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Do you know what it is?
Words don’t spring from your mind onto the page or the computer monitor. At least not yet, though I’m sure some tech genius somewhere is working on that. In the meantime, you need a pen or a pencil in your hand or your fingers on a keyboard to write.
Carpal tunnel syndrome and back trouble, usually compressed discs in the lower spine caused by sitting for long periods, are repetitive stress injuries that can plague writers. If your back aches or your wrists hurt how much time are you going to be able to spend typing or writing longhand?
The keyword in that paragraph is stress. Along with poor nutrition and dehydration, stress is one of the three biggest enemies of good health according to the Mayo Clinic.
Writing is a stressful profession. We all know this, but we forget that mental and emotional stress affects the body as well as the mind and the psyche. Your body—not your laptop or your laser printer—is the most important tool you possess as a writer. It’s the strong bow you need to fire your arrow at the bull’s eye. If you can’t draw the bow string because your wrists are killing you or your arm is as limp as overcooked spaghetti, you’ll be lucky to hit the hay bale, forget the bull’s eye. You are your most powerful writing tool. You need to stay strong to be powerful.
Taking care of your body isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense, things we all know to do but need to be reminded of now and then.
Simple things to do before you park your fanny in the chair:
• Get a good night’s sleep. Even if you’re in Deadline Hell. If you’re a zombie you can’t function, let alone think and create. Your body is an engine. You can’t run it at Warp 7 for long stretches without maintenance and expect it not to breakdown. It will.
• Exercise. Especially if you’re in Deadline Hell. Whatever form you choose, be Nike and just do it. My idea of exercise is a good brisk sit, but if I can manage 15 minutes of aerobics every day so can you. Exercise gets the body and the brain going before you sit down to write.
• Take your vitamins. You mother was right about this. A good multi-vitamin and other supplements if needed. Antioxidants, essential fatty acids and B-vitamins—natural stress busters—are excellent for writers.
While your fanny is parked in the chair:
• First, invest in a good chair. Think how many hours you spend sitting on it and don’t pinch pennies. Your back will thank you.
• Mind your posture. Your mother was right about this, too. Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel. Get up and move around for a few minutes every hour or so to keep your back and your thinking muscles, aka your brain, stretched. Set your timer if need be. This also gives your eyes a break from the monitor. In the last two years I’ve added exercise bands and an exercise ball, primarily for balance exercises, to my aerobics. Both have helped improve my posture.
• Remember to eat. M&M’s are not one of the four major food groups. Set a reminder on your cell phone to take a break and eat. Real food. Not a handful of Oreos.
• Drink water. Yeah, you’ll have to get up to go to the bathroom, but that’s the point—it gets you out of the chair. Nothing works as well as water to flush toxins out of your system.
• Keep your feet off the floor. Use a footstool or a footrest designed to fit under your desk. This eases compression on your spine.
• Wear loose-fitting clothes so you can stay focused on your characters and your story, not your too-tight jeans—from that handful of Oreos you snuck while you thought I wasn’t looking. I sneak them, too, but I don’t count them as lunch.
When you’ve finished writing for the day:
• Decompress. Do something mindless. Walking is a great stress buster. Reading does it for me. One of my biggest complaints about writing is that it really cuts into my reading time. TV, bubble baths, music, candles, whatever helps you relax and destress.
• Make To Do lists so you don’t add the stress of forgetting important things, like making dinner. I have, believe it or not. Thank God for pizza.
• If you find yourself getting stressed while you’re writing, put on your pajamas. This is a mind trick, but it works. The brain connects sleepwear with rest and relaxation. I run a diffuser in my office with lavender oil.
• Keep regular physical and dental appointments. That one is key because writers are especially prone to repetitive stress injuries. Don’t let something get started and become chronic. Head it off at the pass.
Standing desks are possibly the best invention since Oreos. It lifts your monitor along with your keyboard so you can stand up and type.
I use an ergonomic keyboard. I believe I bought the first one ever manufactured. I’m all thumbs on a regular keyboard now, and I’m happy to say, knock wood, I’ve never had problems with my wrists.
I have an incremental keyboard tray attached to my desk. Incremental means I can adjust it in increments, which I do at least twice an hour, so my body isn’t stuck in the same position all day. It has a pad on the side for my ergonomic mouse. The tray and mousepad sort of look like the navigation console on the starship Enterprise.
The best thing I’ve found to avoid hand/wrist/back issues is voice recognition software. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking, the Preferred version, and I love it! As fast as I type—my husband says I’m not fast, I’m sudden—I talk faster. There is a period of adjustment until the program learns the way you pronounce words, but that’s only a week or so. Buy a Bluetooth compatible version. With a wireless headset you can move around while you’re dictating.
Keep your bow and your body strong and healthy. You’ll be more productive, you’ll feel better and you’ll be happier.
Lynne Smith, aka Lynn Michaels, is the author of two novellas and sixteen novels, three of which were nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, the Oscar of romance writing. She won two awards from Romantic Times Magazine, for best romantic suspense and best contemporary romance. Her only complaint about writing is that it really cuts into her reading time. She lives in Missouri with her husband, two sons, three grandsons, and one granddaughter, born on Lynne’s birthday. Lynne is also an IFW instructor. She teaches “Breaking into Print” and “Shape, Write and Sell Your Novel.”