My granddaughter, who is three, thinks that I am really (stretch that word out for maximum effect) old. We have a standing joke: Gramma has ‘creaky bones’. We even have a song and a dance to go with it, and it’s great fun. Of course, I’m not that old, nor do I have creaky bones. Er, well, since this is the Catholic Writers Blog, I’d better be totally truthful.
Most of the time I don’t have creaky bones.
But sometimes I do, and this condition is most often associated with writing, one of my favorite activities in the world.
However, writing is a solitary activity that is most often done while sitting. There are some issues common to writers, simply because of the nature of the work. Neck soreness, posture problems, difficulty in managing weight, carpal tunnel syndrome… The list goes on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you can add to it.
Big, big disclaimer here! I am not giving any medical advice, just pointing out common sense things we can do to counteract the, ahem, hazards of our profession. For some great discussion and support, visit The Healthy Writer. This blog was formed a couple of years ago by authors who recognized the benefits of raising awareness regarding health topics specific to writers.
One of the first things to address is the ergonomics of your work station. Invest in a great chair – not a good chair, a great one. Find one that encourages – nay! – compels good posture. You’ll have to provide the muscle for attaining and maintaining that posture, although often all that is required awareness of your spine, shoulders, and alignment. For me, when I think about it, I sit up straight. When I don’t, I can count on encountering creaky bones.
Getting up from the chair is important, too. Some writers set timers to stay in the chair and write; don’t overlook the idea of setting a timer to get out of the chair once an hour and walk around. I sometimes lose track of time when I’m absorbed in my work, and when I surface, I’m stiff. It helps to get up, step outside, and remind myself there is a beautiful world out there. It clears my mind, too, which is always a plus when I go back to work.
You can spend a lot of money to buy a treadmill work station, as they are making inroads in some work environments. Or you can jerry-rig a desk to an existing treadmill. (I did mine with a piece of plywood and a couple of bungee cords.) Either way, set it at a very low pace and write as you stroll. While you aren’t building a sweat and knocking out the miles, you are moving. Here’s a great example of making it fun, too: award-winning author Caroline Fyffe “Walking Across America” on her treadmill. There are also stationary bicycles out there that incorporate a built-on desk. Again, with a bit of ingenuity, you can get a similar end product without spending as many dollars. (*I am not endorsing any products; these were simply links I came across while researching.)
Stretching, yoga, or swimming can be good for tight muscles. Weight lifting can build muscle and increase metabolism. Pay attention to what you put into your body, too. Choose healthy foods; drink adequate water and don’t overdose on caffeine, that quintessential author staple!
Some simple stretches that I’ve learned (again, check with a doctor or physical therapist if you have any musculoskeletal issues) include putting my arms out to the side, elbows level with or slightly above my shoulders, then bending at the elbow and lifting my hands so I look like a football goal post; I find a door and rest my forearms and palms on the jambs and gently lean forward. This gives a great stretch to the chest muscles, which tend to tighten up as I hunch over the computer.
Another great one: extend one arm straight out to the front at or near shoulder height, palm up; bend the wrist so palm is up and out, away from the body, and fingers point toward the floor. Use the other hand to apply gentle traction to palm and fingers for stretching. This may help relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
For any stretch, do what you are able and do not force a stretch, ever. Also, never bounce or apply jerky pressure to a stretch.
If you’re on a deadline or feeling pressured, take frequent breaks to roll your shoulders and roatate your head and neck. The best stress-buster of all? Hugs. You can’t find a better tension reliever than that.
Do you deal with other physical challenges as a result of your vocation as writer? Have any tips for the rest of us? Please share! I know I’m not the only one!