days when I’m cranky instead.

What happens now is I take the part of the day between the cracks and I write. Mostly working on my client’s books to not fall too far behind. That’s important, as I need the editing money to pay the bills. Not to mention the commitment to help those authors with their craft.

In the remaining cracks, in the car or grocery line, at a coffee shop waiting, in the wee hours of the night when sleep is scarce, I write my stories in my head. Over and over and over so I won’t forget them. Then with five minutes here or ten minutes there I type them into the computer.

I’m a writer, I write. That sounds trite until you’ve spent ten minutes staring at the screen trying to remember what you blocked out at the store. Yet the words build up, the story takes shape. I edited four stories for release as a collection this month. I have another collection coming out in February, and a novel in the Spring. I plan the impossible and by God’s grace and my wife’s understanding make it happen.

I’m a writer so I write, even when it is impossible to write I write. I’ve typed pages with my eyes closed because of the pain. Because I’m a writer.

When I die, my heirs will find an unfinished story on my computer.

One last thing about writing and pain, I believe my writing is richer, has more depth. I know pain so I can write pain, my characters can be twisted by life and still be whole. And one more blessing yet, they may find their way free.

And in that second, that moment of transported joy, I become free too.

I am not made out of my pain, but out of the stories I’ve been given to tell.


A dragon has come to live with me

Curled around my shoulder

One day he’s light as feathers

The next like some old boulder


With a temperament that’s fickle.

He’s all glass with wicked spikes

When he’s calm they tickle

It’s when he’s mad they strike.


My troubles overflow the brim

I’m pulling out my hair

No one else can see him

I have no proof he’s there


He feeds himself on each second word.

So my sentences make no sense.

With me sounding most absurd

They must think me rather dense.


A dragon has come to live with me

No matter what I say

He’s not much fun, I’m sure you see.

But I fear he’s here to stay.

Alex McGilvery

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