Niche never crossed my mind in the ICU waiting room. At the time, I could barely understand what had happened. Old people had strokes, not 49-year-old, otherwise healthy men, and certainly not my husband. Whatever had just happened, I told myself, it was a temporary thing. He would heal and we would go on with our lives.
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. The stroke paralyzed Jerry’s left side and, although he has regained enough function to walk with a cane, he still doesn’t have much use of his hand. Because of the seizures he has without medication, he hasn’t been cleared to drive yet, so I have become Morgan Freeman to his Miss Daisy, chauffeuring him to jobsites and even helping wire panels. (Thankfully, he has been able to return to work.)
Writing Through the Rough Patches
Jerry spent a total of eight weeks in the hospital and, admittedly, I didn’t write much during that time. Even when he did come home, my focus was on doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions and whatever spare time I did have I devoted to our two teenage daughters. Marketing was the last thing on my mind.
As Jerry’s appointments tapered off, though, I gradually reached out to the editors I had relationships with, letting them know I was available for work. This netted a few assignments, which was about all I could handle initially but, with the medical bills rolling in, I knew I would need to ramp up my efforts.
An Unexpected Niche
Before Jerry’s stroke, I would never have approached an entity like the National Stroke Association because I don’t have any medical expertise. As I searched online for answers, I realized I had something that the “experts” didn’t – experience. I personally understood stroke’s impact and I thought that gave me an edge when it came to writing for survivors and their families.
I pitched three ideas to the editor of the National Stroke Association’s magazine, Stroke Smart, and the editor assigned two of them. Those assignments led to an ongoing relationship with the magazine.
Every month, the editor sends me two or three assignments on a specific topic with sources to contact. I love that I don’t have to pitch him ideas and that the association pays promptly, but that’s not all. Often, I’m assigned to write about treatments or therapies that I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise.
Plus, the assignments have required me to tackle related health issues including heart disease, psoriasis, and diabetes. I can build on the experience to approach other medical associations, trade publications, and consumer magazines for assignments.
In retrospect, Jerry’s stroke – as awful as it is – has given me a new perspective on my life and career and it has opened the door to new writing opportunities.
Teresa Bitler is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Way, and Sunset. She regularly contributes to AAA Highroads, Sherman’s Travel, Personal Real Estate Investor, and now Stroke Smart. Although her husband’s stroke curtailed some of her travels, you’ll find her in Northern Arizona at the beginning of 2015, working on a travel guide for Fodor’s and looking for story ideas.