Jilly: Hands Off

How do you handle enforced inactivity? Do you have any tips for making the most of it?

I’m more than happy to spend a few days on the sofa with my TBR pile, or working on a puzzle, or soaking in a tub of bubbles, as long as the downtime is my choice. It might be a long-scheduled holiday or a spontaneous mini-break because I’m feeling shattered—either is fine, so long as the break isn’t forced on me. When that happens, I’m not good at making the best of it.

I had a fabulous time in Orlando with Jeanne, Kay, Elizabeth, Michille and Kat. I loved brainstorming, especially playing the Damon Suede game of choosing a verb to describe each of our main characters (see Elizabeth’s post for more about this invaluable trick). I attended a few excellent workshops, heard a brilliant keynote speech from Susan Wiggs, posed for an author photo, made new friends, had a great discussion about Alexis with Jeanne’s editor, listened to a hilarious Q&A from Ilona Andrews, Gordon Andrews and Jeanine Frost, and returned to the UK tired but inspired.

After a couple of good nights’ sleep I was feeling refreshed and raring to get to work—and I couldn’t, because I’ve somehow tweaked my shoulder and it hurts like hell when I write or type. It’s my own stupid fault. Whatever I did to it happened the Friday before I left for Orlando. I was in the hair salon, enjoying a spot of last-minute blonding, and out of the blue discovered I could barely lift my teacup.

I was pretty sure it was nothing serious so I did what any sensible woman on the verge of a trip to RWA Nationals would do—I ignored it. I packed my suitcase, dragged it across two airports and a hotel. Unpacked it. Spent the best part of four days writing in my favorite Moleskine notebook. Ow, ow, ow. Packed case again, dragged it across two airports and home, where (thank goodness) my husband unpacked it and dealt with the laundry.

I arrived home on Monday and I still haven’t been able to write or type apart from a few selected emails and posts (like this one). I’m full of energy, my head is bursting with ideas and I’m desperate to get going, but I’ve made myself wait. It’s driving me crazy. Even reading feels like second best.

I haven’t tried using voice recognition software, because my mind doesn’t seem to work that way. The good stuff happens directly between my brain and my fingers. So far I have tried writing left-handed, using the mouse left-handed, visualizing story questions, and thinking about my overall series arc. My plan for today is to get the computer to read Alexis’s story out loud. Even if I can’t make detailed notes, I can start thinking about the parts I need to change.

I’m feeling much better, and I think I should be good to go in another day or two, but even that feels like a long time. If anyone has tips and tricks for the best way to make the best of my unwelcome downtime, I’d love to hear them 🙂 .

12 thoughts on “Jilly: Hands Off

  1. Sorry to hear about the sore arm – I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to be eager to write but physically thwarted. I don’t have any good ideas beyond what you’ve already tried, but suggest whatever self-care is necessary to get the arm back to 100%. I’d also suggest taking the time to make sure you’re at 100% before jumping into the writing – the last thing you want is to start up too soon and then wind up having to wait even longer.

    Too bad the voice recognition didn’t work for you, but I totally understand, my mind doesn’t work that way either. Since you can’t write, hopefully you can keep your story fresh in your mind while you wait – either through brainstorming, your soundtrack, or even just re-reading your notes and what you’ve written so far.

    Good luck on the healing.

    • Frustrating–exactly! I’m feeling better today which makes it all too tempting to dive in, but I know you’re right. When I put hands to keyboard again I’m going to put a timer on myself so that I don’t overdo it and find myself back at square one.

      I’ve been thinking over a couple of meaty story questions today with just a little sneaky use of pen and paper. Maybe by the time I get back to work I’ll have solved all my problems and the writing will go super-fast. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway 😉

  2. Are you feeling any better now? Joint pain is such a monster because so many things can go wrong — muscles, tendons, bursitis. You’ve seen a doctor about it? I hope so.

    I’ve been fighting foot pain on and off for years. When I go to the doctor, he gives me Japanese mint poultices, lets me take aspirin, and pats me on the knee saying, “It’s not a disease.” Not helpful!

    So, I go on the internet and try various things. Right now, what’s helping is chilling. If heating isn’t helping, try going to the swimming pool and immersing that shoulder in cool water! You can also gently explore your range of motion in the pool, but if it hurts, stop it.

    You might also experiment with writing in different postions — lie down on the bed like Buddha’s mother and try from the side for a quarter of an hour if it doesn’t hurt. Or try putting the pad of paper on your knees. If it’s at all pinched-nervy, you might try wrapping a bandage around the pen so you get a big, fat sausage to grasp. Those nerves go all the way up.

    There are some yoga positions you might try, but of course, if it even twinges a tiny bit, STOP. One I like is where you start in warrior’s pose but your torso is facing a wall. Hold onto the wall with your good hand, kick your foot up and form a T-shape with your body and standing leg, and let your injured arm dangle down. If it’s feeling OK, swing it in little, gentle circles a little bit. You may also want to try some neck work — the shoulder can be affected from either direction.

    Tiger Balm might also be an option. It’s about as effective as those Japanese mint poultices. The only problem is that if it irritates your skin, that can be worse than the original condition. Don’t use it when you are going to sweat, bathe or go in the pool (to be safe, leave an hour on either side of water-work).

