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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Writing Tips for the Practical-Minded #6: Take care of your body

We live in Stone Age bodies. Those bodies are beautiful, and they are astonishingly made, but they were designed for life in the Garden of Eden. I don't know about you, but I don't spend a lot of my time these days foraging for nuts and berries. And I sure as heck don't spend every waking hour walking around in search of my next meal.

I, for one, am very happy that I don't spend every waking hour afraid that some sabre-tooth tiger is hoping to eat me.

Owning a car means that I will never have the cardiovascular health of a Stone Age woman. Owning a whole bunch of chairs means that I could never crouch for hours on end, the way our ancestors did. And owning a computer means that I spend hours on end in one of those unnatural chairs, holding my head and neck and arms and hands in a completely unnatural position.

We all pay a price for our cushy 21st-century lifestyles. A writer's price comes in the form of neck trouble and carpal-tunnel syndrome and headaches. You are sitting at your computer now, reading this. Take a moment to listen to your body. Are you relaxed? Are any of your muscles crying out for attention? If so, you'd best listen, because time will only make it worse.

A few years ago, I was suffering from chronic neck and jaw pain caused by an accident that had nothing to do with my writing, but sitting at a desk typing on a computer every day was making the pain unbearable. I had to change my writing environment. I wrote Effigies on a laptop computer, while resting in a recliner.

After the book was finished, I had my neck and jaw surgically repaired, but I kept my self-indulgent writing style. My recliner supports my titanium-plate-reinforced neck, and it gives me a place to rest my arms so that they can stay relaxed as I type. I feel completely stupid for having written three books at a desk, before I realized that I had the kind of career that gave me ultimate freedom in my workspace.

Besides making sure your body is properly relaxed and supported, it's a good idea to get up periodically and walk around. Years ago, I heard David Morell, of Rambo fame, say that he did serious exercise in the middle of every work day. I believe he said he played two hours of tennis between morning and evening writing sessions. Dan Brown's website once said much the same thing. At the time, I had three children at home and my writing time was so short as to make this prospect laughable. But the message is clear. Get up and move your body now and then. If you're like me, you'll just be moving it into the garage so that you can shift the laundry from the washer to the dryer, but your body will thank you. It wasn't designed for the punishment you're dishing out. And it needs to last you a very long time.

Excuse me...I need to go put my laundry in the dryer.

See you at the Anhinga Writers' Studio Summer Workshops!
Mary Anna

P.S.--one of my readers commented that she sometimes worked on her sun porch. Here's my porch worksite. See the flowered pillow adorning the porch swing behind this lovely hummingbird-attracting rose?  Sometimes I sit there to work.  Writing is a really tough life...


  1. I have recommended my “chair” to many people. You are so right on about the need to move. I have lower back problems and sitting at the computer exasperates it. I have long since forgotten the name of it, but I refer to it as a “stability ball.” I bounce the entire time that I am on the computer. It relieves the pressure on my back and keeps it limber. And, getting up and moving was never so easy! Just take a little larger “bouncy bounce!” Love the daily blogs!

  2. Oh, wow...I'm lounging in my chair and you're exercising your core muscles while doing bouncy bounces. I feel like such a slug. :)

  3. I have a ball at my desk, a lounger in the living room and a really comfy rocker on the sun porch. It's not a work out but I'm moving!

    Giggles and Guns

  4. I have a lovely porch swing where I occasionally work. I'll see if the blog will let me add a picture to this post. It's not ergonomically sound, but it's a great place to commune with nature while I work. A few weeks ago, a hummingbird visited me. :)