Back Up: ergonomic inclinations for writers

Hi, kids–

As writers, we sit. A lot. At least, the vast majority of writers that I know do that. Their workspaces are generally chairs and desks or chairs and tables. Point being, the workspaces involve chairs. And keyboards. And holding our wrists in specific ways. And sitting.

source: Productive Writer (resized here)

However, I rarely hear my writerly colleagues talk about proper positioning at a workspace, or a chair that properly supports their backs, or a keyboard pad to help writers keep their forearms and wrists in good form. And that’s a shame, because sitting is one of the worst things that Americans do to their backs. And writers have to do that a lot.

Read on.

I’m speaking from experience, here, as someone who has dealt with back issues in the past. My ignorance about the back and what’s good and not good for it ended up putting me in a pretty bad way. So now, I’m pretty careful about the sitting thing. I’ll tell you what I do in a few. In the meantime, a couple of sites that might provide some insight/guidance.

Therese Walsh over at Writer Unboxed just did a great blog on ergonomics for writers. She also notes that most office equipment is made for men. If you have a tough time finding something that fits you because of that, there are companies that custom-make furniture. Yes, it’s expensive. But if that’s the only option you’ve got, it’s worth the money to protect your health in the long run.

John Soares over at Productive Writer also has a post about ergonomics for writers, with easy-to-follow bullet points.

And here’s an older blog (2008) about the best ergonomic chairs for writers. It’ll give you an idea, at least, about what you should be looking for.

All right. That should give you an idea about why it’s important to pay attention to your writerly surroundings and make sure that you get your space tailored to your specific physicality.

Okay, so let me tell you a bit about my writer space. I use an office table for my desktop, an ergonomic chair that looks like this:

source: Office Max

I spent about $150 on my chair, and I went and sat in a bunch and adjusted them to get a fit. But I also use a lumbar roll with my chair for extra back support. I highly recommend the standard McKenzie Roll for everyone, whether you write or not. They’re great lumbar support. I keep one in my car, my office, and I have a couple extra that I use for dining room chairs and one I even take to movies and restaurants.

source: (re-sized here)

One roll (I prefer standard firm as opposed to extra firm) runs about $17-$20. I also keep this cushion around — it’s designed to alleviate pressure on your lumbar spine. It is pretty comfie.

source: (re-sized here)

Those’ll run you anywhere from $15-$45, depending on the company and the material. Mine was about $25. Good for driving, too.

The other thing I implemented is alternating sitting with standing. That’s right. I took the Hemingway approach and incorporated a standing lectern/desk into my office, where I set my laptop. I thus alternate between standing and sitting (laptop on the standing desk, desktop on my desk space). I’ll do about an hour at one, then an hour at the other. My standing desk looks like this:

source: IT Technology

Expect to pay anywhere from $100-$300 (or up, depending on what kinds of bells and whistles you want). I paid about $130 for mine.

Wear comfie shoes and maybe get a thick floor mat if you’re not used to standing much while working. I’ve implemented a desktop stand at my job, as well, so I can alternate standing and sitting there, too. Here’s what that looks like:

source: Lapdawg

It’s super-adjustable, and easy to use. Here’s the link to see examples. Prices vary; $40-$100. I paid about $75 for mine.

So if you’re having back issues, maybe check in with an orthopedic or sports doc who specializes on the back to help you. And do an honest assessment of your habits. I had to re-do everything, right down to my bed, some of my furniture, and how I bend, lift, and twist. Back problems are seemingly endemic to American culture, because a lot of us do sit at our jobs. And too few of us try to stay active outside our jobs. But writers do a lot of sitting outside of the job, too, because it’s the nature of the beast. What’s important is that you alternate your sitting with standing/walking, and that you incorporate things into your life/daily routines to mitigate long-term issues with your back and, by extension, your neck. And, by further extension, your writing.

All rightie! Take care of yourselves and happy writing!

4 thoughts on “Back Up: ergonomic inclinations for writers

  1. Excellent advice. Very informative. Thanks for all of that great information, Andi!

    Your chair looks much like mine – except mine is brown. 🙂 But it’s very comfortable and very supportive. I like the high back. It lends extra support for my shoulders and, sometimes, my head if I want to lean back a bit.

    Years ago I would use a kneeling chair. Those were very comfortable and surprisingly easy on my back. I’ve been considering getting another.

  2. Thanks, Andi. I have bookmarked this article. I am going to physical therapy twice a week to doctor for the years I didn’t have an ergonomically correct chair!

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