Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sitting Pretty While We Write

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

My head hurt. My neck was stiff, and I kept a lump on my right shoulder blade that ached and stung. I dreaded sitting at my computer. After countless hours with a massage therapist and the chiropractor to get the kinks worked out, the error of my ways became clear. I wasn’t paying attention to the cries of my body. It’s an occupational hazard for the writer. We become so engaged in the work, we forget the needs of our bodies—even when they’re squawking at us.

We find ourselves in WS—Writers Syndrome. It’s when you promise yourself to only spend fifteen minutes reading Facebook, but two hours later, you realize you’ve been consumed. This is how we are when we write. Our imaginations and creativity snag us and tie us to our chairs for relentless hours.

Daily we spend time learning the craft of writing. Each class we attend, book we read, and suggestion we take, grows us into better writers. Yet, we spend little time learning the needs of our bodies as we write, which is equally as important.

You can’t google WS. I made it up (I am a writer), but I can give you the signs and fixes that will help you prevent the physical discomfort in writing. The symptoms become serious when ignored. Take this test. For every yes, score 1 point. Every no answer, score yourself 2 points.

WS  (Writers Syndrome) Quiz
WS Quiz
  1. When I feel thirsty or hungry at my desk, I stop and eat or drink.
  2. When I feel tension in my neck, I stand and stretch.
  3. When I feel the need to go to the restroom, I go.
  4. When my eyes blur, I close them and rest for a minute.
  5. When my shoulder or back aches, I stand and walk.

If your score is 5 or above, you need to consider some changes. It’s easy to become engrossed in your work especially when the story is flowing beautifully, but that doesn’t excuse ignoring the basic needs of your bodies. I’m dumbfounded at the writers who tell me they go an entire day without eating or going to the restroom. Our bodies and creativity suffer when we ignore the obvious signals.

Modify Your Behavior
  • Stop, Drink, and Eat: Our bodies require liquids, otherwise we become dehydrated. Dehydration can happen in a matter of hours. When you are dehydrated, your mouth becomes dry and sticky, you grow sleepy or tired, you may even develop a headache. Keep a bottle of water on your desk and take a drink after every page you write. By setting a time frame (i.e. at the end of each page written), you will develop the habit to keep yourself hydrated. You’ll think clearer and your body will respond better. Eat. When you’re hungry you can’t concentrate.  Your body needs fuel to function, so take time to eat. Designate yourself a lunch hour. Not only do you stand and walk, but you also feed the machine that drives the work.
  • Muscular tension: Tension in your neck and shoulders leads to headaches, cramps, long-term neck and back issues, and stress. Before you sit at your desk, stretch. Roll your head, lift your arms and stretch from side to side, take in a few long deep breaths and release them slowly. Set a clock for two hours (in a perfect world—1 hour is best). When it chimes. . . stand, walk. We aren’t talking about a 30-minute walk, simply move around your chair. Allow your body to stretch. Sitting for long periods of time inhibits good blood flow which inhibits the precious oxygen your brain needs.
  • Go to the restroom: Okay, don’t laugh, but if you’re honest, you will admit that when nature calls it’s easy to say “later.” Don’t do that. Just like tight muscles, your organs need a break too. When they signal you, it’s because they cannot complete their assigned tasks if you don’t pay attention. Give your kidneys and bladder a break. Ease the tension when they signal you. Again, you’re standing, walking, and stretching so your body can perform at its peak.
  • When your eyes blur: Stop. Close your eyes and rest them. Good writing ergonomics tells us your viewing distance to your screen should be 18”-24”, and you should be looking at a downward view, not straining to look up at the screen. Work at a PC or on a laptop is taxing on the eyes. Headaches and blurred vision become commonplace. After a time, you may need those reading glasses sooner than you anticipated. Give your eyes a short rest.
  • Shoulder and back pain: This falls into play with muscle tension. Provide yourself with good lumbar support by purchasing a chair that makes this a priority, or purchase a lumbar back cushion. A good chair can set you back $200+, but when you invest in something you are using for hours daily, it turns into pennies a day. Try them out – like any chair, sometimes you have to find the “right fit.” Try lumbar pillows and if you need assistance, visit a home health center or a chiropractor for guidance and fit. They can help you find the perfect match for your body type.  If you are a shorter person, purchase a small footrest so your feet rest comfortably. Your back, wrists, and knees should be aligned straight. Adjust your chair height so your wrists are level with the desk or keyboard. 90-degrees is the magic number for good posture.
  • For laptop users: Despite its name, don’t rest your laptop on your lap. Place it on a table, desk, or standing workstation to avoid cramped bodies and tight muscles.

Sit pretty. Make posture a daily writing habit. When you are caring for your writing body properly, your creativity will be better, your body will not tire as quickly, and you can enjoy a more pain-free work area.


Cindy Sproles is an award-winning author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and www.inspireafire.com. She teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live a Life of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into the Woman You Can Be. Cindy's debut novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I went through the same thing. I then got a wonderful ergonomic recliner where I now write. I use my desk for editing and other business, but the hours of writing are best done in my chair.

  2. Cindy, these are all things I know I should do, but things I often neglect. Especially the staying hydrated part. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. I often forget to take a swig or two of water. It makes a difference.

  3. Your wisdom is showing, Cindy. Thank you for the beneficial reminders.
    Teach on!

  4. Thanks for this reminder. I like to think I listen to my body, but too often I ignore it.

  5. Thank you for this! I've been wondering/worrying over the headaches and sleepiness, and I think you gave me my answer. Dehydration! It's been a continual struggle for me to drink enough water. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

    1. Yep lack of water and improper viewing will give you headaches.

  6. I've had to make changes and stop ignoring my body. I find switching work stations helps. Now with my recent whiplash injury, I'm finally going to invest in a separate monitor for my lap top. Looking down is not good.
    I still need to do better at talking little walks.
    Thanks for the reminders.

  7. Great post , Cindy!! My Capstone Project in college (Interior Design) was a school, and in my research I came across many of these same issues. I'm looking outside as I type this, which "exercises" my eyes, switching from focusing on close up to distant objects.
    Thanks for sharing!!

  8. So true, so true! I've learned to set my timer to make myself get up and move every 30 minutes to an hour. For me the issue has been wrist, elbow, shoulder. I also change my position from desk top to lap top. This opens other issues like accessing documents from multiple computers and keeping track of latest versions.

  9. I learned awhile ago to always have my water bottle next to me when I write. I also have an ergonomic keyboard, but unfortunately, I write on my laptop which doesn't have one. Wish they would make one for laptops!