Monday, November 23, 2009

Day Twenty-three: When Writing is a Pain

The writing process can sometimes be a "pain," for example, when you run into that "wall" I mentioned a couple of days ago, or you have trouble controlling your characters, or your computer crashes and you lose the last chapter you'd just written and have to reconstruct it, or you're in the last week of NaNoWriMo and you're still introducing new characters, story lines, and plot twists instead of heading toward the climax of the conflict and preparing to write the ending.

Yes, those are all problematic, but what I'm referring to is physical pain. When you're under the gun, trying to write a novel in thirty days, you spend a lot of time at the computer. That can wreck havoc with certain parts of your anatomy. Here are some suggestions that may help you minimize computer stress and its painful side effects. Let's start at the top and work down.

The Neck: If you become engrossed in what you're writing, you may not notice your posture and that can cause neck pain. The head is positioned on the spinal column, but they're connected at the back of the neck. So, when you keep your head bent forward and down, out of alignment, for extended periods of time, the weight of the head (approximately 8-12 lb.) pulls on the muscles in your neck causing muscle strain and stiffness. This can also affect the shoulders and neck. To combat this, adjust your monitor so that you can look at it without having to bend your neck at more than a 15-degree angle. Place the monitor or laptop on a stand to raise it to a comfortable level if it's too low.

The Eyes: Looking at a monitor for too long at a time can cause eye strain and make your eyes feel dry, itchy, tired, sore, and cause blurred distance vision. To help avoid this, make sure you position the monitor so there is no glare either from a lamp or from the sun shining in the window. If the screen is too bright, adjust the brightness to a slightly lower level. Try to maintain a distance of at least 20" between your eyes and the monitor. Periodically, look at something in the distance -- a picture on the wall, a tree outside that is a distance from your house, anything that allows your eyes a break from the closeness of the monitor. And be sure to keep your monitor's screen clean and free of dust and smudges.

The Shoulders: Tension often causes us to raise our shoulders without our even being aware that we're doing so; and poor posture can exacerbate the muscle strain that may already be there from the neck being out of alignment. Periodically, make a conscious effort to lower your shoulders. Take a few deep breaths, let your arms hang limp at your sides, and try a few shoulder rolls and shrugs to ease the tension and relax the shoulders.

The Arms and Hands: Improper positioning of the keyboard and mouse can cause serious wrist pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, often associated with repetitive stress injuries (RSI) including typing for extended periods of time. Adjust your chair so that you can reach the keyboard with your arms at your sides and slightly forward, and bent at a 90-degree angle. The wrists should be relaxed in a natural position, neither bent downward nor upward. Use your chair's armrests and a wrist pad to support your wrists if you have them. Touch the keys on the keyboard lightly. Take periodic breaks from typing, and if your wrist are painful, stop.

The Back: Slouching, bending at the chest, sitting with one shoulder elevated above the other, twisting, leaning sideways, and bending at the waist can all cause muscle fatigue, stress, and eventually, strain. When sitting at the computer, keep your back supported, especially the lumbar curve. Your back should be straight (neither bent forward, nor flattened against the chair) and the ribcage should be lifted so you can easily take a deep breath. If you bend forward, bend from the hips slightly, keeping your upper body in proper alignment. Get up about every half hour and do some stretches, move around the room, or take a short walk.

The Legs: Sitting for extended periods of time, crossing one leg over the other, or sitting in a chair that is not properly adjusted for your height can cause cramping, tingling, and swelling in the legs and feet. First, be sure your chair is adjusted so that your feet are flat on the floor in front of you or slightly forward. If the chair can't be adjusted, use a footrest, a low stool, or a couple of books to elevate your feet so your legs and back are at a 90-degree angle, and your knees are the same. Again, take periodic breaks to stand and walk around to get your circulation going.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help take the pain out of writing, and allow it to be the pleasure it is supposed to be.

[Disclaimer: The material contained in this post is for informational purposes only, and is not to be construed as medical advice. If you are experiencing any of the above mentioned problems, consult with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.]


1 comment:

  1. My suggestions for the neck would to do some stretching and neck exercises. I would also introduce diaphragmatic breathing to release tension in the neck.