The Physical Act of Writing

And how to keep it from killing your back, hands, hips, eyes…

Is that a laptop on your lap, or are you happy to see me?

As writers, we think writing is a cerebral activity.

We separate it almost completely from the body that needs to transfer the story into a format other humans can absorb. But writing can be exorbitantly taxing on our anatomy. Among other things, the physical act of writing can result in:

  • Sciatica, or, its even more hellacious cousin, bursitis
  • Carpal tunnel, anyone?
  • Worsening eyesight, which leads to >
  • Headache, anyone?
  • Achy backs
  • Stiff shoulders
  • The feeling that YOUR ENTIRE LIFE is spent a foot away from a screen

As readers, we can absorb the story in any number of deliciously relaxing ways:

  • A walk on the beach whilst listening to an audiobook.
  • A soak in a tub
  • A cozy curl under a soft blanket on the couch, with your pup at your feet and your cat draped over your head
  • Commuting
  • Lounging on grass, sailing on a boat, enjoying a tasty beverage at a café, lulling yourself to sleep, etc., etc., etc.

You get the point. Not fair, right?

Technology that can help

  • Magnetic keyboards that work with an iPad.
    Recently, I went away on a trip. I didn’t want to bring my humongous laptop with me, but I still wanted to grab some time to write. What to do? Turns out the world now has tiny magnetic wireless keyboards you can attach to your iPad case. iPads come with a handy Pages app and you can export your Pages files into any number of other formats, including word docs. All told, you end up with a small laptop-like device that weighs hardly anything, has ten times the battery life of a laptop, and is extremely portable. And, if you’re a Scrivener user and have a Mac license, you can add the Scrivener app to your iPad for free (or buy an extra license if you use a PC).

    I was able to write on an Adirondack chair facing Lake Champlain, in bed, in an armchair, outside, inside, and in almost any relaxing position I could find while still holding an iPad on my lap.
  • Standing desks and standing desk converters
    If you write full time, or have a desk day job and write in the evenings like I do, you simply can’t sit for all those hours. Humans are not built for it. Standing desks allow you to stand all or part of the time. MUCH better for your back and hips! More energy, too.
  • Audio record and transcribe to text
    Did you know that you can use Microsoft 365 to record and transcribe your words? Yes, you can. In effect, you can be lounging in any number of comfortable positions while dictating your magnum opus. You can also buy a recorder and then use a transcribing software if the idea of recording yourself to the Microsoft cloud fills you with the heebie jeebies. With a recorder, you can even go for an inspiring stroll in the woods since you don’t need a cellular connection for that to work.

Physical activity that can help

Although technology can come to the rescue, you still need to give your body some TLC, especially your eyes and hands.

  • Regular breaks!
    Set a timer so that you can peel yourself away from your screen once an hour. Take a five minute break. Stare at objects in the far distance. Look at the sky. Stretch. Heck, go to the bathroom.
  • Drink (water)! (booze won’t hydrate you, but it might improve your mood 😊)
    If you’re like me, you get so focused on your task that you forget to hydrate. Don’t! Set a timer and make sure you’re drinking. Being dehydrated hurts your eyes too, and you’re already putting a strain on them.
  • Walk it out (if that’s an option)
    If it’s available to you, try to go for a walk every day, even if it’s only for twenty minutes. Our bodies are meant to move and walking helps to realign our spines and hips after a day of sitting.
  • Stretch
    There are a TON of videos you can follow along to get a good, deep stretch. If you have any concerns, clear the exercises with your doctor! Here’s one to try, or find a hip release yoga routine.

And now that we’ve acknowledged the fact that we’re physical beings, and not detached minds floating around in outer space, back to creating!

How about you? Any suggestions?

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MIss Demeanors

Author

Emilya Naymark is the author of the novels Hide in Place and Behind the Lie.
Her short stories appear in A Stranger Comes to Town, edited by Michael Koryta, Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, and 1+30: THE BEST OF MYSTORY.

When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.

6 comments

  1. Hi Emilya, I have first hand experience with the physical problems that a writer can develop from sitting too long.
    I have the good luck to be able to focus for hours despite noise or even interruptions when I’m writing. Unfortunately, it means I barely move. I spent the entire month of December 2019 hunched over my computer furiously writing and editing a manuscript due the 31st.
    I made my deadline. But I woke up January 1, 2020 with incredible pain in my neck and my right arm. I could barely move. Sciatica. Even with brain fogging medication, I was only comfortable lying down. I spent the first six or seven weeks of the year lying on the couch until I was finally able to start physical therapy.
    It was a hard lesson. I still don’t stand often enough but with the help of my PT I worked our a way to sit and write that protects my neck and back. Writer beware.

  2. Yes, Catherine, exactly. I had a bad bout after my last batch of copyedits from my publisher. I try very hard to follow my own rules and do yoga, walk, etc. The ipad/magnetic keyboard is a game changers, as is the standing desk

  3. With me, it’s my hip which is apparently a little loose. After a round of physical therapy, and upon my PT’s advice, I started getting up every 45 minutes and walking around for 15 minutes before I sit down again. If I can’t drag myself away, I have a standing desk I use, but at my age, a walk every hour or so is a really good idea. Also, lots of focused yoga in the winter aimed at strengthening core and adductors while ever so gently stretching hip muscles. In summer, gardening suffices for PT.

  4. Part of why I love having horses is they get me out of the chair every day! Having dealt with hip/back issues, carpal tunnel, neck problems, and eye strain, this speaks to me. I get up regularly (for coffee) then spend time with all the animals to keep me moving.

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