As we all know, whether it’s on paper or a computer, writing can lead to a very sedentary lifestyle. While writing is safer than many occupations, it can still lead to unhealthy habits and even harmful injuries. Here’s how to keep yourself in tip-top shape:
1. Be mindful of your wrists
Have you ever heard of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Repetitive Strain Injury? They are the bane of the writing community. Taking a break from typing and writing manually doesn’t get you off the hook either. What matters is good posture and technique, frequent breaks, light exercise, and even short fingernails! If writing is your passion then the last thing you want to have is pain in your wrists. There is always speech-to-text, but they’re still a way away from being completely accurate. Healthy Typing is a website that talks about potential harmful habits that can make writing painful and how to avoid them. Including videos and helpful articles, Healthy Typing also has doctor testimonies and scientific studies you can look at for more information.
2. Give your eyes luxury treatment
Your eyes could use more than just a break from your computer screen. Fortunately, a programming friend of mine swears by computer glasses. They range from $5-$100+ depending on how crazy you get with the frames. I’ve been using mine (a cheap $10 pair off Amazon) for a year now and they’ve definitely cut back on behind-the-eyes headaches. I wear them in movie theaters, at work, and any time my eyes have extended exposure to a screen. Their filtering of the blue light and anti-reflective coating is very helpful for those experiencing any eye strain or headaches. If you don’t have the budget or desire to get glasses, there is always the 20-20-20 rule. Every twenty minutes, take twenty seconds to look at something twenty feet away. But that’s not all! Everything from cleaning your computer screen regularly to reminding yourself to blink can help reduce eye pain.
3. Trick yourself into exercising
Everyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows the baby steps in the beginning to establish a routine: substitution. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking somewhere instead of driving, work standing up, pacing while on the phone, and more. Simple ways to incorporate exercise into your work life can positively affect your mood and your writing. Quick bursts away from your writing can even help you out of sticky writing situations that staring at a screen can’t seem to solve. Whether it’s a trip to the kitchen to fill your water bottle or make a cup of coffee, stretching your legs can do a wonder of good to your health. If you have trouble sleeping at night because your brain just can’t turn off, instead of reaching for your phone or turning on music, try doing some basic push ups or sit ups. I find that they tire me out more and I fall asleep faster while also gaining some more time for exercising. If you can, it is recommended to reduce your time sitting and to stand instead. Make sure you have a standing desk or, if you’re really into exercising while you work, get a treadmill desk.
4. Stay hydrated
I confess to be one of those people who finds nothing interesting about water besides the fact that it’s an ingredient in tea and coffee. When everyone would swear up and down that water offers everything from clearer skin to healthier digestion, I would always reach for the tea kettle instead of the Brita filter. I was wrong. Not only do I feel less fatigued when I drink water regularly, but I have less headaches which used to plague me any time I got into any form of vehicle transportation. Without these painful inhibitions, my writing has definitely benefited (and think of the bursts of light exercise walking to and from the bathroom! Don’t worry, your body will adjust in time). You can have a cool water bottle to take around with you and it could even save you money if you’re like me and like to write at coffee shops. You can drink water until you reach a goal point and then treat yourself to that rich mocha or soothing tea.
5. The power of snacking
If you’re like most people, hunger can make you irritable. If you’re at a good point in your writing and you don’t want to get up and make some quick food, it’s always good to have some snacks within reach. There are better benefits to snacking than just staving off a bad mood. From helping maintain a good metabolism to curbing cravings, snacking is a good way to keep off a few pounds. That is, with the right snacks. Popular snacks include chips, chocolate, and salty nuts which can do a little more harm than good if eaten in too large a quantity. While a little of each is not a problem, if you snack regularly, choosing unsalted nuts, fruit (dried or fresh – like grapes), seeds, and yogurt will help add a variety. With more options online, there’s snacking options for all tastes.
6. Take a break
Sometimes all my concentration and writing needs is a change of scenery. I have several places around where I live that are far enough away that I get some decent exercise walking there and also, my mind has time to “reset” during the travel. Whether to a coffee shop, park, library, or friend’s place – a change in location or just taking a break can benefit your writing and your health. Do you have some grocery shopping to do? Have a library book to return? I sometimes save errands to do for time I’ve devoted to a break on a writing day because it’s too easy to say “No, I just need to work more on this. I don’t really need a break”. It ends up exhausting me and ruins the rest of my writing session. Just because you go for a quick bike ride or sit down with that jigsaw puzzle, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your story.
While distracting yourself with another activity, keep it on the back burner. Have something to focus on like dialogue in a specific scene or a certain character’s plot and mull it over while also giving yourself a physical break from mashing the keys. A helpful tool I have is a smart watch. I can’t part with the traditional analog watch, so I found a cheap watch ($30) on Amazon that does simple functions. Most importantly it warn me if I’ve been inactive too long. My watch buzzes and the little red light blinks to notify I haven’t moved in forty minutes (which you can change 30-120 minutes). I take this time to fill my water bottle, pace, refill snacks, or check my mail. The watch, while it’s steps count isn’t the most accurate, has been quite helpful and since it is a watch instead of a fancy touch screen, it doesn’t distract me while I write. You can even set times for you to not be disturbed by notifications (also adjustable).
7. Your mind matters
I recently read an article on ScriptMag about the importance of recognizing mental health issues in the screenwriting profession. While the “tortured artist” is an all too common stereotype, it isn’t the best role model to look up to. I had a professor for writing short stories who claimed if you haven’t suffered you cannot write. While those who have suffered may have more motive to share their stories, I believe what really fuels writing is experiences, good or bad. If you are experiencing anxiety from deadlines, depression from failure or fear of failure, or any debilitating emotional struggle that, while sometimes benefits your writing, is harming you, seek help. If these problems stem from your writing or career. Take a break. If you’re not someone prone to culture shock, try travel. When I studied abroad Rome, I not only grew as a writer but it was a breath of fresh air my mind needed from the stress of American cities. A cheaper alternative could be meditation (a class or apps), spending time with loved ones and friends, pick up a hobby and more. While there are many options open and you can find what will help you best online or even in therapy, it won’t help if you don’t believe you need it. If mental health is a shadowy figure influencing your life and writing, your best option is to take care of it.