Thursday, July 30, 2020

Writing with Disabilities

by Kathy Neely @NeelyKneely3628

“Disability need not be an obstacle to success.” Those words were spoken by Stephen Hawking, a great physicist who had ALS, a debilitating disease. He not only spoke the words; he lived them and achieved great accomplishments in the world of science. However, I would phrase it differently. I would say that disability need not prohibit success. It doesn’t eliminate the obstacle.

When I worked in education, we served students across the spectrum of abilities. I’ll share a response that a special ed teacher gave to a student with dyslexia. She said, “This is not your fault, but it is your problem.” I believe it’s important to recognize and own our challenges. Only then can we carve the path to our dreams and goals. 

It’s been eight years since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I made the decision to retire ahead of my original schedule. Since then, I began writing and have had three novels published and another under contract. I love writing. However, my physical challenges continue to increase, and with the neuro-degenerative nature of the disease, that pattern will likely persist. 

That doesn’t mean the end of my writing. In fact, I’m currently working on a manuscript with a character who has Parkinson’s. It does mean that my writing journey may look different than yours. Each disability requires its own unique plan. Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way. 

Tips for Writing with a Disability
ATTITUDE: Don’t dwell on what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of comparing yourself to others. Worse than that, I sometimes compare myself to my past self. There’s no benefit to be gained. Instead, make a habit of rehearsing things you do well. Count the blessings, and I believe you’ll find abundance. 

INFORMATION: Arm yourself with education about your unique situation. You can’t adequately prepare if you don’t know what to expect. Find a balance between educating yourself and obsessing. I’ve learned what my new normal is and what to expect. I avoid many internet sites and other venues where PD becomes my primary focus. It’s my problem, but it’s not who I am. 

PRIORITIZE: This is so very important. We are children of God, created by Him, for Him, and with a purpose. Your priority list will differ from mine. Each challenge is unique. For me, after nurturing my relationship with God and with friends and family, I must give exercise preference. It’s vital to neuro health. I also work hard to minimize stress. It’s a bully that attacks us wherever we are physiologically weak. 

GOALS: Make goals realistic. In my newly contracted novel, True North, Mallory’s father tells her, “A goal without a plan is just a daydream.” Make a plan. Organization is important for everyone, but more so when you face challenges. Look to your strength areas and priorities when setting goals. The pace of my writing slowed down considerably when I made exercise a priority. 10,000 words a week may not happen for me. Writing conferences are difficult so I look for other opportunities for workshops and networking. Don’t look to what other people are doing. Make goals achievable for you.

In the current climate of COVID-19, people are dealing with so many challenging issues. Separation from friends and family. Fear for health. Economic hardships. Isolation. Conferences and workshops have been canceled, eliminating a major opportunity to network and hone up skills. Book signings have ceased. The publishing world is feeling the effects of these issues as well, closing some imprints and laying people off. That’s a big bundle of negatives. Could the above tips help us weather the current storm of COVID? I believe they can. 
  • ATTITUDE - Shift our focus from what we can’t do and look at what we can.
  • INFORMATION - Stay current on information but avoid obsessing. The news can become overwhelming. Pace it. 
  • PRIORITIZE - Prioritize your time and energy. I hear people talking about boredom. What an easy problem to eliminate!
  • GOALS - Set goals. Imagine how much writing we can accomplish.
I would love to hear how you are overcoming the challenges of 2020, a year that we will long remember. 

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13 


Kathleen Neely resides in Greenville, SC with her husband, two cats, and one dog. She is a retired elementary principal, and enjoys time with family, visiting her two grandsons, traveling, and reading. 

She is the author of The Street Singer, Beauty for Ashes and The Least of These. Kathleen won second place in a short story contest through ACFW-VA for her short story “The Missing Piece” and an honorable mention for her story “The Dance”. Both were published in a Christmas anthology. Her novel, The Least of These, was awarded first place in the 2015 Fresh Voices contest through Almost an Author. She has numerous devotions published through Christian Devotions

Kathleen continues to speak to students about writing and publication processes. She is a member of Association of Christian Fiction Writers. 
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  1. Good advice, Kathy. I have a brother who is a writer and also has Parkinson's. God bless.

  2. While reading your post, I thought of songwriter and lead singer of Casting Crowns, Mark Hall. He has often shared about having dyslexia. Even with having dyslexia, he has written some of the most beautiful songs. He is also a youth pastor and more. God has a plan for each of us.

  3. Love your comment on attitude. I have copied your quote & put it next to my computer. I admit I can be guilty of the wrong focus. Blessings!

  4. The timing of this article is perfect for me. We are facing some temporary problems that are not our fault, but they are problems none the less. Thank you for blessing and encouraging me this morning! Great advice!

  5. Dear Friend,

    Well written.... Just as you write your novels!! (I took "The Least of These" on my recent trip; and, enjoyed reading it all over again!)

    May The Lord bless you as you continue on this 'journey'; and, may He help you to publish many more wonderful stories!! I don't know how you (and Him) do it; but, reading them is one of life's pleasures!

  6. Thank you for your wise words, Kathleen. Your advice resonated with me because I I have Mutiple Sclerosis, another progressive autoimmune disease. My writing journey looks much like yours. Like Maureen, I’ve copied your tips and put them next to my computer. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thank you for your encouraging words. I am dyslexic and have fibromyalgia. Some days one or tge other makes writing very difficult but God. He gives me the power to struggle through and keep pressing on.

  8. Thank you for your encouraging words. I am dyslexic and have fibromyalgia. Some days one or tge other makes writing very difficult but God. He gives me the power to struggle through and keep pressing on.

  9. Kathy, I did not know this about you. I admire your determination! God has put you in the right place. Keep writing. These are good tips for anyone going through a hard time.

  10. Kathleen, you gave such excellent advice. This summer I am recovering from a fall and a concussion, plus cataract surgery. But I am just pacing myself, without comparing to other people right now. God is helping.

  11. Thank you for such encouragement. I have arthritis in different places, and I never know what I'll feel like when I get up in the morning. It's definitely a challenge for me, but I am thankful that God is in the middle of it with me. He never leaves me nor forsakes me (Heb.13:5)--no matter what I can or can't do, now matter my disposition.

  12. Kathy, what an inspiring post! So interesting how we make our plans but God orders our steps. I loved your quote, “A goal without a plan is just a daydream.” I think that will become my new favorite inspirational quote. Blessings to you.