…because that would be so, so rude. But did I at least get your attention? Yes? Good! Initial job done. Because, darlings, I’m here to save you from yourselves, and the ravages that can be wrought as a direct result of your talent.
The term “sedentary lifestyle” might have been coined for writers, right? Roll these words around your brain for a bit: hunched, black coffee, dark circles, pallid, gaunt, fags, stiff, depression, mental exhaustion, sleep deprivation, wobbly concentration, headache, bad temper, more coffee, muffins, muffin-top, occupationally-generated fat arse gluteal adipose accretion. Any stirrings of recognition?
In my other life I am a fitness instructor, besides an occasional public speaker on health and wellbeing (see ‘About’ page); and I produce a monthly newsletter on same for all my class clients. I also send it out to those email contacts who enjoy a regular gee-up about looking after themselves, and it usually includes healthy recipe, a spot of amateur life coaching and so on. As it happens, I really do care about keeping you (and everybody! See my swivelly eyes!) in good nick – menssana in corpore sano, and all that. But I do make it a rule never to grip the lapels of good folk and evangelise at close quarters unless clearly invited, so don’t worry on that score if we ever meet.
So let’s get to it, to the improving the physical side of your writing life, shall we? Are you sitting comfortably? Good place to begin. Posture, whether sitting or standing, is the basis of fitness. Think about it: if your skeleton is aligned properly, the all-important globby bits (organs etc.) will sit nicely and function better for a start. Try this. Sit with your back against the back of the chair, and put your shoulders back. Too far away from the keyboard? Pressure behind your thighs? Place a wee cushion to support your back, and experiment with a low riser (box, dictionary, etc.) under your feet. Now where’s the screen in relation to your eyeline? Eyes level with the top of the screen is usually recommended. If your chair is uncomfortable, change it, stick a pillow on the seat, whatever it takes.
Mslexia magazine recently did a survey on what writers wear when they write, which may have been a lighthearted exercise (options ranged from “My special writing outfit, of course” to “Nothing!”), but it’s worth a word or two. You may feel most ‘in the zone’ in your skinny jeans and slash top, especially if you are a YA author; but honestly, I’d go for comfort if I were you, whether that’s druidic robes or well-kneed joggers appliqueed with baby mush. Sitting for hours with a tight waistband cutting into waist or abdomen isn’t my idea of writing fun, and it can badly affect productivity.
Finally: move! You need your blood supply to be carrying nourishing oxygen to your brain – keep that circulation lively! If it’s going to be a long session, try long-haul style foot-rocking, shoulder-shrugging, knee-lifts etc. every so often. Better still, put a kitchen timer on your desk, set for every forty minutes or hour, and interval the typing with a minute or more of activity, using as many muscles as possible – I recommend dancing (bad dancing is particularly enjoyable, I find). A more sedate walk around, with a few tiptoe stretches, hip circles, etc. might suit some of you better. And especially if you write full time, do try to get out into the fresh air for a brisk walk every day, whatever the weather. Even a few minutes can help to solve plot knots and freshen ideas. Bonus: exposure of your skin to daylight (whether it’s overcast or not) can improve your intake of Vitamin D, which is vital for bone health and joint and brain function.
There is a school of thought very prevalent in the writing community, that an unhealthy lifestyle somehow has an intrinsic artistic merit. Yeah, right! I’d definitely rather be too cool for that school!