Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stretch Something Other Than Your Mind

How long have you been at the keyboard today? I'm going to sound like your Mom, but get up for a few minutes. Right now. I'll wait.

You didn't go did you? I didn't either.

I found a downside to the heart-pumping, intoxicating high of consistent, marathon word count. Crippling neck pain. Think Lurch strapped to a body board.

I've heard all the ergonomic, proper positioning-blah, blah. I even read R. Garland Gray's great article in the March Romance Writer's Report on dry eye syndrome common to writers, but my poor work habits had never come up to bite me before. Now it's forced me to figure out what I'm doing wrong. So at the risk of becoming another yadda-yadda you've heard and will tune out, here's how to take care of yourself during screen time:

1) Pay attention to pain or discomfort right away and relieve it immediately.

Sometimes I sit cross-legged with a fifteen pound cat on my lap. When I can't feel my legs anymore, it's time to jig away from the computer and hop on the balls of my feet like a lunatic until the pins and needles subside. Note to self: The cat should remain a paperweight, not a human weight.

2) Stand up and walk away. Stretch. Relax. Once per hour, ideally every 20-30 minutes

This is a serious downfall of mine. Usually the only thing that gets me up on my productive days is nature's undeniable urge. Sometimes hours vaporize while I'm working on an intense scene or the flow is amazing. To break the flow is to lose all the brilliant things coming behind it, right? Wrong. Your brain needs oxygen, too. Set a timer on your computer or watch. Drink more water so nature becomes the ultimate reminder. Oh, and walking to the pantry to find Oreos is counter-productive. Remember, when we're writing a book, we're working our butts off, not on.

3) Check your workspace

Tons of websites have tips on healthy computing, but I'll cover a few of my mistakes. Remember if you share a chair with someone to adjust it when you begin work. You wouldn't forget to adjust the rear-view mirror or seat in a car, so don't forget it now. Your feet should be on the floor--not twisted into pretzels to accommodate a feline. The top 1/3 of your monitor should be at eye level. If you lean forward to read text on the screen, own up to the fact that you need glasses. The keyboard should be low, at elbow height, with the mouse close by.

Aside from daily exercise-which we know, right?-make sure your stretches put your overworked body parts through the normal range of motion. Consider yoga. I'm starting it again after many years off. I've heard sitting on the inflated balls makes it impossible to have an incorrect body posture, but my jury is still out on that. It must be hard to write an edgy, gripping scene while balancing on a Hippity-Hoppity ball.

So there it is. Too late for me, at least for a day or two and a few dozen pain pills, but just in time to save you. Have you gotten up yet? Go ahead. I'll still be here.

What do you do (or not do) to stay healthy at the computer?


Marilyn Brant said...

Thanks for these tips. I now know I need to adjust the height of my monitor, which must've been part of the reason my neck has been sore since I got the new computer.

I've heard consistently wonderful things about yoga--never tried it, but I've done a little tai chi and found that helpful.

Kim Lenox said...

I love tai chi! (Now ask me how long it's BEEN since I've done tai chi ... I'm not answering that.) And ever since I lowered my computer screen, life has been GOOD! It's amazing what a few tweaks to your work space can do to alleviate writing related pain. Yeeowch! :)

Great recommendations!

Jen FitzGerald said...

I'm up and down at regular intervals, if not for nature's call, then for the must-have beverage within easy reach.

I have been entertaining the notion that I should start walking again, but I've resisted it so far.

Good tips, L. ~



Todd Wheeler said...

Excellent post. Yes, I got up and walked around for ten minutes before posting this. :-)

But, I usually forget to move around every hour (or less). :-( Good habits are hard to make.

Thanks for the reminder!