The most important thing you’re ignoring: Ergonomics
Writing is a necessary part of your career. Whether your goal is to become a successful textbook author, gain tenure at your university, or publish various other types of scholarly works, you will have to make writing a large part of your life. Just as anyone who lifts weights, runs, or bikes knows, the proper form and equipment are necessary to avoid injury and stay on track with their training. These same principles are true for writers. To stay at peak performance level, that is to say, to stay writing (and comfortably) it is imperative that you have the proper form and equipment—proper ergonomics. If you don’t, you risk serious pain in your neck, back, arms, and wrists that could last a lifetime or even in severe causes, require a surgical procedure. (Note: This isn’t meant to scare you into no longer writing. This is meant to inform you and prepare you to be at your best to tackle all of your writing projects. Writing is hard enough without the added pain of your body working against you!)
Ergonomics for writers
- Have an adjustable chair. Having such a chair will allow for you to more easily adjust to your desk and your specific body needs. For example, you’ll want to be able to adjust the height of your chair so that your thighs are parallel to the floor (knees level with hips) and your feet rest comfortably and flat on the floor. If your chair is too high for your feet to rest flat, consider using a footrest (even a stack of books will do!).
- Your chair should also have lumbar support. Lumbar support is essential for supporting your lower back. Your chair should cradle the natural curvature of your back and shouldn’t feel as though you are sinking into the chair or that your back is flattening.
- Position key objects within close reach. It may not seem like it, but the more you are reaching and straining to grab various objects on your desk, the more harm you are doing to your body. For objects that are not easily within reach, stand up to retrieve them.
- Be mindful of your monitor. Your monitor should be roughly an arm’s length directly in front of you. The top of your screen should be slightly below eye level or about two-three inches from the top of the monitor casing.
- Have adequate light. This falls directly under number four because you want to make sure that not only do you have proper lighting, but also that the lighting isn’t causing a glare on your monitor. Natural lighting is best, but not always possible. If you are experiencing a glare on your screen, reduce the glare by closing a shade, turning off overhead lights, or by purchasing an anti-glare cover. Your brightest light source should be to the side of your monitor.
- Be able to hold your hands, wrists, and arms in a neutral and natural position. As you type, your wrists should be straight—not bent down, up, or to either side. Your keyboard should be centered directly in front of you with your mouse as close to it as possible. Your arms should be bent at a ninety-degree angle or slightly less, and they should remain close to your body. When using your mouse, it should be within easy reach and your wrist should stay in that natural and comfortable position.
- Keep your posture in check. Make sure you aren’t slouching, your keyboard is centered directly in front of you, your arms have a ninety-degree (or slightly less) bend, your thighs are horizontal with your knees and at the same level as your hips, and your monitor is at eye level. In addition, your shoulders and back muscles should be relaxed. You may even find that an exercise ball chair works best for you in helping to maintain your posture. Just be mindful that many of those chairs are not height adjustable.
- Employ the 20/20/20 method. Every twenty minutes, for twenty seconds, look at something twenty feet away. These breaks will help ease the strain your eyes endure from staring at a computer screen. It’s also a good idea to take frequent breaks—every thirty to sixty minutes—where you get up, stretch, and walk around.
Keep in mind that standing desks, treadmill desks, and even biking desks are other great alternatives to sitting for extended periods. Preventive health measures, like proper ergonomics, are essential for staying healthy and on track to reach whatever writing goals you’ve set before you.
Disclaimer: The above tips are meant to assist you in achieving proper ergonomics, however it is always best to consult a professional such as a licensed ergonomist when looking to maximize your workspace to best fit you.
Gordon, Whitson. “How to Ergonomically Optimize Your Workspace.” Lifehacker. 2 Sept. 11.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Office Ergonomics: Your How-to Guide.” Mayo Clinic. 13 Apr. 13.
Roland, Rebecca. “Ergonomics 101: For Writers.” SFWA. 09 May 2013.