Write It Sideways

Protect Yourself from Writing’s Physical Hazards

Bet you never thought being a writer could be dangerous to your health.

At the moment, I’m living proof that writing can cause all sorts of pain—and not just the excruciating mental pain of trying to create a literary masterpiece.

I’m talking real pain. Physical pain.

Writing is Not for the Weak

Let me start by saying that 75 percent of my extremities hurt right now. That’s a lot of extremities.

Three days ago, I finally admitted to myself that all the typing I’m doing is taking a toll on my wrists. The pain has been there intermittently for months, but on this particular day I was hurting enough to know changes need to be made to my routine before I end up with RSI or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

I spent the afternoon icing my wrists.

This very same day, I happened to be taking a brisk walk to mentally work through some issues with my novel. When I reached the top of a steep street, I turned around and started back down the hill.  I suppose I was spending so much of my mental energy on my writing that I neglected to pay close enough attention to where I was walking—that is, down a gravel-strewn street.

I slipped, turned over on my ankle, and stumbled forward. Having sprained that same ankle three times before, I was pretty confident it would swell up very soon.

The good news: I was only steps away from a public phone booth. The bad news: I didn’t have any money. By the time I’d walked ten blocks home, it was swollen and black.

I spent the night icing my ankle.

Listen to Your Body

I think we sometimes ignore the physical signs that we’re pushing ourselves too hard. Have you noticed any of the following?

Listen to your body. If you’re in pain or you’re physically or mentally exhausted, there’s something wrong.

5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Writing-Related Pain

  1. Set yourself up for success. I’ve asked my husband to set me up with an ergonomic keyboard that I can use in conjunction with my laptop, and also with a proper mouse instead of the fingerpad I’ve been using.
  2. Use proper seating. Because I have an active toddler in the house, I do find myself writing on the couch instead of at the desk. But, I’m going to make a concerted effort to sit in the supportive desk chair I do have whenever possible. This will protect my back (I often suffer from sciatica and lower-back pain) and also improve my hand posture at the keyboard.
  3. Get the right exercise. A combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching will help keep you in top physical form. And while good health and writing might not be directly related, being in good condition will help you write for longer periods of time without strain. Taking time to stretch every half hour while you’re writing will also make a difference.
  4. Walk smart. Don’t follow in my footsteps. When you get out for a walk and your mind is consumed with one of your writing projects, make sure you’re wearing proper footwear with good treads, walk on even surfaces that are free of gravel (or slow down and pay closer attention when you come to less-than-ideal footpaths), and watch where you’re putting your feet.
  5. Get enough sleep. Helpguide.org says it’s a myth that “Getting just 1 hour less sleep per night won’t effect your daytime functioning. You may not be noticeably sleepy during the day. But even slightly less sleep can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly, and compromise your cardiovascular health, energy balance, and ability to fight infections.” Do make an effort to get enough quality sleep at night, even if it means writing for a little less time. A well-rested mind will help you accomplish more in less time, anyway.

Have you suffered any painful effects of writing—either directly or indirectly? How do you deal with them, or how do you plan to protect yourself in the future?