Monday, November 16, 2015

NaNoWriMo Writer? Watch Your Back, Neck, Shoulders, Arms, and Hands, Your Most Important Writing Tools

The month of November is many things, among them:  Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, Caregiver Appreciation Month, and Movember. But if you're a writer, it's also something else: NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo seems to be impossible: a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It starts at midnight on November 1 and ends at 11:59 pm November 30. We're smack in the middle of it right now. Sound crazy? It did to me when I first heard about it in 2011, a rather latecomer to the game since it started in 1999. Better late than never. Anyway, since I live with RSIs and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome the concept of NaNoWriMo is well beyond my capabilities, but I'm still seduced by the beauty of it. 

Imagine being able to commit to writing an average of 1,667 words each day for 30 days. At the end, you'll have the first draft of a book, which over the next few months you can polish into something presentable, maybe even publishable. The possibilities astound me, a writer who's been working on the first draft of a novel for four years. I started it as part of a NaNoWriMo challenge, when I was able to produce 4,000 words over the course of a week before succumbing to a flare-up of RSIs and TOS. 

NaNoWriMo is not for writers without the stamina to sit at a keyboard for hours each day. One thousand six hundred and sixty-seven words sound easy - it's the equivalent of six and a half pages - in theory, achievable for most people who are able to keep to their commitment. But if you're someone prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, bursitis, headaches, back or neck pain, this challenge will most likely exacerbate your condition and prevent future NaNoWriMo attempts. 

Photo by bertys30 via Dollar Photo Club

Maintaining the postures of keyboarding, mousing, and viewing a computer monitor requires an incredible amount of exertion, muscle control, and energy. I've heard it said that an 8-hour worker at a computer station works his body as hard as a professional athlete, using primarily the smallest and most delicate of muscles and tendons, as well as a multitude of nerves. These micro-tissues, sustaining a static posture over long periods of time, become inflamed, injured, and cause great pain. If ignored, the condition continues. If left untreated, permanent disability can result.

I'm not a killjoy. I simply don't want to see other people end up like me. It's no fun struggling to write 250 words a day and failing. It's hard to complete  a project when you have to avoid the computer for days on end. If you're wrapped up in NaNoWriMo please take care of yourself. Here are some tips:

Prepare your body for a writing session:
  • Massage your hands with your favorite lotion.
  • Stretch your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck. 
  • Don't forget your back, which can also be overworked. 
Adjust your work space for safety:
  • Make sure your monitor is an arm's length away, at a height where your eyes are focused one inch below its upper edge. 
  • Use a keyboard tray. 
    • Ensure it's at the appropriate height so your elbows are at rest and in a neutral position.
    • You should not be reaching for the keyboard.
  • Be careful with your mouse. It's the root cause of a lot of disability. I use a keyboard with a built in glide pad. Cured my five-year history of elbow tendinitis. 
  • A lap top is not a desk top. Don't use it as one. The ergonomics of it are completely off and will contort your body in painful ways.
  • Take the time to set your chair at the appropriate height, making sure your feet are on the floor. Use lumbar support if you have it.
Watch your posture:
  • Sit up, don’t slump.  
  • Hold your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over  your hips. 
  • Do not lean forward. You'll get turtle head and hurt your back.
Take frequent rest breaks:
  • Use a timer. Twenty minutes is as long as you should write before taking a break. 
  • While resting, do some desk stretches or stand up and stretch, have a drink of water, rest your eyes. 
  • Listen to your body.
After a session:
  • Stretch again. 
  • Soothe your muscles with gentle massage, especially your hands.
If you have pain:
  •  Don't ignore it. Respond and treat.
  • Use ice or heat as tolerated on sore areas.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Motrin and Tylenol, can help. 
  • Topical remedies such as Topricin, Bio-Freeze, and Capsaicin are easily available and provide relief.
  • Thermacare wraps are wonderful.
  • Remember to stretch gently every day.
  • Limit computer time, or perform multiple short sessions each day.
If the problem continues:
  • See your doctor
    •  A course of physical and/or occupational therapy can ward off chronic pain issues.
    • Your doctor can order prescription strength medicine such as analgesics, muscle relaxants, and topical therapies.
    • Surgery is a last resort. Don't let this happen to you.
  • Consult a chiropractor.
  • Hire a massage therapist.
  • Visit an ergonomist.
  •  Stay off the computer!
Last year, 325,142 writers participated in NaNoWriMo; 59,817 completed their goal. Avoiding repetitive strain injuries can keep you in the running to someday be one of them.

Interesting fact:  
Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.

To learn more about repetitive strain injuries and how they impact a writer's life please visit my blog My TOS Life; Broken, Not Bitter. An Authors Life with Repetitive Strain Injuries, on The Creative Penn blog; and Respect your Limitations - Live Your Dreams on The Balanced Writer.

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1 comment:

Maja Rajterič said...

You inspire us and so we are developing Clickywood ( - wooden massage device to prevent RSI.