Giving yourself a Writer Health Check is a good idea whether you are just getting started or already writing full time. It’s important to make sure you’re looking after yourself so that you can continue to write and produce the best work possible.
Writing is both mentally and physically tiring, so check out the following points to optimise your creativeness.
Sitting in the same position for hours is never a good idea but when you’re writing and ‘in the zone’ it’s easy to forget how long you’ve been at the keyboard.
Time your sessions including breaks
If you plan to write for three hours, set your timer for up to an hour at a time and schedule in a couple of five minute breaks where you get up and walk around. The most important thing is that you get away from the screen for a few minutes and move your body. Being locked in the same position for hours on end does the most damage to neck and shoulder muscles.
If you are writing for longer than three hours schedule in a twenty or thirty minute break and for a full day’s writing, as well as a couple of five minute breaks give yourself an hour at lunchtime to eat properly and take a walk outside so that you’re fully refreshed when you get back to your work.
Invest in a good chair
An adjustable chair, so you can lower or higher the seat and adjust the back of the chair too. When typing at a keyboard you should be slightly higher than if you were sitting at a table to eat dinner. Ideally, your arms should be at right angles (90%) and your forearm and hands should be in a straight line without a bend in your wrist. Some people find a cushioned wrist rest helps. Rather than sitting completely upright, it will put less strain on your back if you have the chair very slightly reclined. Your feet should be flat on the floor too, or on a footrest, if needed.
You should be looking straight at the screen with your eyes cast slightly downward – make sure you’re never looking up as this will put a strain on your neck and shoulders.
If you are using a laptop it may be a good idea to get a separate keyboard so that you can have the screen at an optimum distance from your eyes, about an arm’s length from the screen so that your fingers just reach the screen.
Looking at a screen causes us to blink less often so get your eyesight checked every year and sooner if you notice any changes. Using eye-drops in the morning and evening may help if you get sore or gritty eyes.
Work Life Balance
Working at home is completely different to working for an employer where you are told what time to start, when to finish and when to have breaks. At home, you can do as you please, but setting yourself a proper structure will help enormously with productivity and a sense of achievement.
Timetable Your Writing
Know what days you will be committed to getting words down, putting in start and finish times. Give yourself a day or an afternoon off at regular intervals, for completely non-writing activities, such as time with family and friends, days out or just chilling out with a book or a movie.
If you are still working, perhaps part-time or even full-time, creating a workable timetable is even more important. Start off with a structure that fits in with work and try it out, then adjust it if necessary.
Exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep are important for everyone but particularly for writers. It’s amazing how quickly you can burn yourself out if you neglect your writer health as you need to maintain your mental energy in order to be creative.
In Agatha Christie’s autobiography she tells a story of the time she wrote a fifty thousand word book in three days flat. On the third day, a Monday, she sent an excuse to her place of work, so that she could continue with her story. When it was finished she fell asleep for nearly twenty four hours straight through, woke up, ate an enormous dinner and was able to go back to work the following day. She recalls looking so peculiar that everyone was concerned. Agatha remembers her colleagues saying how she must have been really ill, as she had enormous circles under her eyes, but it was only fatigue and exhaustion. Maybe a bit extreme but it does illustrate how writing can take it out of you.
So, regular meals, some exercise and plenty of sleep are the things to aim for if you don’t do this already. Keeping a bottle of water handy when you are writing will ensure you keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
Socialising with other writers, in person and online can be fun and a good way to give and receive support. As most writers are introverts, being alone constantly with just a creative mind for company is tempting, but we all need some feedback, someone to bounce ideas off or just to talk about the business of writing.
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