It’s the first Wednesday of the month, and time to talk about writing – literally. As writers, we spend a lot of time inside our own heads. We value our mental strength, the size of our imaginations; and are generally less concerned about being physically fit or impressive. The pen being mightier than the sword, we focus on exercising our brains, sometimes at the expense of our bodies.
All well and good but, like most things, this attitude can be taken too far. Just as the greatest athletes and body-builders need to train their minds, writers and artists need to take care of their bodies. After all, even if our stories live and grow in the mind, we need some way to communicate those stories to the physical world. Since brain-reading technology is still in its infancy, we rely on pens, keyboards and the like to bridge the gap between the minds of the writer and the reader.
Hello, hand cramp. Or, for those who prefer speech-to-text software, sore throats. Not to mention tight shoulders and lower back pain from poor posture; or eye-strain headaches from staring fixedly at unco-operative words day and night. The occupational illnesses of a writer are insidious, and tend to be things that we brush off lightly when we are young and fit. Well, spoilers: They still get you in the end. Caffine and pain-killers are the quick-fix solution, for when you are racing a deadline, or trying to work through a killer cramp. But it’s better to avoid the pain in the first place, if at all possible. A few small stretches and exercises throughout the day can work wonders.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER – PLEASE READ!!
I am neither a doctor nor a trained physiotherapist. All I can do is share what I’ve been able to research, and say how well it works for me. If you have existing health trouble, or even an old injury, be sure to consult a professional before attempting the exercises in this post. And, EVEN IF YOU ARE IN GOOD HEALTH, take the stretches and exercises only as far as your body will allow.
Note: This is not an “office workout” – there are plenty of those available online if you’re interested. Most of these moves are not exercises at all, simply stretches. If you have the time, energy and inclination, then these stretches can lead into more vigorous exercises. However, they don’t have to. The idea is just to loosen up and prevent stiffness.
1. Wrists and hands
Lift your hands from the keyboard and make a fist. Squeeze for a couple of seconds, then shake out both hands, making sure to stretch your fingers, and get plenty of movement in your wrists. Splay your fingers wide and hold for two seconds. Repeat at least twice.
2. Neck and shoulders
Roll your shoulders backwards to counter the effect of hunching over your desk. If you can, lift your arms and do a mid-air backstroke to really unwind your shoulder blades. Let your neck go with the movement, looking up and down, left and right. DO NOT roll your neck right round – stick with half-turns. Finally, shake out your arms, and tilt your head left and right, as if you were trying to touch your ears with your shoulders.
3. Back and legs…
Time to get up, and get down. Get up from your chair and lie down on the floor, flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Keeping your head, shoulders, and lower back firmly on the floor, and your knees together, twist your legs so that your knees are on your right side. Don’t pull a muscle by trying to push them further than they’ll go, just twist to the right, then the left. Make sure to keep your back still and flat. This should help undo any tension that builds up in your lower back.
If you can’t lie down (or don’t fancy your chances of getting up again without help) you can try a variation of this stretch that you do standing up in a doorway.
Stand in the doorway with your back to the hinges, feet shoulder-width apart, looking at the door jamb. The door is there to give you a frame (hah) of reference, to make sure you don’t tip forwards or backwards. Twist your upper body, keeping one hand on the door jamb at all times. Don’t try to twist too far, just turn to gently stretch the muscles in your back. SLOWLY turn the other way. Repeat no more than four times.
Whichever stretch you do, take the long way back to your chair – give your legs a chance to move a bit.
No picture for this one, because it’s an invisible stretch (almost). Clench your buttocks like you were trying to hold off using the toilet, count to four and relax. Repeat as often as you remember. This is a great way to avoid stiffness in your hips, and prevent pressure from building on your tail bone.
Every hour or so, close your eyes for thirty seconds, then open them and look at something as far away as you can. If you don’t have a line of sight on anything far away, then close your eyes again and imagine yourself stargazing, or bird-watching – anything to get your eyes to focus on distance, rather than close-up. This can help reduce eye-strain, and who knows? You might see something in the distance that inspires a new piece of writing!
6. Feet and Ankles…
Lift your feet from the floor and roll your ankles a few times, clockwise and anti-clockwise. If you can, hold both feet off the floor for a moment. This is another stretch that you can do without interrupting your writing.
For more stretches and exercises, see: http://www.wikihow.com/Exercise-While-Sitting-at-Your-Computer.
Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and eat healthily – which means different things for different people. There isn’t a “right way” to health and fitness, any more than there’s a “right way” to write a novel. It’s about finding your own style, and refining it. Following this advice won’t give you killer abs and toned thighs; that’s not the purpose of exercise for a writer. What it may do, though, is give you enough physical and mental energy to let your brilliant thoughts flow more easily from your brilliant mind to your brilliant prose, or poetry, or blog post.
May your writing be as painless as possible or, if there must be agonies, let them be of the creative soul, not the body.