Monday, November 28, 2011

Using Injuries to your Advantage

This is a blog post in praise of injuries... okay, actually  it's more like a thought experiment in which I try to talk myself into being positive about something that just happened to me. We'll see how it goes and blame any muddled writing on the painkillers, yes?

Here’s the story:

I’ve been indoor rock climbing since early November and absolutely loving it. It’s part of my quest to find (1) fun hobbies to share with my husband and (2) physical activities that have less chance of injuring me than my usual contact sports.

Unfortunately #2 didn’t work out so well.

This weekend I was on a familiar route reaching for a familiar hold – nothing crazy or contorted.  But somehow my hand slipped off, and I felt and heard my shoulder pop out of the socket (a familiar sensation, unfortunately). I screamed to come down, writhing on the rope, and before I even hit the mat my shoulder popped back into place. (This sounds queasy and everything, but it’s a really good thing it did, because a shoulder out of place is about a million times more painful than one that fixes itself right away.)

When the pain and panic subsided, what was left was bitterness. Yes, it could be much, much worse. But it still sucks to have a shoulder injury the last week of NaNoWriMo. It sucks to be banned from my bicycle when we don’t have a car. It sucks to waste the next two weeks of my rock climbing pass and know that I probably shouldn’t invest in another one. It sucks that I have to “retire” from multiple sports before I’m even 30 because they keep injuring me no matter how responsible I try to be.  

Like I said, I'm a little bitter. 

But I need to turn this attitude around, especially if I plan to succeed at NaNoWriMo. So I started thinking about how injuries can help my writing – and your writing too, though I definitely don’t recommend afflicting yourself with injuries for the sake of your book. I mean, not unless it's really neces... Actually, no, just stay healthy. But here's the positive spin I'm putting on the injuries that are apparently determined to come my way:

Injuries come with stories.

I’ve gotten serious injuries dangling thirty feet in the air, being chased by dogs, and diving for a score in a frisbee game… but I’ve also needed stitches after tripping up the stairs. Everything from the epic to the embarrassing could find a place in my writing. I can see a scar and put myself right back in that moment, mining it for all its creative potential.

Injuries help me hurt my characters accurately.

It’s tempting to take it too easy on your beloved characters, so it’s not bad to have a very physical reminder that life isn’t fair and bodies are vulnerable. Not that I’m just taking out my current bitterness on my healthy characters… noooo….I just wouldn’t want to waste the research...

Thanks to my unfortunate life experience, I can accurately describe what it feels like when my character dislocates her shoulder.  Or sprains her ankle. Or breaks her ankle. Or breaks her ankle and walks around on it because it’s been misdiagnosed as a sprain. Or needs twenty stitches.  Or breaks her arm. Or her other arm. You get the idea. 

I can also estimate how much a character can realistically do while they’re injured. Now that I’m pretending to be an adult, I’m pretty good about taking it easy after I injure something. (Evidence: I really wanted to go to unicycling class tonight, but stayed home instead. Wait, this blog post is making my habits sound more insane all the time, isn’t it?) But back in the day, if I was in season I’d push my injured body to the limit all the time. It’s probably the reason I’m still prone to injuries, but at least I know how much you can accomplish with the help of some adrenaline. Luckily my characters are kids and teenagers, so their bodies bounce back faster than mine does now.

Injuries make me break routine and get creative.

With this injury I’ve had to relearn how to do a number of tasks with one hand (or one and a half hands, when I’m cheating and not wearing my sling correctly). It forces me to get creative, it makes me truly aware of motion and my body, and it helps me empathize with people who are overcoming much more. 

More specific to writing, typing one-handed forces me to go more slowly and think differently… except here’s where my praise of injury seriously fails, because typing one handed during NaNoWriMo honestly drove me so nuts that I sacrificed shoulder comfort and went back to typing with two hands as quickly as possible. That’s what more Advil is for, right?

I don't want to wear my shoulder out any more on this blog post, so what about you? Have you been able to spin negative experiences into your writing and used that to make them seem more positive? And is anyone else out there similarly injury-cursed  and still stubbornly going out there and playing sports?


  1. Most of my injuries came from doing stupid things, like twisting my knees funny getting in or out of the car or basically, just moving around in general. :)

    I think there should be a special NaNo award for writing/winning while injured. We could call it The Jillian. Maybe its image is the NaNo badge but in a sling? :)

    Feel better soon!

  2. You forgot dislocate your kneecap.

  3. Madeline: Hehehe, The Jillian. I love it! I think I'm going to finish a day early for once (wheee!) so perhaps I will make myself a badge with my lack of artistic skills.

    Cece: Ah yes, though a truly exhaustive list of my injuries would have been, well, exhausting.

  4. So are you re-naming your blog "Writing on a Dislocated Limb?" or perhaps "Writing on a Bruised Limb?" :)

    Thankfully, I've not experienced too many injuries. But I have had a kidney stone, and I think that counts for quite a few. I now know intense pain... and how it feels when that pain is suddenly (by the miracle of morphine) relieved. Though I don't know if the written word could quite describe it. That would be a challenge. Mmmm... one of my characters may have to get a kidney stone. :)

  5. Hehehe. Those are brilliant titles. If only I had your pun-telligence when I was titling this post!

    And I'm very glad kidney stones have not been part of my 'personal research' thus far!