Where to Submit Your Work on Chronic Illness & Disability

Getting published, in any genre, is no easy task. Even after you’ve polished your work to perfection, you still have to find the right place to send it—which can be especially challenging for chronically ill, disabled, and neurodiverse writers. Unfortunately, not every literary journal is interested in work that focuses on physical and mental health. The prospect of analyzing hundreds of literary journals to find the ideal place to submit your work can be overwhelming.

That’s why I decided to put together an easy reference guide, both for myself and other underrepresented content creators. Taking the guesswork out of where to submit makes the process less stressful. My hope is that this will empower more disabled, chronically ill, and neurodiverse folks to get their work published!

The CID Submission Reference Guide

Ailment

Ailment is an online literary magazine dedicated to voicing the creative expressions of those impacted by mental and physical chronic illness. 

Accepted formats: paintings, photographs, drawings, poetry, prose/essays

Payment: N/A

Bellevue Literary Review

The BLR seeks high-caliber, unpublished work, broadly and creatively related to our themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. 

Accepted formats: fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry

Payment: two copies of the issue in which their work appears, an additional 1-year subscription to the BLR, as well as a gift subscription for a friend. There is an author discount for purchasing extra copies.

Blanket Sea

This publication showcases work by writers and artists who live with chronic illness, mental illness, and disability. The work doesn’t necessarily need to be about those experiences, but submissions along those lines are welcomed and encouraged. 

Accepted formats: creative nonfiction, fiction, art, and poetry

Payment: N/A

Breath & Shadow

Breath & Shadow is a quarterly journal of disability culture and literature. A project of Ability Maine, Breath & Shadow was the first online literary journal with a focus on disability. It is also unique in being the sole cross-disability literature and culture magazine written and edited entirely by people with disabilities. 

Accepted formats: poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, and academic writing. Payment: $20 for poetry, $30 for fiction, and $30 for nonfiction.

Chronically Lit

Chronically Lit is an online literary magazine. Our vision is to examine and expand the representation of chronic illness in contemporary literature, media, and culture.  Its mission is to publish the best creative writing by or about people with chronic illness. 

Accepted formats: essays, interviews, reviews, fiction, poetry, and art
Payment: $10 per accepted publication

Healing Muse

The Healing Muse is the annual journal of literary and visual art published by SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Center for Bioethics & Humanities. We welcome submissions particularly but not exclusively focusing on themes of medicine, illness, disability and healing.

Accepted formats: fiction, poetry, narratives, essays, memoirs and visual art

Payment: N/A

Hospital Drive

Hospital Drive is the on-line literary and humanities journal of the University of Virginia School of Medicine. The journal publishes original literature and art on themes of health, illness, and healing. Issues will be published 2-3 times a year.

Accepted formats: Poems, short fiction, essays, visual arts, and audio and video art 

Payment: N/A

Kaleidoscope 

Kaleidoscope magazine creatively focuses on the experiences of disability through literature and the fine arts. This award-winning publication expresses the experience of disability from the perspective of individuals, families, friends, healthcare professionals, educators and others

Accepted formats: articles, fiction, poetry, book reviews, and visual arts (watercolors, charcoal, etc.)

Payment: varies from $10-$100 upon publication

Monstering

Monstering is a magazine, written by and for disabled women and nonbinary people. “We believe in this: monster stories. Which is to say we believe in monsters, which is to say we believe in their socio-cultural manifestation: women and nonbinary people with disabilities.”

Accepted formats: prose, poetry, and audio/visual

Payment: N/A

The Perch

We think of a “perch” as a vantage point from which to gain perspective. For us, mental health has many aspects—physical, emotional, social, civic, political, cultural, spiritual, and more. With Yale’s The Perch hopes to expand the mental health narrative to include new and unexpected voices, ideas, and creative expressions.

Accepted formats: poetry, prose, visual artwork

Payment: N/A

Rèapparition Journal

The difficulties of withstanding a chronic condition are not easy to understand by many. Many times, the stigmatization of some of these conditions is what hurts just as much as the situation itself. The ability to express one’s emotions through poetry and prose is an invaluable experience— and that’s what Réapparition is here for. 

