People who think writing isn’t manual labor haven’t done any. It’s true you don’t use your legs or cardiovascular system the same way you would in some occupations, but the strain on your eyes, neck, back, and wrists more than makes up for it. Headaches, chronic fatigue, and carpal tunnel pain are just a few of the physical occupational hazards facing writers and other workers who type a lot. As a professional freelance writer, I’ve become more familiar with these writing-related ailments than I care to be. To help others in a similar situation, here are seven ways I’ve found to help reduce strain and fatigue when writing.
1. Create a Comfortable Workspace
First, create a comfortable workspace. Your workspace includes your desk, your screen, your keyboard and other input devices such as a mouse or digital pen, and your chair. Discomfort, strain, fatigue, and pain can result from placing any of these in awkward positions.
Position everything so that you can sit up straight with your screen at eye level, your hands placed comfortably, your back and hips comfortably supported, and your feet placed comfortably on the floor. Adjust the height, lateral positioning, and distance of the elements of your workspace to achieve this.
Avoid placing your screen so that you have to tilt your head or twist your neck to see it. Keep your keyboard and other input devices at a height where you can drape your hands comfortably over them rather than flexing your wrists and fingers up when you type or click. Keep your input devices at a distance where you don’t have to overextend your elbows to use them. Adjust the height and positioning of your chair to conform with these principles.
2. Sit Comfortably
Creating a comfortable workspace is a step towards sitting comfortably, which is another key to avoiding fatigue and strain while writing. Good posture will also help with sitting comfortably. Following a few important posture principles will provide you with solid structural support, minimizing strain and maximizing comfort.
When you sit down to write, keep your head up so that the center of your screen viewing area is at eye level. Keep your neck and spine straight by adjusting your shoulders so that they align vertically over your hips. Let your feet rest supported flat on the floor or a supporting surface.
Avoid posture problems by monitoring the positions of your head, neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. Don’t lean forward with your neck or trunk. Don’t let your head droop. Don’t slouch your shoulders. Don’t push your hips ahead of your upper body. Don’t let your feet dangle behind you or stretch them out ahead of your body.
3. Warm Up
Warming up before you type will help you avoid fatigue and repetitive motion strain. This is especially important if you tend to experience wrist stiffness when typing, but it’s a good practice in general to prevent stiffness and boost energy.
Spend a few minutes warming up your eyes, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers. Take at least 10 to 30 seconds for each of these body parts, moving in different directions to stretch the muscles and stimulate circulation.
Here’s a quick chair exercise warm-up routine you can adapt to your needs:
Open your mouth and eyes wide as if to yawn, then close them gently, clicking your teeth together lightly. Repeat 10 to 30 times.
Loosen your neck and shoulders by rolling your arms in circles, reaching up and out in front of you as if grabbing a big ball or a pair of rowing oars, then pulling your arms down and back behind you to complete the circle. Repeat 10 to 30 times. (If you are in an environment or physical condition which does not allow you to make large circles like this, you can make smaller circles by putting your hands on your hips, with the backs of your wrists on your sides as if making a pair of bird’s wings, and just rolling your shoulders.)
Push your hands out in front of you while flexing your wrists back and extending your elbows, as if pushing something away, and then slowly squeeze your fingers together while pulling back, imagining digging your fingers into something warm and squishy. Repeat 10 to 30 times.
I’ve found that warming up like this before I type makes a huge difference in whether I feel stiff or not.
4. Work in Short Bursts
Sitting and typing too long at one time will strain your eyes and body, triggering fatigue and reducing productivity. You’ll have more energy and write more if you work in short bursts instead of typing non-stop marathons. For peak performance, 30 to 45 minutes is about as long as you should go before taking a short break.
5. Pause to Blink and Yawn
Whether you’re typing or taking a break, you should pause periodically to blink and yawn. Staring at a screen and focusing too long strains your eye muscles and can trigger headaches and tension in the jaw and neck. You can alleviate this by remembering to pause periodically to blink and yawn.
6. Stop to Stretch
During breaks, running through a brief stretching routine will help you loosen up stiffness and refuel your energy. Simply walking around and moving your arms will help. You can also repeat your warm-up routine.
7. Use Alternate Input Devices
A final way to reduce fatigue and pain from writing is to use alternate input devices to cut down strain from typing. I prefer to compose my outlines with a pen in a notebook before I ever sit down at a computer. Other ways to avoid typing are to use a digital smartpen, which can convert your written words to digital text while recording your voice, or text-to-voice software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which will record your voice and translate it into text. You can even record yourself and then hire a transcriptionist to type it.
These are a few of the most important strategies you can use to reduce the physical stress and strain that comes with writing. Adopting these tips will make writing a more comfortable experience and give you more energy to get more done.