Friday, June 29, 2012

My Achin' Back!

Physical disability and writing often go hand-in-hand. Flannery O'Connor suffered from severe arthritis. Homer was blind. Stephen Hawking produces his books word-by-word despite his decades of suffering from ALS. One of my wife's friends can only work by lying under a glass coffee table, viewing her text as it hovers above her.

One of the reasons why I left the lab to become a writer was because I couldn't imagine myself hoisting buckets of saline solution in a cold room at 3 AM all my life. It didn't seem like something I could do indefinitely, while writing did not appear to be physically taxing. But now I know that many writers suffer work-related back problems, carpal tunnel injury, and neck and shoulder stiffness.

I have an object lesson early in my career, when a colleague first wiped out her hands with excessive typing, and then, after she switched to voice recognition, soon talked herself hoarse. When I reset my writing goals to 10,000 words a week, I immediately bought Dragon Dictate, and I have rigorously kept to a standard of half typing, half dictating. So I've had no difficulties with typing or talking.

But, as I have been intensified my efforts, I've found that I am not immune to shoulder and neck problems. These cut into my productivity, so I have become religious about pausing every 40 to 60 minutes to go through a series of stretches. I'm also becoming more aware of my posture, and, as I work, I usually keep a bolster behind my back and I shift its position frequently.

I think everyone needs to come up with the routine that fits him or her best. One person I know sits on a large exercise ball instead of a chair. Another walks a treadmill as she writes. I was intrigued to discover that Walter Murch, when he edits film, does his work standing. This probably began, of necessity, when he was working with mechanical editing machines, but he carried the practice forward into computer use with the claim that it impacted the quality of the work. I found this especially intriguing since, with no special intent at all, I often edit speeches by printing them out, putting them onto a clipboard, and marking them up as I pace around the office.

So, with the idea that a healthy writer is a more productive writer, what do you do to treat yourself well as you write? And do you think it has any impact on the character of your stories, articles, or books?

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