NOTE: This magazine only accepts content with positive messages. In the founder’s opinion, “the re-emergence of your true, positive, and passionate self comes from an emphasis on positivity— hence the name rèapparition (re-emergence or reappearance in french).”

Accepted formats: poetry, prose,  personal narrative, interviews, essays, and art

Payment: N/A

Rkvry

An online literary journal centering on the theme of “recovery.” The journal interprets recovery broadly: grief, war, exile, divorce, abuse, bigotry, illness, injury, addiction, loss of innocence, and any other topic where recovery presents itself. “Recovery may be early stage, middle stage, late stage, or no stage. Failure and doubt are also part of recovery.” This journal does not define recovery as necessarily requiring success.

Accepted formats: poetry, short stories, essays, and flash fiction

Payment: N/A

Rogue Agent

A body is the most genuine thing we have. We want your skin, your liver, your viscera. We want your joy and your frustration. Rogue Agent wants to share your stories about the poem that is the body. 

Accepted formats: poetry and art

Payment: N/A

Serotonin

Serotonin publishes creative writing on mental illness, neurodivergence and suicide prevention. Trigger warning: themes of trauma, abuse, and self-harm throughout. Read at your own risk.

Accepted formats: poetry and prose

Payment: Authors are paid $5 per piece via PayPal.

SICK

SICK is an independent, thoughtful magazine by chronically ill & disabled people. Its aim is to increase representation of sick & disabled people in publishing and the arts, and to challenge the harmful stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disability.

Accepted formats: prose (essays, interviews, etc.), poetry, and visual art

Payment: 10p ($0.16 USD) per word for prose and £40 ($51.94 USD) for visual art and poetry

Tiny Tim Literary Review

A triannual online literary review with a goal to normalize chronically ill/disability narratives in addition to humanizing medical professionals through their stories. Dismantling ableism is important while also providing a place for medical narratives.

Accepted formats: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction

Payment: N/A

Wordgathering

A digital, Open Access, quarterly journal of disability poetry, literature, and the arts, with two interconnected purposes. First, we are dedicated to providing an accessible venue for featuring the work of emerging and well-known writers with disabilities (disabled writers). Second, we seek to make available and expand a searchable core of this work for interested readers (with and without disabilities) who are committed to disability poetry, literature, and the arts.

Accepted formats: poetry, short essays, creative nonfiction, book reviews, interviews, fiction, drama, art, photography, short video, comics, and music/audio content

Payment: N/A

Is your favorite journal or magazine missing? Leave me a comment and let me know!

How to Write When You Struggle with Task & Demand Avoidance

types-of-avoidance_origI wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was thirty-three years old. And, even though the realization that my brain was “abnormal” was frightening, it was also a relief.

I’d spent my entire life assuming my unusual quirks—my impulsivity, my inability to keep things clean, my tendency to lose my keys and other personal items—were just character flaws I needed to work on. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop making these “careless” mistakes. Undiagnosed and unmedicated, I felt confused, frustrated, and undeserving.

But the truth is, neurodiverse behavioral patterns aren’t character flaws; they’re just by-products of the fact that our brains work differently. Nowadays, instead of fighting my programming and letting my inner critic run amuck, I’m trying to hack my unique mental code and make it work for me. 

6294c3_1361a4a13fd845adafc793eba5772a3e-549x600One of the challenges I struggle with most is task/demand avoidance. It’s a common problem for those of us who have autism or ADHD. When I sit down to write, I tend to get stuck in what psychologist and neuroscience expert, Susan McCrossin, describes as “The Stress/Avoidance Cycle.” 

When I sit down to write, the very existence of this mental demand can cause me anxiety. My fear of failure, the mental energy it takes to complete this task (since it’s harder for me than it is for NT writers), the prospect of inevitably making mistakes and being shamed, etc., can be overwhelming. This, in turn, causes the creative parts of my brain to shut down, making it physically impossible for me to think and write.

The end result: I get stuck in a cycle of anxiety and avoidance that repeats like the world’s most obnoxiously scratched version of the Fear and Loathing soundtrack.

