The following is a chapter from Business for Breakfast, Volume 1: The Beginning Professional Writer.
However, if you’re like most writers (broke!) I will also be posting a chapter a week, so you’ll merely have to have patience to read all twelve chapters.
The Physicality Of Writing
Most writing takes place between your ears. You play head games with yourself and your characters.
But writing is also a physical act. If you’re dictating your words, it’s less so. More so, though, if you’re typing.
This chapter addresses some of the physicality of writing.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous chapter, I build habits. Habits help me write more, better, faster.
One of the things I’ve done to encourage my writing habit is to get a separate writing computer.
Every time I sit down at this computer, the only thing I can do is write.
There is no internet connection on this computer. There are no games. There is a word processor and a spreadsheet program. That’s it.
I got this computer fairly cheaply online, refurbished.
Some people don’t work well with a second computer, or they can’t afford the expense. Instead, they’ve set up a second user on their primary computer.
That user has no access to the internet. No access to games or anything other than their word processor.
This way, when the writer signs in with this writing user, they are creating the habit and setting the expectation that it’s time to write now.
Some have even gone so far as to have a different background as well as a different screen saver for that user, so when they sign in with this user, there are more visual cues that it’s time to write.
But I just need to look up this one thing…
Then it’s two or three hours later and there aren’t any words on the page.
Some people use “Write or Die.” Or maybe they have a program that throws kittens at them when they complete so many words.
If I relied on that type of external reward for writing, I’d burn out. As a fulltime professional, my motivation and rewards must come from the inside.
So again—no internet. It disturbs the flow of the creative voice. Trust me on this one.
Those three dreaded letters: RSI. Repetitive Stress Injury.
Basically, it means doing the same action over and over again until you’ve injured yourself.
Friends have likened RSI to feeling as though knives were being thrust into their wrists every time they tried to type.
This really interferes with the writing, you know?
But RSI is not inevitable. There are things you can do to help prevent getting RSI.
You’ve started writing. You’re in the flow. Now I expect you to take breaks?
Again, typing or writing things out by hand is a physical activity. You need to take breaks. No matter if you’re in the flow or not. Start teaching yourself to take breaks every hour.
For those who handwrite, use a timer. Take a break every hour. Get up, stretch, etc.
I have mine set to give me a thirty second break every twenty minutes, then at every fifty–five minutes to take a five minute break.
The workrave.org program also gives you stretches.
When I started using these programs, I labeled them my productivity software.
By taking regular breaks, I’m able to work more hours during the day. I’m also able to work harder, because I know that a break is coming.
So take breaks. Your body and your mind will thank you for it.
When you take your five–minute break every hour, one of the things you should do is stretch.
If you do an internet search for “RSI Stretches” you’ll find a lot of advice. Most of what I’ve seen, though, doesn’t cover enough. Merely stretching your wrists and hands isn’t good enough.
Some of the muscles that need stretching are in your armpit. Raise your hand over your head and place it on a wall, then lean into it gently. This will stretch those muscles.
Be sure to also stretch out the muscles across your chest. And your neck and shoulder muscles.
I use a combination of boxes and computer stands in order to achieve an ergonomic desk arrangement with my laptop and keyboard. For me, it’s all about looking up and not looking down while I’m working. My neck and back seem to be more sensitive to incorrect posture than my wrists and shoulders. At least for now.
Do what you can to get your monitor raised so you’re looking up. Your hands and wrists supported. Your keyboard at the proper height.
Again, see if you can get refurbished equipment somewhere so you’ll have the right stuff that works for you and will help prevent injuries.
You’re in this for the long haul. That means keeping your body in shape.
I actually stand most of the time when I write. There are times when I sit. I find I sit when I’m writing close, intimate scenes. But when I’m writing scenes with a lot of action, standing works better.
It took some training for me to be able to stand when I wrote. I know it isn’t for everyone. But I feel so much better when I spend the day standing instead of sitting.
You don’t have to get the top–of–the–line standing desk. You can jerry–rig something. Then maybe after your first best seller, you treat yourself to a proper standing desk.
But try it. You may like it.
I, personally, am not steady enough to walk and write. I’m also not “there” enough when I’m writing. The rest of the world completely disappears and I’m afraid I’d hurt myself if I tried walking and writing.
But I know some writers who swear by their treadmill desk. Claim it makes them more productive. More creative.
There have been lots of studies that show that movement will improve your creativity. So I believe the writers who can do this.
Again, you can always jerry–rig something that works for you.
There are people who dictate their writing while they’re walking. This way, they’re not limited to a treadmill, but can take a hike and still write. I’m not to that stage yet, but I have considered it.
Here are the three things you need to remember about the physicality of writing:
- Separate your writing space from your regular workspace. This helps build the habit and expectation that all you’re going to do is write when you go there.
- Stretch and take breaks.
- Try to write standing up, or even walking. You may be surprised at the results!