Being a writer is not all sitting in a Parisian garret eating bonbons and dictating your next book to the scribe/chef hired to write everything out in flowing script from a fountain pen. Don’t we wish!
I’ve been writing seriously for twenty years now, and know hundreds of writers. None of us have the same system, setup, preferences, or equipment for producing our books. And yet, there are some commonalities that should be considered. The most recent one to catch my attention is that the majority of writers I know have some sort of physical issues related to their writing. Every day I go on social media, get a newsletter, or open an email, and find stories of medical difficulties: Hand surgeries, wrist surgeries, elbow surgeries, shoulder surgeries. Upper back problems, lower back problems. Hip problems. Knee problems. Neck problems. Eye problems. Jaw problems. And sooo many of them are directly writing related.
I remember decades ago, my day-job office hired an Ergonomic Workflow Consultant to rearrange our office spaces. Were the employees pleased? Hell, no. We were, overall, annoyed. First of all, there was no way a complete stranger would understand how we worked or organized our stuff. Secondly, this whole woo-woo ergonomics thing was just another of those fads, like seasonal colors or Myers-Briggs, and really didn’t deserve a place in a serious office.
I will readily admit we were wrong. The first thing that surprised me was the near-immediate difference I noticed in my body after moving things around at my workstation. Little changes—that made sense when you realized what the consultant was doing—had a huge impact. I’m fairly sure upper management was less thrilled with the process as we ordered now-necessary things like keyboard trays, monitor stands, and better desk chairs. Now, this was all before the days (or at the start) of the home computer era—and far before the days of the laptop era. I moved quickly to being a firm believer in ergonomic work spaces.
When my desktop computer sputtered and died, I replaced it with a newer, higher tech laptop. And my writing suffered. And because the human brain is an absurd thing, it took me years to realize why. My body hurt after writing. My arms throbbed, my neck ached, my shoulders burned, my lower back spasmed. I had shooting pains in my wrist and elbow. I got headaches. My eyes were dry, and tired, and scratchy. One might call these things warning signs.
I could never get comfortable writing on the laptop. It was awkward in my lap for actually producing words on the page for hours at a time. I felt like a kid at the grownup table trying to type at the dining room table. On the coffee table, I got shooting pains in my back from hunching over and reaching for the keyboard. If I could use the keyboard, I couldn’t see the screen well.
One day, I ran into another writer who mentioned she used a wireless keyboard with her laptop. This let her keep the screen higher, but put the keyboard in her lap where she could reach it easily.
This was a revelation to me. I had never considered just ignoring the perfectly good laptop keyboard. And the keyboard I bought came with a wireless mouse…no more using the seriously annoying touchpad I had always hated. Writers are rarely tech-types. The fact that this stuff existed and could be used for something OTHER than a desktop computer had simply never occurred to me.
As I set up my system in a more permanent location, I started wondering if there had been any new developments in ergonomics, so I searched on the topic. And discovered a whole world of other things you can do with a laptop setup to be more ergonomic.
I have discovered something else. Other people don’t necessarily know about this sort of stuff. What I had considered fairly common knowledge to “everyone else” actually isn’t. Especially to writers. So, I’m sharing my discoveries. Some are basic, some are new tech, and some are just making connections that aren’t necessarily obvious. But everything I’ve found has helped me dramatically, so I’m going to share.
We’re only human. And at least to this point, we only get one body—so look after it. It doesn’t have to be difficult, or expensive, or fancy. In some cases, it’s a fix as simple as shoving a box under something. Or seeing your doctor for a new prescription. Or taking a break of a few seconds to a few minutes. In the long run, it’s worth it. You’re worth it.
Keep an eye on this space for some tips on how to actually survive the writing life in one piece. I’ll be covering different topics on the subject every few days. If you have any tips or suggestions, feel free to comment!