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So what’s an ND writer to do? How are we supposed to create when even thinking about writing can make our brains shut down?

There are no easy answers, but here are a few, evidence-based strategies I’m trying to incorporate into my own writing practice.

Mindfulness Meditation

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Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for reducing anxiety. Recent studies have shown that, over time, mindfulness can even reduce gray matter in areas of the brain associated with stress and increase gray matter in areas associated with creativity and executive function. Personally, I love mindfulness’ strong emphasis on the importance of “non-judgement—it’s the perfect antidote to the perfectionism that fuels my anxiety.

Developing a daily mindfulness meditation practice and meditating before you begin writing can help calm your nervous system and improve your mood; this, in turn, can help prevent or reduce the anxiety that can trigger demand avoidance. One of my favorite meditations, “Working With Difficulties” comes from UCLA’s free, online guided meditation collection. I also really like the Meditation Studio App; it lets you browse meditations by type (calm, stress, pain, loving kindness, etc.). It also offers 70 different “teachers” so, if you find one person’s style or voice grating, you have plenty of options to chose from.

A word of caution:

Be careful if you decide to pursue an in-person or live virtual mindfulness course. Many instructors aren’t trained in trauma-informed practices and often haven’t considered how to make their courses accessible to diversely bodied and minded people. The last thing you want to do is put yourself through trauma or shame because of someone else’s ignorance. My advice: start off independently, develop your own practice, and go from there.

Set Realistic Goals

No one knows you better than you. Some writers can easily crank out 2000+ words a day. Me: Some days, between my chronic illness, pain, and ADHD, I’m lucky to reach 500 words. Trying to imitate another writer’s practice is a recipe for frustration and failure.

It’s better to set goals that compliment the strengths of your ND brain than to get frustrated trying to mask/pass for an NT writer. 200 words is better than zero words because you’re suffering from demand avoidance or a meltdown. Plus, 200 words a day x 365 days a year = 73,000 (which is around the length of the average novel). 🙂

Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others. There is no right way to write.

Be Flexible

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You are going to have bad days. It’s going to happen.

You”ll be sick or sleep-deprived or struggling with overstimulation. Your PDA or RSD will spiral out of control. It doesn’t mean you’re a lousy writer. It doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. It does mean—instead of hoping these things won’t happen—that  you need to be ready.

Those of us with neurodiverse brains tend to be rigid thinkers. Once our brains are fixed on a particular plan, it can be hard to switch gears and try something different. Transitions aren’t our strong suit.

One thing that’s really helped me be more “flexible” in my thinking is creating a Writing Activity Menu. That way, I can choose any activity from the menu and still feel like I’m doing something productive.

Take Your Meds

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Culturally, there’s a significant stigma around taking medications that affect your mental state. But the truth is, we Westerners have a pretty unhealthy obsession with mind-body dualism and all the shame-filled baggage that goes along with it. We’ve come a long way since the days of Plato and Aristotle. Basic neuroscience tells that our minds and bodies are intimately connected. 

We don’t mock diabetics taking insulin. We don’t blame asthmatics for needing inhalers. Why should taking medications like Adderall or Cymbalta to help address neurochemical imbalances be any different?

Some neurodiverse folks choose not to take medication. And that’s ok. Everyone is different.

I personally find my anxiety and task avoidance are much easier to deal with when I take my medications. The first time I took them, I almost cried from relief. The closest analogy I can think of is spraying wiper fluid on a pollen-covered windshield: it’s not that you can’t see with the pollen there, but things are so much easier and clearer when it’s gone.

So if you’re on the fence, talk to your doctor. Each person is different, but you never know. It just might be life-changing.

Remember What You Want

Remember that whole, “the minute a demand exists it becomes overwhelming” thing? If you’re struggling with demand avoidance, it’s especially important for you to remind yourself that writing is a choice.

You don’t have to write a novel, short story, poem, or whatever it is you’re attempting. No one is forcing you. You are under no obligation to finish. Your creative work is not a prison.

Besides, if writing is drudgery for you, it’ll be drudgery for the reader too. Writing should come from a place of joy and excitement—not compulsion and dread.