    LOL, I always wanted to be a doctor on TV.

    I really hope you feel better soon. It must be terribly frustrating to have all the ideas in your head, and no way to get them down on something permanently.

    • You should totally have been a doctor on TV, Michaeline! Confession: I didn’t go to the doctor because on the days I didn’t do anything to exacerbate the problem, I could feel it getting better. I figured they’d tell me to rest it for a few days and come back if it didn’t improve, so I decided to try that first and get help later if necessary.

      Lots of rest plus a hot water bottle seems to be working, but I’d love to have a go at one of those Japanese mint poultices! And I might have a gentle try at some of your other suggestions.

      Hopefully the ideas will improve as they simmer!

      • Yeah, we’ve got national health care in Japan, too, and it makes it easier to go to the doctor for things like this, but we still have to deal with the fact that it’s a hassle to make a special trip (and Body Part X seems to be getting better, really, I think it is!), and that doctors are human the world over. And also the fact that pain science for this sort of thing really hasn’t advanced that much — there’s a good possibility that you’ll spend a couple of hours at the doctors, do some x-rays or whatever other diagnostics, and then the doctor basically tells you to go home and do what you’ve already been doing for days. (Honestly, though, that is a really good outcome — you lose the stress from worrying that it is a heart attack in disguise or something needing a shoulder replacement or whatever else your Writer Brain can imagine to plague your distracted moments.)

        I hope you’ll go if you feel it necessary, though. But what I really hope is that you wake up tomorrow with no problems!

        I really am a fan of the chilling. A hint from American women’s magazines is to wrap a bag of frozen peas in a towel, and chill for 15 to 20 minutes that way. You probably won’t be able to eat the peas if you re-use the bag a few times, but the peas break apart easily and mold to the contours of your body.

  3. So surprise, surprise, but I had the same problem as you about 2 1/2 years ago. I couldn’t move my shoulder. Sleeping (in any position) hurt and using a computer (or anything that required me to put my lower arm forward) was excruciating.

    Oddly (or not, but for me it was a bit of a switch), seeing an acupuncturist helped A LOT. It took several months for me to be back in fighting form (full range of motion, sleeping on it, etc.), but after two visits, I was able to write again. And the 45 minutes I had laying on the table while the needles were in was a great time for me to think, sleep, relax, and de-stress. (No, it wasn’t painful, and she helped with my tinnitus, too…not curing it, but definitely reducing it.)

    As for keeping yourself busy, you can use the dictation software to simply take notes of things that you think of throughout the day. Or have a verbal debate with yourself about an issue you’ve been grappling with. Sort of a think-out-loud type thing. It may seem weird and that it doesn’t work, but if you’d lost mobility permanently, you’d be forced to come up with an alternative. Perhaps putting yourself in that mindset will force the juices to flow.

    I hope you’re feeling on the mend soon, and I second Micki who suggests not pushing it. Taking two steps forward and three steps back will be frustrating at best.

    Good luck and keep us posted!

    • Thanks for the info and suggestions, Justine! Good to know that you made a full recovery, though I really hope it doesn’t take me months. I’ve never tried acupuncture, and I don’t know anyone else who has. Maybe it’s time to give it a go.

      And you’re right about the dictation software. I’m stuck anyway, so it couldn’t hurt to give it a try, I suppose!

      • I’ve tried acupuncture, and it’s worked—but three appointments were needed to fix the problem, so it’s definitely an investment of time and money. A friend tried it for carpal tunnel, and it didn’t do anything for the carpal tunnel, but it fixed his knees. So there can be unexpected consequences!

        Good luck with pain relief—it’s horrible to want to work and you can’t.

    • I really like Justine’s spin on this — use that writer’s imagination, and pretend that you are permanently like this. What would you do?

      Then again, I was the kind of kid who read Little House on the Prairie books and practiced being blind in case I was struck by some dread fever like Mary Ingalls was. I think I learned about Helen Keller at about the same age, and perhaps one of my teachers put the idea of role-playing blindness into my head.

      It’s terribly insensitive to people who do have vision problems, and I apologize for putting this out there in a public forum where anybody could run across it. But, it could be a helpful pretend.

  4. If the pain or injury is severe enough, you might want to try physical therapy. I’ve also had good luck with a medical masseuse—someone who works in a doctor’s office and treats your diagnosis. She nearly killed me, and it took a long time, but I’ve never had trouble with my shoulder since.

    • Okay, you all convinced me. My husband’s had physiotherapy in the past from a local practitioner who conveniently is an expert on shoulders. I will stop prevaricating and make an appointment.

      Still curious about the acupuncture, too. I might have to give that a go some time, just because!

      • You might try the acupunture too — a lot of acupunturists do a lot more than just stick needles in. I had it done for chronic fatigue syndrome, and it was working really well until I got pregnant — lol, it couldn’t overcome the tiredness from that! It was a very relaxing experience for the most part, and the needles? I didn’t feel them at all. My doctor had some sort of electrical shock thingy that made the muscles contract, and THAT was painful, but not the needles.

        It’s been more than a week. It’s time. Even if you are on the road to recovery, a visit to your practioner might prevent you from re-injuring the place.

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