Healthy writing habits may seem like a problem for tomorrow (or after NaNoWriMo is over!) when the words are flowing freely. But, your body will thank you for considering these 4 tips today.
Most don’t usually think of writing as a physically risky job. Sure, our characters must survive all manner of danger from crashes to space invasions to wars to earthquakes to avalanches and more, but the writer? The writer is ostensibly an under-sunned individual swathed in a thick cardigan and sweatpants, safely tucked into a back office somewhere to furiously pound at the keyboard as darkest night turns into morning light.
And yet, as I write this, my wrist’s protectively wrapped in athletic tape and an ice pack waits in the freezer for my post-writing cool down and exercises.
Unexpected? Perhaps. Exception? Not really.
It began on a recent trip out of town when a slight pain suddenly developed in my wrist. I hadn’t specifically done anything to strain it, so I figured it would eventually go away. A month later, not only was the pain persisting, but there were also days and movements beginning to severely test my levels of tolerance.
A visit to the doctor followed by a referral to an occupational therapist confirmed the prognosis. De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis (dih-kwer-VAINS ten-oh-sine-oh-VIE-tis), a common condition in mothers with young children, typists, people who “mouse” a lot, and really any job requiring a repetitive motion around the wrist, among others. In simple terms, de Quervain’s occurs when the tendons connecting the muscles in the wrist to the bones in the thumb become irritated and inflamed. In other words, it hurts.
Thankfully, I’ve been assigned a “pain management regimen,” and should be able to tackle this without any need for further medical procedures. However, this incident made me realize that a painful wrist isn’t the only physical peril awaiting unsuspecting writers, though the good news is there are some precautionary measures which can help thwart many of them.
This article does not offer medical advice but intends to raise awareness about certain health concerns relevant to writers.
4 Tips for Healthier Writing Habits
- FIRST, POSITION
My father was the first to correctly position my keyboard and monitor to prevent me from straining my arms or neck due to my own ignorance. Officially, monitors are supposed to be eye-level and keyboard heights should align with the bend of the elbow.
In my old workspace, I wrote at a small, narrow desk and sat on a basic office chair, both of which I assembled myself. My swivel chair even came with armrests, which seemed liked a wonderful benefit until I realized how I was using them to prop up my elbows as I hunched in the chair. My back, and legs, did not like that. When I “moved offices,” I made sure the desk was wider, with more space to stretch out my legs, and switched out the chair, too.
A standing desk is also a viable option worth considering.
- WRIST RESTS
One thing I seem to have done right is that I’ve connected my laptop up to a desk monitor, so I type from a wireless keyboard instead of huddled over my laptop. One thing I didn’t do right was to make sure I had wrist rests for my mouse and keyboard. Without, and even with, my lowered keyboard, I’ve been hyperextending my tendons as I type, which is one of the worst things anyone who spends hours typing (or “mousing”) can do. Especially if you’ve been doing this for years, as I have.
I wish someone had warned me about this from the outset, because wrist rests are really inexpensive, and using them would have saved me from a lot of trouble now.
The OT (occupational therapist) also recommended that I look into talk-to-text options, especially in the “word vomit phase” of writing to help mitigate some of the stress on my wrists in typing first and second drafts. This could be another option worth looking into.
- SEVENTH INNING STRETCH
There’s a reason spectators are given a chance to stand up during the game, because human bodies are adversely affected from hours and hours of sitting. Simply put, get up and stretch. Or stand for part of every hour. Plenty of websites offer ideas for quick stretches and exercises you can do at your desk to help keep your muscles loose.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO BREAK
There’s never enough time to write, but we have to know when to walk away. And in this, I don’t just mean from a story that’s acting like dried-out clay, but also from a screen and typing. Take a quick walk around the block, run up and down the stairs, water the lawn, whatever. Breaks are important for giving our wrists a rest and making sure our bodies move around enough to prevent the negative effects of sitting for too long, and a bathroom break doesn’t usually cut it. Taking a break may interrupt the flow of your writing now, but it will pay off in the long run.
We spend so much time on the craft of writing, our worlds and characters, but we can’t forget to take care of ourselves or we invite the greatest risk of all, being physically unable to write. Do some research or speak to a medical professional about ways to prevent on-the-job injuries. Your wrists, and writing, will thank you.
For more writing habit advice, check out this article by Lynn Dickinson.
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