So if your demand avoidance starts kicking in, just repeat these words to yourself,  “I want to write! I love to write! I’m good at this and I’m choosing it!”

Choose joy. Choose your passion. The world needs your stories.

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5 Tips for Neurodiverse Writers

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I don’t know about you, but I often find myself thinking that writing is a “serious business” and that I should be doing it a particular way– the way some famous author or my MFA professors told me. The problem is most of that advice wasn’t created for or by people like me. So when my neurodiverse (ND) brain tries to follow that advice, it’s more than frustrating: my inner critic joins a ménage à trois with my demand avoidance and rejection sensitivity disorder

Lately, I’ve been wondering, “Where’s the writing advice for someone like me?” Where are the writing tips for people who struggle with executive dysfunction? Sequencing? Impulsivity? 

Almighty Google didn’t have much to offer in terms of answers. So, in case anyone else out there is struggling too, I decided to create my own.

5 Tips for Neurodiverse Writers

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Embrace the Chaos

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Neurodiverse brains tend to struggle with sequencing and linear thinking. Putting plot events and chapters in order isn’t likely to be our strong suit. Instead of fighting it, accept the fact that your process (and, most likely, the first draft of your book) is going to be gloriously messy. You can always go back and “fix things” later during the editing process. Forcing yourself to write things “in order” is a recipe for ND writer’s block. 

Follow Your Joy

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People with ADHD and autism are frequently told that their tendency to hyperfocus is detrimental (often by well-intended neurotypicals (NTs) who insist we need to just “suck it up and do the things you don’t want to do!”) This is bad advice for ND’s – especially when it comes to writing. 

Many autistics and ADHDers struggle with task/demand avoidance. When a task becomes stressful or mandatory, it becomes overwhelming and we completely shut down. The stress can become so severe that it can lead to meltdowns or panic attacks – something I’ve experienced personally. Trust me: you don’t want the mere sight of a blank Word doc to leave you sweating, shaking, and struggling to breathe.

All of this circles back to the false idea that there’s a “right” way to write. There isn’t. 

Instead of forcing yourself to write scenes that feel overwhelming, write the fun scenes first. Allow your imagination to wander (since it will anyway), then hyperfocus on what’s interesting! This can help keep you motivated and reduce the temptation to wander off or give up. 

Channel your hyperfocus into the superpower you’ve always known it could be. 🙂

Get Your Fidget On

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A tired piece of NT writing advice many of us have heard is, “Sit your ass in the chair and write!” But, unless you’re lost in the throes of hyperfocus, this isn’t always possible for ND’s. We’re wired differently. Our brains NEED our bodies to move; it’s how we process things. 

Instead of sitting your butt serenely in a chair, try a standing desk. Or, if you need to sit, try sensory boxes, a bouncy chair band, or a desk cycle. A wobble chair is also a great option. Better yet, download a voice-to-text app so you can move and work hands free. I promise you: it still counts as writing. 🙂

KISS: Keep It Short, Sugar

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 Let’s be honest: marathon sessions of anything (outside of our special interests) aren’t exactly most ND’s strong suits. Keeping writing sessions short and timed can help keep them from feeling impossible. I’m a big fan of NaNoWriMo’s word sprints. If I have to write for a longer period of time, the Pomodoro Method is my strategy of choice.

Get Doped Up

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ADHD and autistic brains crave dopamine. Some research suggests that the neurotransmitters in our brains don’t process dopamine as effectively as NT brains—which why we engage in behaviors like stimming and struggle with impulse control.

Rather than fighting our need for dopamine, we can use it as motivation. Reward yourself when you meet your daily writing goal! Play a video game. Devour some dark chocolate or another snack that’s rich in dopamine. If you’re more intrinsically motivated, try signing up for WattPad. There’s nothing like getting positive feedback on writing that you’re proud of. 

This list is not an end-all, be-all, but I hope it’s a beginning. Have additional suggestions? Leave them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you, because we need diverse books — and that includes neurodiversity.

#WNDB #NeurodiverseSquad #Writing