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May 23, 2012
I’m so excited! I found an answer to my pain condition, a condition aggravated by decades of sitting at a desk. If you’ve read my blog very long (or my Writer’s First Aid or More Writer’s First Aid), then you know I talk about health issues for writers. Even if you have no pain, it’s a big issue, as you’ll see below.
I’ve had headaches, upper back pain, and neck pain (and multiple surgeries)–and all these conditions are made worse by hours slumped at a desk. (Yes, no matter how straight my posture is at the beginning, it’s not long before my shoulders are rounded and my head is forward.)
I wish I had taken out stock in Excedrin years ago. I’m sure I’ve kept them in business.
My New Exciting Work Station
My dear writing friend, Maribeth Boelts, wrote to me a couple months ago about her new treadmill desk. It was helping her with a chronic pain condition of her own, and she urged me try it. I researched the idea (see sources below), read about the benefits, saw how some writers had constructed their own inexpensive treadmill desks, and decided to try it.
Maribeth had assured me she got the knack of typing while walking in less than 15 minutes. I figured I would give it a week–I don’t think I’m that coordinated. But she was right–it took less than 15 minutes!
She also mentioned that the constant walking took care of her “ants in the pants” feeling while sitting at a desk. I have found that to be true too. I think better when I’m moving, and since you’re always walking, you don’t feel the “itch” to get up all the time. In fact, I use a timer now to remind myself after an hour to get off and walk on “dry land.” The first week I had the desk, I worked once for three hours without stopping, and it took a while to get my “sea legs” back when I got off. But what a nice problem to have! Concentrating too long!
Dangers of Sitting
“It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting – in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home – you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.”
And consider this from “Sitting All Day: Worse for You Than You Might Think”: “If you’re sitting, your muscles are not contracting, perhaps except to type. But the big muscles, like in your legs and back, are sitting there pretty quietly,” Blair says. And because the major muscles aren’t moving, metabolism slows down. “We’re finding that people who sit more have less desirable levels” of cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides and even waist size, he says, which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and a number of health problems.
Not sold yet? Did I mention that I now have to eat a lot more in order not to lose weight? For someone my age whose metabolism went into a coma a decade ago, it’s been heavenly to eat what I want! (Or you can slowly drop unwanted weight, if you prefer.)
Benefits of Walking While Working
This article lists more than 60 benefits resulting from using a treadmill desk. Here are just the first ten:
- 1.Weight loss of up to 50-70 lbs in a single year without restrictive dieting
- 2.Reduces stress and depression symptoms 30%-47% faster and more effectively than medications (source: Harvard Medical School)
- 3.Long-term Success: Requires no extra time, effort or motivation
- 4.50% reduction in the risk of Type 2 Diabetes (source: American Diabetes Association)
- 5.Reduces the risk of cancers 30-70% (source: National Institutes for Health)
- 6.Improves memory and cognitive abilities as much as 15% in a 6 month period (source: University of Illinois)
- 7.A workout at work with a TrekDesk treadmill desk slows physical and mental aging processes
- 8.90% reduction in risk of initial heart attacks (source: American Heart Association)
- 9.70% reduction in the risk of stroke (source: American Heart Association)
- 10.Strengthens the immune system, prevents disease and restores health.
Practical Tips: Money
If you decide to try this, let me get practical with you. You don’t have to spend much money, even though there are treadmill desks available for several thousand dollars. If you already have a treadmill with straight horizontal arms, you can make this desk for zero dollars. You can also find used (but like new!) treadmills very inexpensively on craigslist. Because my office is very small and already crammed full, we got a treadmill that easily folds up when not in use.
My husband built the wall mounted shelf from scrap lumber in the garage. See photo right below. I think since the treadmill desk is working so well for me that I will get some paint and give the shelf some color. Ditto the keyboard shelf.
The keyboard shelf is just a board laid across the treadmill arms. (Again, the arms must be level.) Because I wanted to be able to fold the treadmill up, my keyboard shelf is removable (held on with Velcro straps underneath). See third photo. Sometimes when I have boring reading to do (like a marketing book), I move the keyboard off and read there. I clipped on a reading light. The walking keeps me from falling asleep while doing necessary reading.
