Writing Habits
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Do You Pay Attention to the Physical Aspects of Writing?

Writing is hard mental work, we all know that.  But it is hard on your body physically as well.

Yeah, right, you say.  All I do is sit in a chair at the computer all day. Morro-strand-stretching-98145-h

And that is exactly why writing is so hard on you–because it is not good for you to sit all day.   Not even one little bit good.  Our human bodies were made to move, and our ancestors moved all day.  But we don't.  We sit in a chair all day and our bodies don't like that.  Studies have shown that even if you run five miles after work, if you sit all day, you're not healthy.

I've experienced this first-hand over the last couple of years, with an ongoing knee problem that I'm finally getting some relief for.  Turns out its not about the knee at all, but rather very tight muscles in my hip and sacrum area.  Chiropractic and laser treatment, along with icing, daily stretching and yoga, is making a huge difference.  

But in the course of my chiropractic treatments, I've realized how stiff and tense my neck and shoulder muscles are.  I was so used to them feeling this way, it took my chiropractor asking about them every visit for me to realize–wait a minute, my neck is sore.  And my shoulders are stiff.  And they feel like this all day, every day. (Having had two children without any anesthetic, I have a high threshold for pain.)

I have plans to live until I'm 100 years old, in good physical and mental health, and I also plan to continue writing all those years–so I've got to pay attention.  I've been following my chiropractor's orders and researching ergonomics so that I can live and write for many more years.  Here's what I've found helps so far:

Stand up every 15 -30 minutes.  This one is tough.  You're writing away, the words are flowing–the last thing you want to do is stand up and move away from the desk.  But I find I feel much better at the end of the day when I do this.  Set a timer, if you must, but once you get it in your head, you'll remember.  My rule is, if I think I should stand up, I need to. So I do it.  And then I stretch or wander around for a minute.

Drink a lot of water.  My chiropractor says 70 ounces a day.  Yep, 70 ounces. This helps with muscle inflammation and trust me, it also assures you will stand up often–because you'll have to, to use the bathroom.

Develop an arsenal of stretches for your neck, shoulders, and back.  Have a regular practice of this and also do them throughout the day.

Check your posture.  Since I've started to pay attention, I've noticed a bad habit: I jut my neck forward and hunch my shoulders up.  It's no wonder my neck hurts.  Now I work to keep my head aligned with my body and if I do sit forward, I angle my whole body.  We all develop strange habits as we work–check to see if you have any.

Look at your computer set-up.  According to this physical therapist, your computer monitor should be at eye level.  Arggh!  Mine is several inches below.  Gotta work on that–its probably causing some of my neck strain, too.

Consider a stand-up desk.  I know I can't stand at my desk eight hours a day but I'd like to be able to stand for thirty minute or hour-long stretches throughout the day.  And so I'm ordering this nifty little laptop cart that also doubles as a stand-up desk.  I'll let you know how it works out!

Make sure you have good lighting.  Eyestrain can be a source of headaches, as I'm sure you know. Beware of glare on your screen, and make sure you're working in a well-lit room in the evening. Some experts recommend glancing away from you computer every 20 minutes or so–gazing at anything green is especially restful.

Ice is your friend.  Get thee some ice packs and keep them in the freezer for the times when you are stiff and sore.  Ice reduces inflammation and will make you feel better–especially on a hot day.

Okay, those are some of the things that are helping me, and I admit my efforts are a work in progress. I have to constantly remind myself to stand up, to stretch, to look away from the computer screen and give my eyes a rest.

Do you have any other recommendations for good writing ergonomics?  Please share.

 Photo by mikebaird.

0 thoughts on “Do You Pay Attention to the Physical Aspects of Writing?

  1. J.D.

    Great post! If losing your physical abilities doesn’t scare you (of course I include myself) just remember your body is connected to your brain. So unless you want to write such fascinating stories as See Dick Sleep, take care of the house where your brain lives.

  2. Charlotte Dixon

    Boy, am I becoming aware of that. It is hard to concentrate on your writing when you’re dealing with aches and pains! And yes, everything is connected. Thanks, J.D.

