Writing through the common cold & hungover on cough syrup

unsplash_Vee-OWEDNESDAY: I feel the first tinge of sickness, the ominous scratchy throat that makes me think, Uh oh. My partner, Toku, has been sick for the past couple days, and I’ve been taking care of him, feeding him soup and orange juice. But I hadn’t seen this coming at all. I get a little over zealous, and my first line of defense is drinking an entire glass of Emergen-C and taking a Zicam. Then I sit at my desk and try to write. (Note: the warning label on Zicam cautions users against citrus drinks and taking it on an empty stomach. Hard lesson learned: there’s a reason for this).

I am horrendously nauseous from this combination and in a matter of minutes I’m hugging the porcelain god. I can barely finish morning pages, much less grind out a few pages of my novel. Writing time becomes nap time, and I crawl back into bed, so I can feel better before reporting to a temp assignment at 10 a.m.

I stick to Zicam (laying off the citrus drinks) and hot tea. That night for the first time in a very long time I take cough medicine for a good night’s rest.

THURSDAY: I don’t feel any worse, which is a good sign. I manage to do morning pages and a few pages of my novel. Today, I have a job interview plus some client work, so throughout the day I take a few doses of cough medicine. I still feel the threat of the cold, and I consume tea as if it were the elixir of life. Friday is the last day of a short temp assignment, and because I need the money, I decide that a sick day is out of the question. For the second night in a row, I take cough medicine for a good night’s rest.

FRIDAY: May have overdone it on that cough medicine, because every time I cough my head throbs. And since I’m sick, I cough a lot, which means my head throbs. A lot. I push through the last day at my temp assignment and a friend’s birthday dinner, avoiding any thought of how laying down would feel really good, because I know that I will have the sweet, sweet luxury of laying in bed all weekend.

SATURDAY: I sleep in and wake up, feeling as if my body has been run over by a cement truck, and I cough as if I’ve been smoking a pack a day for twenty years. I have just enough energy to do morning pages, and I figure that I’m too tired to work on my novel this morning. When morning pages are done, I put my notebook aside and pull up Netflix.

And it’s Mad Men and Gossip Girl. All. Day. Long.

That night our friend – the birthday girl we went out with the night before – also has a karaoke thing at a neighborhood bar. Until the very last minute I question whether or not I feel up to it. But there must be some remanent of my indomitable, twenty-something self, impervious to such things as”better judgment” or “compromised immune system”, because I think to myself, what the hell, I’ll be in bed all day Sunday anyway.

I take some cough syrup, share a couple cocktails with Toku and stay at the bar until I’m tired, come home, watch Netflix until 2 a.m., take some more cough syrup, and go to bed.

SUNDAY: I sleep in and wake up feeling as if my body has been run over by ten cement trucks. No way am I doing morning pages. I can barely sit up. I’m taking the day off.

Breaking Bad and Gossip Girl. All. Day. Long.

Late in the afternoon I sit up and attempt to read my book, The Hack by my friend Josh Gross, to see if I have the mental capacity for the written word. Feeling light-headed twenty minutes later I decide that I don’t, and it’s back to good ol’ Netflix.

If you’re writing while sick, here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Habits are everything. Before I got sick I had a few weeks of solid writing habits, not just morning pages but writing my novel for about an hour or so each day, so that by the time I got sick writing was as routine as personal hygiene. When you don’t have good writing habits, it’s easy to shirk the responsibilities and say, “Not today.” But when it’s part of your routine, you do it no matter what, even if you are groggy and a little delirious from the cough syrup. Go into it with good habits, and coming down with the cold won’t be a huge setback.

2. At-your-worst is okay. Writing on the days I was a little delirious, I didn’t fight it. I accepted that I wasn’t at my best, but I felt better knowing that I was simply making the effort. If you manage to sit up in bed and eke out a few pages, then you’re okay. Remember that there are always good days and bad days.

3. It’s okay to take a day off. Really, one day isn’t going to kill you, especially if you’ve been keeping to a schedule. It’s okay to rest, and this goes back to #1. If you have good writing habits to start with, then you won’t have any trouble at all getting back into the swing of things.

MONDAY: Feeling a lot better but still tired, not the feeling of being run down by a cement truck, more like a Mini Cooper. We need more coffee, and because the store doesn’t open until eight, I use that as an excuse to sleep in a little. I take my sweet time getting coffee and crawl into an armchair. Morning pages are easy, but eeking out a few pages of my novel is a bit harder. I accept that writing after being sick for a few days is going to be tough and to do the best that I can.

And I can probably lay off the cough syrup.