I have to tell you something. I’m awful sick. I usually bear it silently, and with unparalleled dignity, but I suffer like you wouldn’t believe. Writers’ ailments are varied and widespread: to name but a few, there’s Writer’s Ear, Writer’s Shoulder, Writer’s Twitch and Writer’s Arse… and I have all of them.
Whereas people in frivolous and namby-pamby professions (such as the armed forces, the police, or paramedics; international peace negotiators, high-wire circus performers, or the Dalai Lama’s bodyguards) garner much admiration, and the lion’s share of sympathy, writers get nothing.
People laugh at writers. They make nasty jokes about freezing garrets and fingerless gloves. They even give cynical prizes for what is subjectively determined to be bad writing. They know not how we endure, without pay, praise, or paracetamol. Yet we soldier on in our thankless pursuit of wordiness, risking everything, day after day.
I was diagnosed with Writer’s Ear around 2010, when I began to experience sudden and inexplicable deafness in the middle of conversations, just when I was asked if I had yet managed to get anything published. I can also become very hard of hearing when people I’ve just met tell me all about a friend of theirs who is a full-time writer. It doesn’t matter whether these estimable friends are barely scraping a living, or doing uncommonly well. I just can’t hear it.
The pain of Writer’s Shoulder is almost too intense to recall, even for the purposes of this article. It becomes particularly intense in the throes of media multi-tasking, which usually involves the simultaneous use of at least one laptop, a smartphone, a tablet, a television and an mp3 player, whilst lying sideways, on a couch.
Despite blinding agony, we bear it with courage, writing blog posts, making comments, liking things, looking up links, and tweeting, because a writer’s dedication to social media knows no bounds. Sure, we could be sitting in a straight-backed chair at a desk, writing actual stories: but where is the noble torture in that?
Writer’s Twitch is a chronic condition which, in a recent poll, affected 87% of writers (the other 13% were lying). Writer’s Twitch usually presents once submissions have been made. This covers all types of submissions – be they to agent slush piles or competitions, regarding short stories, novels, magazine articles, or poetry.
Symptoms include rapid blinking, general jumpiness, crippling paranoia and a tendency to check e-mail inboxes approximately once every fifteen minutes (five, in acute cases).
Episodes of Writer’s Twitch usually peak upon receipt of rejection slips, giving rise to the gnashing of teeth and intermittent wailing. However, there have also been rare reports of euphoric highs, making Writer’s Twitch one of the more popular illnesses amongst aspirant sufferers.
NOTE: If you ever encounter someone afflicted with this particular condition, it is best not to approach them directly. Once communication is established, stick to safe topics when conversing, such as politics, or religion.
It is difficult to go into the finer points of Writer’s Arse without sounding melodramatic. Suffice to say that alone, it is one of the most horrific conditions to afflict the human body; but when combined with Writer’s Shoulder, it can surge right past the frowny face on the hospital pain scale. It is fortunate that those who write are predisposed to masochism, because the vast numbing sensations of Writer’s Arse, accompanied by that inexplicable heat once the writer rises from the chair after a long session, are not for the faint-hearted.
Sadly, there is little or no research funding dedicated to writers’ ailments, and no arts funding whatsoever was allocated to the cause last year.
However, you can help. Donations can be made at your local bookshop, online, and in libraries, in exchange for products made by the afflicted. You may even give directly. Take a writer out for a walk or a coffee today. Give a writer the opportunity to moan and whinge to your face, and in return, we will allow you to tell us how wonderful we are.
It could mean more than you ever know.
(c) Tara Sparling
Tara Sparling writes novels, short fiction and screenplays. She spends all of her spare time with words – the writing of them, and the reading of them. This takes some of the harm out of the fact that her day job in finance is all about numbers: pushing them around, extracting meaning from them and sometimes insulting them.
Tara’s blog www.tarasparlingwrites.wordpress.com looks at best-selling book statistics, genre and thematic trends, literary and mathematical humour; exploring the realities of traditional and self-publishing, marketing tips, bizarre success stories, and spectacular failures.