Practical Tips: Clothes
Although I’m wearing jeans in the photo above, I don’t stay in jeans or sweats very long. You warm up fairly quickly, even at very low speeds. Dress in layers so you can peel off as you work. I use a fan later in the day.
And wear good walking or running shoes! I tried it barefoot one day, and my legs really hurt the next day.
Practical Tips: Speed
When you read about people’s experience with treadmill desks, you’ll hear advice that you should start at 1 mile per hour. Go ahead and do that, but if you’re like me (and Maribeth), you’ll be comfortable walking faster. I like it at 2 mph. For some reason, the 1 mph hurt my hip and felt awkwardly slow. Experiment.
Some people recommend standing at a computer desk without walking. I tried that a couple times and got a real backache (probably because I don’t stand up straight any better than I sit up straight.) Walking forces you upright!
Remember to take breaks too. You’ll find your brain working faster when you walk, and so it’s tempting to go for hours and hours without a break. Set a timer for a while until you get used to your own rhythm.
PLEASE NOTE One last thing: there are treadmill desks for laptop computers, where you have to raise your hands higher. I have not tried this with my laptap, and it doesn’t look comfortable to me at all. It might work fine, but I can’t personally recommend it to you. My treadmill desk is for a desktop model.
July 22, 2011
During the 1988 Jamboree encampment of 32,000 Boy Scouts, one troop (38 Scouts) led the entire Jamboree in cuts treated at the medical tent.
The huge number of nicks from busy knives sounded negative until someone toured the camp and saw the unique artistic walking sticks each boy in that troop had made. They led the entire encampment in other kinds of games, too.
Wounds simply mean that you’re in the game. It’s true for Boy Scouts–and it’s true for writers as well.
I know an excellent writer who has revised a book for years–but won’t submit it, even though everyone who has read it feels the book is ready. What benefit does she get from that? She never has to face rejection. She never has to hear an editor say, “This is good–but it needs work.” She never has to read a bad review of her book, or do any speaking engagements to promote her work, or learn how to put together a website.
She will also never feel the exhilaration of holding her published book in her hands. She won’t get letters from children who tell her how much her book means to them and has helped them. She won’t get a starred review or win an award or do a book signing. She won’t move on and write a second (and third and fourth) book.
Paying the Price
If you want to be a writer, you have to get into the game and risk a few wounds. Figure out ways to bandage them and recover from them, but don’t be afraid of getting them. They’re simply a sign that you’re a writer. Wear the battle scars proudly!
What part(s) of the writing life make you want to stay on the sidelines and out of the line of fire?
April 8, 2011
We don’t like to talk about quitting or giving up on our dreams. But let’s be honest. Will every wannabe writer eventually land big contracts, snag a well-known NY agent, and be sent on ten-city book tours? No.
Maybe your dreams are more modest, but you’ve worked at breaking into publishing for years. Should you continue the struggle? For how long? How do you know when to quit?
Asking the Wrong Question
I came across an excellent discussion from a blog post that is several years old, but the advice is timeless. Called “When to Quit,” it’s a lengthy article by Scott Young on this subject. I hope you’ll read it to the end.
One factor the article said to consider was how you feel on a day-to-day basis as you pursue your dream. How is the process affecting your life, your character, your growth? “So if you are pursuing your dream and you don’t think you are going to make it, the question of whether or not to quit doesn’t depend on your chance of success. The real question is whether pursuing this dream is causing you to grow. Does this path fill you with passion and enthusiasm? Do you feel alive?”
You may not agree with all his views, but I guarantee that the article will make you think–even if you have no intention of quitting. It might lead you to make a course correction however. And it will make you evaluate why you’re pursuing your particular dream–and that’s always a good thing!
If you have a minute, give me your reactions to the ideas in his article.
March 17, 2011
I was reading an article this morning in Writing World’s monthly newsletter, and the editor revealed her recent struggles with depression–both its cause and rather surprising symptoms.
Could this be you?
