Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Surprise - Are You Sitting Comfortably???

This month Natasha Oakley shares the one bit of advice she wishes she'd been given before she FinDaBoo'd for the first time!

So, you've decided 2007 is the year you're going to finish writing a book. You've bravely faced the blank page and flicking cursor. Words are streaming from your fingertips. Your shoulders are aching from hours hunched over the keyboard ...

Then you'd better stop! Right now!

Presents/Modern author Kate Walker recently sent me some questions to answer for the new and updated version of her wonderful '12 point Guide to Writing Romance' and one of those questions was 'What's the writing advice you wish you'd been given before you started writing/once you were published?' and that got me thinking.

Funnily enough I didn't immediately think of 'writing craft'. I suppose that's because it's a constant journey. My thoughts were distressingly practical.

Apart from steps I wish I taken to prevent my 'writers' bottom' developing, I really wish I'd paid more attention to where I did my writing. Getting that part of the business wrong can have serious consequences and I have the headaches to prove it.

When I first flipped open my husband's laptop I didn't have many options. My first book was written hunched over the dining room table. After I'd sold I had deadlines and I needed to write when the house was full of children. 'The Business Arrangement' was written at a desk on the landing. Daft place because it's a total thoroughfare.

So, I decamped to the bedroom and wrote 'A Family To Belong To' propped up on pillows until my shoulders were so sore I had to lay down and prop up the laptop! A better idea but hardly ideal.

Post extention I now have my own 'writing cupboard' and a PC. I'm also lucky in that I can touch type - curtesy of my dad who sent me on a secretarial course the moment I uttered the fateful words 'I'm going to be an actress'. I'm sure that's why, so far, I've managed to escape the wrist ache which plagues many of my peers. The twinge I experience when I've spent too long messing about putting pictures into blogs does remind me I need to be careful. It's that sideways movement with the mouse that causes me trouble.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is an increasing problem in the workplace and is a real issue for writers. Let's face it, our bodies just weren't designed to spend hours hunched over a keyboard. Basically, overuse of any muscle can cause an inflammation which, if you persist in repeating that movement daily, won't have the chance to recover.

RSI seems to start as a slight ache which most people ignore. Time passes and people start to experience pain when they're actually performing the repetitive action. If RSI becomes severe it's possible to be in pain almost constantly. It's certainly worth doing everything you can to prevent it happening to you.

The keyboard and mouse often gets the blame but that's not the whole story.

I do think learning to type is time well spent. Crazy though the QWERTY keyboard is, it seems to be here to stay. (Did you know it was invented to slow typists down so the keys of a manual typewriter didn't bash together?) If you touch type you're at least using ten fingers and don't have to look down at the keyboard.

Of course, you could decide to go the 'voice activated' route. That has a certain appeal. I like the idea of kicking off my shoes, laying back and dictating ... But there's something about the actually process of physically writing I'd miss.

The alternative is to give some thought to how you set up your workstation. However limited your space it's worth investing in a chair which can be adjusted to suit you as that'll reduce the strain you're putting on your back.

- Try and keep your knees level with your hips.
- Sit up straight while at your desk and adjust your chair to support your back.
- If your feet aren't flat on the floor you may need a footrest. (I'm currently using a box file!)

Now think about the position of your monitor. Recommendations as to the distance you should have between eyes and screen vary but I like the 'an arm's length away'. That seems to have a certain logic to it. The top of your screen should be at eye level. If it isn't you can prop it up with your TBR pile. :)

To protect your eyes you need to position your screen so that nothing is reflecting on it. The ideal position is at right angles to a window. Some people swear by an 'anti-glare' screen and clever computer types adjust the brightness and contrast.

Avoid stetching for things you use often. Most articles refer to things like the telephone and mouse but I take that to mean my coffee cup!

Your elbows should be by your side and directly beneath your shoulders. Keep your wrist straight over the keyboard.

I'm sure you now feel like you're standing on one leg, patting your head and rubbing your stomach but there's one more thing - TAKE A BREAK.

The recommended 'ideal' in one article I've read is to spend no more than twenty minutes without taking a 'stretch' break. I think I'd find that a little too frequent to be practical.

Another article suggested that every hour you should give yourself a five to ten minute rest. I think I'm probably on a natural 'coffee run' after an hour but if you're not you could simply sit a little straighter in your chair and focus on something in the distance for a few seconds.

I would suggest a picture of Jeremy Northam would do just nicely but feel free to replace him with your own 'hero'. Though, for the life of me, I can't see why you would .... :) He's turning out to be excellent casting!!

With love


Natasha's latest release, 'Crowned: An Ordinary Girl', is available online at eharlequin now.

Read an excerpt here.


  1. You can also have a gel pad in front of your key board. This is a slight raised/cushioned pad that allows you to support your wrist. I also have one incorporated into my mouse pad.

    And for my back I have a Helathy back pillow. This a rectangular blow up pillow that suports my back. It is absolutely brilliant.

  2. LOL -- I'm using the coffee run as my break! :)


  3. I just turned a book in last week, so my wrists are aching! I swear. it's writing on a laptop, but what can you do?

    Right now I am trying hand massage and stretched. Here's hoping!

  4. I have both the gel mousepad and another for the keyboard. They are I was diagnosed with "tennis" elbow which is really OMG WOMAN STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER injury.

    I do need to take more breaks and I have A535 ointment to help with the inflammation.

    Thanks for posting on the topic, Natasha!