  3. Amanda Moon

    I have a treadmill desk. I use it ALOT doing my homework for my MFA program. I like it for drafting and reading, but it’s a little hard for edits and things were I need to be able to see details in a manuscript (where did I put that comma?) But I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it. I also do a lot of reading on the exercise bikes or the elliptical at the gym. I wrote a whole blog post about it here: http://amandamichellemoon.com/extended-christmas-break

    Also, and this will probably only effect people with old homes or really makeshift offices (I have both) but my first full day I had to write I realized I had to rearrange my office. The floors in our basement are really uneven and where my desk was, my chair was sitting slightly to the right and back. Not so much that it was uncomfortable to sit in, but enough that when I stood up my chair rolled way away. It wasn’t a big deal for two to three hours a day, but after my first four hour day my back and side was really sore. I rearranged and got everything on the flattest surface possible. It’s much better.

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    I just read your post, Amanda–and its great because your treadmill desk looks easily doable. I’ve always thought of them as too expensive. I think I’ll start with my stand-up desk and see how that goes, but I’m definitely interested. And I love the bit about the uneven floors!

  5. Cathysmallwood.wordpress.com

    The biggest challenge is finding a comfortable set up outside!! I’m scrunched into a lawn chair writing this ;p

    I have my computer announce the time on the quarter hour, and have customized the voice to sound like one of the characters in my novel, so I stretch every time I hear him 😉 I’ve also used timers for a 25 min. work/5 min. break cycle. (Pomodoro method)

    Still working on the set up inside the house; currently I have my laptop on the footstool on the kitchen counter, which puts the monitor at the right height, but not the keyboard. Next on list is a wireless keyboard. And track pad…

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    I love writing outside, also, but our outdoor table is not optimal height-wise. Still, its worth it. And good for you for having a timer set for breaks! I use that same Pomodoro method sometimes and it works great.

    I think I may need a wireless keyboard as well, so that I can get the monitor/keyboard heights correct. It really takes some effort to get all this right, and yet it is so worth it.

    Thanks for commenting!

  7. Zan Marie

    Neck and shoulder! You read my mind, didn’t you, Charlotte! I do have to get up and move more, but some days I’m just too tired to move. I have a nifty set of stretches, though. They work wonders. BTW, you’re right about drinking more water. 😉 That’s one way to get up and move more.

  8. Charlotte Dixon

    I’m with you, Zan Marie, I’ve got a set of stretches I do that really help. And I try to remember to do mini versions of them throughout the day for breaks as well.

  9. D young

    I run 🙂

    My life is very active. I feel almost opposite of all of you. I hunt down time to read/write. Taking breaks isn’t even that necessary for the short periods I have. I will say, however posture is a big one for me. I’ve found core exercises helpful. Yoga, planks, and general stretching are helpful for anyone at any stage or activity of life.

  10. Amanda Martin

    This article is definitely for me. I have had chronic knee pain for years and only just found a physio that explained it’s due to tight hip muscles. I do lunges when I remember but I’m terrible for writing for hours without moving. Worse still I sit on a sofa with a laptop to write, so my body is all scrunched up by the end of the day. I feel 100 yearsold already! Will definitely try some of these suggestions.

  11. D young

    I’d also suggest for you – to roll out your IT bands.

  12. Charlotte Dixon

    I took up running a few years ago and loved it. My most favorite exercise ever. And I had to quit because it was too hard on my knees. But now that I’m getting my body straightened out (one leg is shorter than the other) I might be able to take it up again. And I am doing yoga as well.

  13. Charlotte Dixon

    Amanda–I have the exact same thing! Everyone told me I was going to need knee surgery but it wasn’t that at all, it was tight hip muscles. Also, have your physio check to see if one leg is shorter than the other–that was a big part of my problem. And yes, the stretches really, really help!

  14. ztnoble@gmail.com

    Thanks for these great reminders about taking care of our bodies. I do too much sitting at a laptop, too. I’ll have to start setting a timer to remind me to get up and stretch every 20 minutes. Otherwise, I’ll zone out with my writing and an hour or two later, I’ll think, Oops! I was supposed to get up and stretch.

  15. Charlotte Dixon

    I know, I really have to watch out for that tendency, too–even in leisure time. Last night I was sitting out back knitting and suddenly realized I’d been plopped in my chair for 20 minutes, so I actually stood and knitted for about 10 minutes. Once I remember, I’m find–its just the remembering that is hard for me.

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