It’s that time again: When I remind you that writers can’t subsist on writing alone. (Don’t think I can’t hear you groaning through a computer screen) I get it – no one wants to hear that they need to get off their butts and take care of themselves. After all, the greats of classical literature seemed to do just fine wasting away from horrible diseases, starvation, and unsanitary conditions. (See where we’re going?) But I’m not asking for much this time. In fact, it’s MINIMAL movement. A tiny bit of stretching here and there throughout your day.
How hard is that? (Yes, I heard that whine)
The Writer Sans Stretching
Stop me if this sounds familiar:
Your writing brain took off. The entire day slipped past as you hunched over your keyboard. (Even if you paid attention to my counsel on ergonomic workspaces, everyone knows you get intense when the Muse calls) The most you’ve moved is a shift from butt cheek to butt cheek. Maybe an occasional arm grab for snacks. The writing is BRILLIANT. And you feel accomplished when you hit that “Save” command.
Then you sit back or attempt to get up.
Your body’s frozen. Every muscle locked in position from that curved posture. Your joints start screaming like the Tin Man begging for an oil can. And you hobble around in search of a heating pad, anti-inflammatories, a hot tub, or whatever your personal go-to may be.
All because you left stretching out of your writing routine. You caused your muscles to shorten during their disuse. Then they tightened up (again, you weren’t calling on them). And now you expect them to lengthen – STRETCH – and move?
See the quandary?
We all do it. Because pausing that flow of inspiration feels like insanity. But transforming into a feeble creature from an epic fantasy isn’t exactly helping you, either.
Stretching: More Than Exercise
I get it: We tend to think of stretching as something you do before and after exercise. (And you DO need it then) You’re protecting your muscles from potential injury, warming them in preparation for your activity of choice.
But when you stretch, you’re doing MORE. Namely, you’re ensuring muscle health. (You know – that thing you’re currently neglecting sitting on your butt?) Because even if you don’t have plans of running a marathon or swimming the English Channel, you still need your body to work for you.
Trust me on this one.
- Injury prevention
A flexible muscle keeps your joints working properly. And you preserve flexibility through stretching. No one retained the ability to touch their toes by sitting in a chair 24/7. (And don’t get cute by doing so WHILE sitting)
If you elongate your hamstrings (the long muscles in the back of your thigh), you’ll find it easier to reach those tiny toes. It’ll also allow you to straighten your knee. Sound trivial? Well, you need your leg to extend to walk. When your legs remain flexible, you find it easier to get around.
Say, when you need to make a trip to the fridge for sustenance.
The longer you sit, leaving your muscles short and tight, the weaker they become. They’re not getting any use, so the fibers get “flabby.” Then, when you need your ligaments and tendons to support your knees or ankles, they fail.
Believe me. You’re talking to someone with three ankle surgeries under her belt. (Okay, so those procedures resulted from numerous injuries and not a lack of stretching, but weak muscles were the source)
You don’t need to break out weights to keep your muscles strong. Stretching engages those tissues, providing the support to the joints you need to move.
You already saw where I was going with this, right? Neglect your stretching, and your body’s going to take you down. You need flexibility and strength to support your body. If you can’t bend, twist, or MOVE, you’re going to end up hurt.
Weak muscles can’t handle much force. Even getting up from your chair – say, after 13 hours of writing – is enough to strain them.
And while you CAN prop a laptop on your stomach while you’re laid up in bed recovering, pain intrudes on your ability to find words, concentrate, and remain productive. Not to mention coping with crutches is NOT fun.
Stretching for Writers
Incorporating stretching into your writing routine isn’t difficult. It WILL mean removing your fingers from the keyboard, though. (I know, I’m asking a lot) But you only need to take FIVE MINUTES out of your schedule every hour. That’s nothing.
Not when you compare it to what you’ll lose if you injure yourself.
Set an alarm for yourself. (We all know none of us will reliably “remember”) And have a timer – if you’re worried about losing too much of your writing schedule.
Alternate between the different muscle groups at each break:
- Neck and shoulders
- Lower back
Find stretches that work for you. Personally, I love these options from the NaNoWriMo crew:
And then all you need to do is cycle through your routine. It’s FIVE MINUTES an hour that gets you moving. And it’ll pay off when you decide to call it quits at the end of the day. You’ll find yourself getting up without that stiffness, pain, or writing hunchback.
Get Off Your Butt
I know how hard it is to pause creativity. (You’re talking to someone who needs her husband to remind her to eat) But I also know how difficult it is to cope with a body in pain. And I DO stretch regularly.
I didn’t use to, though.
Before, I curved over my keyboard for hours on end. And then wondered why I couldn’t stand up straight. Or couldn’t straighten my legs.
Those tiny breaks – and five minutes is nothing, when you think about it – make a HUGE difference. And when you start stretching? You’ll see it.
Writers deserve a healthier image. So let’s start pooling our favorite stretching exercises in the comments!