Paula Kamen’s Tips for Maximizing Freelance Writing Work When Disabled

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

May 12th, 2008 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

It seems that more and more chronic pain sufferers are launching blogs and doing other work as freelance writers — whether our writing directly addresses chronic pain or not. So I asked Paula Kamen for her tips on maximizing freelance writing work when disabled. Here’s what she said:

1. Ideally, do something other than writing to earn money, so you won’t burn out when it comes time to do your real writing.

2. The exception to that is corporate writing, such as doing newsletters or corporate reports, which do pay much more hourly than the more glamorous magazine writing, and with less competition. Don’t worry that you’re “selling out!” It’s a means for an end. If you’re really a socially conscious type, you can also do writing for non-profits, such as grant writing.

3. Conserve your brain energy and be picky in taking freelance assignments. Don’t write just to write. Do an article or book only if you’re really interested in it or if it will advance your career.

4. Moving at your own pace, without judgment, is the key. Don’t judge yourself as being “productive” only if you work fast. If you work slowly but steadily, you will be amazed at how much you get done in the long-term. This was my style for my third and fourth books, which I actually produced relatively quickly in the long term, although the writing felt slow at the time.

5. Do not judge yourself if you need financial help from someone like a partner or parent, or even the government. Everyone has a time in their life when they are dependent, but we often forget that. Besides, there is almost no writer who has made it totally on their own; if you peel away a layer, you usually find some covert source of help (trust fund, husband, etc.).

6. Not having to rely solely on freelance journalism has greatly reduced the stress in my life. This is true even with my third and fourth books, which have gotten much better advances. I know, from the experience of my second book (which I resold to another publisher), that books often get rejected, and then you have to give the advance back.

Until a book is officially accepted and published, I see the advance as a loan. I also have less stress knowing that I can afford to stop working on it if it starts to adversely affect my health, which is always the most important consideration.

Paula Kamen, a Chicago-based journalist, is the author of All In My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache, and most recently, Finding Iris Chang (on bipolar disorder). Her website is


Michai Freeman June 30th, 2008

I just read a bunch of entries and really enjoyed them. I am disabled and dance wildly and lovingly through visualization. On many levels dancing even by thought energizes my body. If I need to bolster my spirit I listen to music and dance because no pill is as effective. I love watching people dance as well because I feel their energy and enjoyment as well.

Steven Mather, Tampa FL July 24th, 2008

I’m 100% disabled and receive benefits fro Hartford and SSDI. I recently got a publishing contract with a small publishing house, no advance. Hartford is trying to make a case that if I can write a book I’m not disabled and can earn money. First of all, I can only write for a little each day and only on good days. Secondly, there is no guarantee that I’ll make a dime. Also, there is the issue of royalties vs. earnings. Basically, Hartford is saying if I can write a book I’m not disabled, and they are taking away the thing I love the most. Any experience or knowledge about this type of thing?

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