Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and a host of other conditions make working the 9-to-5 severely distressing if not impossible for disabled writers. But as a freelancer, you can work at home. In your PJs. With really, really bad hair. And nobody will notice. ChronicBabe’s Jenni Prokopy offers tips on how disabled writers can work at home — and succeed big-time.
Loolwa Khazzoom: In what ways is freelance writing a disability-friendly profession?
Jenni Prokopy: The flexibility it affords is wonderful. You can work in your own space, at your pace, in your PJs, and still have a highly successful, lucrative career. If you want to, you can keep your limitations hidden. That’s the beauty of the Internet.
LK: In what ways is freelance writing especially challenging for people with disabilities?
JP: Working alone can be very isolating, so you must reach out and build networks with others. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel lonely and unsupported. I can’t overstress the value of networking and staying in contact with others. If you’re undisciplined, it’s also easy to procrastinate, which is, well, you know. Not good.
LK: Everyone’s disabilities are different, but what are some of your general tips for maximizing freelance work when disabled?
JP: Develop a daily schedule and stick with it. Make time to care for yourself — hit the gym, meditate, whatever. Having a schedule helps you feel anchored. It also keeps work time feeling like work and personal time separate. That is key. Otherwise, you’ll feel like you need to work around the clock, or on the flip side, you will always choose to do the laundry instead of cold-calling potential clients.
Find an accountability partner. This is ideally another freelancer, with whom you meet (physically or over the phone) on a regular basis, and compare notes: How often are you working? How much are you making? Any new clients? Keep each other accountable.
LK: What are your tips for dealing with the uncertainty and fear around being a disabled freelance writer — ie, with no corporate safety net?
JP: Ugh, that’s the hardest issue of all. Short answer: Marry someone so you have health insurance. Long answer: Think long and hard before going full-time freelance, because whether you’re disabled or not, it’s going to be scary. Build a supportive network you can lean on. Join an association or two, which sometimes offer group insurance programs and opportunities for networking.
The issues are really the same as with non-disabled freelancers: How will I find work? How will I juggle my schedule? The best advice I can offer is, know your craft, and approach freelancing like a business. Read books like The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman and don’t be afraid to get help from organizations like SCORE — a Small Business Association division that helps entrepreneurs, especially sole proprietors.
LK: Please talk about the power of the Internet, specifically blogging, and how it can be especially useful to writers with disabilities.
JP: The most obvious benefit is connection: It’s so easy now to connect with other people and get help, support, have fun conversations, get the latest info on your rights or medical research…It’s wonderful. Use social networking sites like digg and del.icio.us to connect with others, and work that power!
In 1997, at the age of 25, Jenni Prokopy was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Soon after came diagnoses of asthma, anxiety, Raynaud’s phenomenon and GERD. She created ChronicBabe.com in 2005, to provide an online community for younger women with chronic health issues who want to be at their best.