How many hours do you spend sitting at your keyboard? Let’s make it easy and only count one day. Are you getting up to take those crucial breaks to stretch, breathe, reacquaint yourself with the outside world? (Checking for the Apocalypse never hurts) Even with the occasional step away to grab sustenance, it’s probably a hefty number. Now multiply that over the days each week. Each month. See where I’m heading with this? We spend the majority of our lives typing. And if you don’t trick out your workspace with ergonomics, you’re heading for a terrible future.
I know, your brain immediately went to cogito ergo sum, right? We can work with that. Because I think you’re skipping ergonomic usage in your workspace, therefore I am positive you’re going to end up with plenty of physical therapy and musculoskeletal issues down the road. (See what I did there?)
Seriously, though, ergonomics came about because we tended to work in TERRIBLE conditions. The way we sit or stand, the activities we perform, and the number of times we repeat them throughout the day. Without safety implementations, we end up with RSIs or repetitive strain injuries – like the favorite of anyone who types all day: carpal tunnel syndrome.
Ergonomics is the study of human efficiency in the work environment. And the products that result? They’re ergonomic equipment or devices.
The Ergonomic Writer
The average writer pays a heavy toll for their craft – with their body. Back strain, neck pain, carpal tunnel. The outside world thinks sitting at a desk all day is a piece of cake. But if you haven’t optimized your workspace to DO that, you’re asking for trouble. Within a few years (maybe less), you’ll find yourself in the doctor’s office pleading for help.
Don’t believe me? Talk to an author who published in the previous decade. Better yet, aim for TWO decades past. The people who hit the computer before the ergonomics movement. Most of them use dictation programs now because of severe carpal tunnel. And they cut autograph sessions short for the same reason. Their wrists ACHE. I know that’s the case for David Weber; he said as much when I sat through a presentation he gave. (And you bet I threw some elbows to get to the front of the line so I could get a book autographed for my father)
Now, I’m not dissing dictation software, but there’s a better way. You need to take care of your body. And that means designing your workspace appropriately.
You don’t want to look DOWN all the time. It’s unnatural for your head and neck, and it’ll place strain on your spine. That can result in migraines – or the average headache (not that you want those, either). Your monitor needs to keep your head in a neutral position. So you should use stands to lift that screen into place. (And that goes for laptop users, too!)
But monitor-related ergonomics don’t stop there. Your eyes are susceptible to damage, too – and not just because of restricted blood flow as you crank your neck down. We’ve touched on those glaring white screens once already. Where you can switch themes over to dark mode. Your eyeballs (and ophthalmologist) will thank you.
Keyboards and Mice
What takes the brunt of the abuse for writers? Well, yes, the brain. (You know, they haven’t developed ergonomics for that) I’m talking about your wrists, though. You type ALL DAY. And when you’re not banging out words, you’re scrolling through notes or copy, searching. Have your arms and hands in a weird position, and you’ll find yourself complaining about wrist pain, “lightning” through the fingers, or even numbness.
Starting with that neutral position of the arms helps (funny how that keeps coming up). But you want to find tools to help. Flat keyboards and “traditional” mice won’t do. They require your hands to rest in odd places, restricting blood flow to your fingers. You’re better off with an ergonomic keyboard AND mouse.
Yes, they look strange. And if you’ve never used one before, it takes some adjustment. But they move the keys (and buttons) into natural, COMFORTABLE places for your fingers. They also don’t pinch your wrist or narrow those arteries.
Gel wrist supports are one way to go. But ergonomic designs exist for a reason. The science supports their strange look. I’ve used the supports, and I now have the keyboard and mouse. I fought with numbness before, and now I don’t have problems. (Not scientific, I suppose, but it’s a result)
Hopefully, you’re not sitting in a folding chair. Your posterior will never forgive you. More than that, though, all of those hours will MURDER your back. The cartoon image of a writer hunched over a typewriter is ancient. (Plus, did you see how unhealthy they usually looked? Canes everywhere) You can’t curl your spine over and expect to escape unscathed. (And, no, an exercise routine won’t save you)
You need to splurge on the chair out of everything ergonomic out there. And you probably will. Chairs tend to cost the most in your workspace – aside from your writing machine of choice. You’re looking for one with lumbar support to cradle your lower back. And you need to sit UP. (Unless you have designs on being the next Hunchback) That means a chair tall enough to follow the contours of your entire back.
It doesn’t mean you can’t lean back when you’re stuck on a plot hole. And there’s no reason you can’t find wheels or a seat that spins. (You think I don’t twirl in my chair?) You’ll find such ergonomic chairs out there. But you should have a solid base. (Yup, pun intended)
I have titanium rods and screws from L4-S1 in my spine – and arthritis creeping into L3. There was NO space between the vertebrae. I literally woke up screaming in pain. And poor ergonomics in my job contributed to the damage. (So did my fabulous ability to fall) If you do nothing else for yourself, protect your back.
I Think, Therefore I am Ergonomically Sound
There are plenty of ways for writers to implement ergonomics into their workspace. Some people stand. Others shift between multiple monitors. And you’ll find plenty of other gadgets to make your life easier and more comfortable. As long as you do SOMETHING to protect your body, you’re on the right track.
You don’t want to end up unable to function due to pain. Worse, you don’t want to lose your ability to write. So suck it up and baby yourself. Your body – and your butt – will thank you.