As writers, we all spend far too much time sitting down. We’re encouraged to get our ‘bums in seats’ and fulfil our daily word count. But if you add that to an office-based job and a commuter journey, that’s a whole load of sitting.
We also all know that feeling of tightness and achiness you get at the end of a writing session, where you’re not sure if your body will ever forgive you for sitting so long on one position and your hands have cramped into mis-shapen claws. Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit on that last one, but I’ve been typing for about 15 mins now, on and off, and my right thumb joint is already starting to protest.
So, as one who knows what can happen if you don’t look after your body, I’ve put together a few nuggets of advice – things that work for me – to help you write and keep body and soul together.
- Exercise – yes, I know this one is difficult. It’s something that I struggle with because there’s always so much other stuff to do, but it’s so important to keep your body moving. If you’re going to be writing in the evening, then make sure you move around as much as you can during the day to prepare yourself. You don’t have to run for miles or join a gym/exercise class – although that would be great – just keep moving around, even if it’s just going for a walk. Your body will thank you.
- Stretches and strengthening – this one is vital. I swear by my weekly Pilates class and have specific exercises I practise post-writing (and sometimes at other time, just because I love them) to help my body to recover. I know going to a class takes you away from writing, but just one hour a week makes so much difference. I’ve suffered from back problems for most of my life – mostly caused by sitting – and the core strength I’ve developed through Pilates means I’m almost pain free. Once you’ve learned a few exercises then you can take 5-10 mins at the end of your writing session to return your body to normal.
- Protect your hands – this one sounds so simple and yet I’m sure a lot of people forget it. I did, until the pains in my hands got so bad I went to see my doctor. A tube of extra-strength Ibuprofen gel and an x-ray later I found out I had arthritis in two joints on both my hands. For those wondering, yes, arthritis is in my family but I’m 35, so surely my joints should be holding up better than that. But I’ve always done a writing job, working on a keyboard, so no wonder my hands are protesting. I was given a little tub of putty and some exercises by the physiotherapist and (when I remember to do them) they’re great. Really simple stretches, but adding to the strength in your joints.
- Dictation software – this one could have gone in the previous section, but it’s so important I thought it was worthy of its own bullet point. A sure fire way to protect your hands is not to use them at all. It’s not necessarily cheap to buy dictation software, although there is a whole range on the Internet, but in the long run it pays for itself. It takes time to train it and it’s not 100% perfect (it struggles sometimes with my north-east accent) but worth trying if you’re struggling with pain in your hands.
- Sleep – again, this one seems like a no brainer, but I think we all under-estimate the power of a good night’s sleep. There will be people who tell you that you’ve got to get up really early or stay up really late to get your writing done, like it’s a badge of honour to wear yourself into the ground. It isn’t, so please make sure you get as much rest as you need. There’s no shame in missing a writing session and going to bed early if that’s what your body is crying out for. I far too often skip writing session ‘because I’m tired’ and then end up lying awake with the story running around my head. So clear your mind of any writer-y thoughts into a notebook and sleep happily.
I could go on and on with advice on ways I’ve tried to heal my tired and achy body, but you’ve got writing to do or books to read. If I had to pick one piece of advice that is my top tip, it would be the strength training. As I said, I swear by my Pilates class because it’s helped me so much. But you choose what works for you – and hopefully you’ll have a happy writer body.
What are your top tips for protecting your body from the writing chair? Please share them below.