Story Hospital

NaNoWriMo: Accommodating Your Disability (and Other Limitations)

Dear friends,

Welcome to the first NaNoWriMo bonus post! I asked my Patreon patrons what topics they’d like me to write about, and a couple of folks suggested discussing doing NaNo while disabled. I think this is a brilliant idea—thank you, wise patrons! Writers have all kinds of limitations and the techniques I’m going to discuss here will be broadly applicable to working with and around those limitations, but I really want to focus on disability, because one-size-fits-all goals, like NaNo’s 50k words in 30 days, come with unspoken assumptions about ability that are particularly hard for disabled people to push back against.

I have several intermittent chronic conditions (some physical, some psychological) that flare up and interfere with my writing. I know what it’s like to look at a thing that everyone else is doing and feel miserable because I just can’t do it, or because it looks easy for everyone else and is very hard for me. So the first thing I want to say to anyone who’s disabled and feeling that way around NaNo is that it is not your fault that 50k in 30 days is massively difficult or impossible for you. Like so many things, NaNo is designed for people with a certain level of ability—not just writing skill, but the physical ability to use writing tools or write for long stretches every day, and the mental ability to be organized and disciplined around writing. No one says “you must be this able to ride this ride” but you can very easily see it between the lines. There are also unspoken assumptions about your available time, which is a challenge for many writers but particularly for those whose disabilities slow them down in other ways and eat up all their time just in doing the necessary tasks of day-to-day life. NaNo is, quite bluntly, not made for us.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do it anyway, of course! This post is directed at people who’ve already decided NaNo is something they want to tackle, and I’m not about to tell you to give up. But if it feels inordinately hard to do NaNo while disabled, that’s because it is. You’re not imagining things. It is a real challenge.

Workplaces and schools make accommodations for people with disabilities so that we can reach the same level of achievement as anyone else. When you’re doing NaNo, you’re the one in charge, so it’s up to you to make those accommodations for yourself. Here are some places to start:

There are lots of ways to keep to the spirit of NaNoWriMo while adapting the details to your own goals and needs and abilities and limitations. Plenty of abled writers do this, and you absolutely get to do it too if you need to or just if you want to. The key is to set yourself up to feel really good about whatever you accomplish—setting yourself up to succeed.

Happy trying, happy learning, and happy writing!


Story Nurse

This post is part of a special NaNoWriMo 2016 series supported by my fabulous Patreon patronsGot a writing question? Ask the Story Nurse!