Dawn wrote: It came as a huge surprise to me. I thought I was suffering from Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I did not think I was depressed. I mean, surely I would notice feeling depressed? Surely I would, well, you know, feel sad, weepy or blue? Apparently not. The fact that my body had slowed down, and weakened, that my concentration had been blown to pieces and my ability to think became clouded in a fog are all textbook symptoms of clinical depression. Feeling sad doesn’t really come into it. I had, in layman’s terms, overloaded my system. I had tried to do too much for too long and something has to give.
I applaud Dawn for speaking out on this issue. I see writers (and others) overloading themselves terribly these days. I used to think it was just a “young mom writer” syndrome, but I see it in all ages as writers try to work 40 hours at day jobs, juggle children or grandchildren, do volunteer work, run marathons, social networking, attend conferences, you name it! (And I’m preaching to myself here too!)
This editor/writer went on to describe how she’d slowly over-crowded her schedule (with good things!), and what that had done to her creativity. Since she didn’t exhibit classic signs of depression (sadness, crying), she didn’t realize her nervous system was basically trying to shut down.
If you recognized yourself in her description, do something now before you have a full-blown depression to address. Trust me–it’s easier to deal with your schedule before than to crash and burn after you’ve overdone it for way too long.
One fun site she recommended was MoodGYM, which offers online cognitive behavioral therapy. I plan to check it out. If you do too, please leave a comment below for other readers with your opinion of its helpfulness.
January 31, 2011
Yesterday on a long Skype call, I talked with a writer friend about what fuels our writing.
For me, my favorite books (both in terms of the writing and how well they did after publication) were often fueled by some kind of pain or wound. Something difficult that I was going through (or one of my children) would spark an idea for a book, and the drive to solve the problem provided the passion and energy to see the story through to completion.
Negatives to Positives
Energy from hurts and wounds and pain can be very useful to you as a writer. But, if you’re just wounded, does that automatically translate into books others will want to read? No.
As Bill O’Hanlon says in Write is a Verb, “in order to have your wound fuel your writing process, the hurt or negative energy needs to be turned into creative energy, informing or driving your writing. It’s not enough to be wounded; you must find a way to turn that wound into energy for your writing.”
Pain = Energy for Writing
He quoted many authors (some quite famous) who had tragedies befall them, but they took the pain and turned around to write some of the most gripping books of our time on the very subject that nearly destroyed them.
It doesn’t have to be a wound the size of the Grand Canyon either (a child being kidnapped, losing your home in a hurricane, both parents dying from cancer the same month). It isn’t the size of the wound–it’s what you do with it that counts.
Just Let It All Hang Out?
In order for your pain to be useful to you as a writer, you’ll need to step back a bit and distance yourself from it. Otherwise you won’t be able to see the story possibilities in it. You’ll be too hung up on the facts. (“But it really HAPPENED this way!” you protest.) Yes, but facts need to be shaped a lot if you’re going to create a story or article or book from those facts. (The truth of your experience can shine through, despite changing some facts.)
Facts will need to change in order to create well-rounded characters, and the plot still needs a beginning, middle, climax and ending. Things will be added–and subtracted–from your experience to make a better story. If you can’t do that, you’re probably still too wounded to turn the experience into a viable story.
“Make no mistake. I have seen writing full of anger, self-pity, or hate that I think will never (and should never) be published,” says O’Hanlon. “They are simply expressions of the author’s pain, more like a journal entry than a book. They are self-indulgent and should be kept private… In order to turn that pain and anger into a book, the writing needs to somehow turn the personal into the universal.” In other words, the book needs to speak to other readers in a way that helps or nourishes them.
Identify Your Writing Energy
How can you tell if your pain and wounds might be energy for your writing? Here are four questions to ask yourself, suggested by the author. They can pinpoint sources of writing energy in your life just waiting to be tapped into.
- What do you care about so deeply or get so excited about that you talk about it to anyone who will listen?
- What upsets you so much that you are compelled to write about it or include the theme in your book?
- What are you afraid to write but know is a deep truth?
- Who are you afraid will disapprove of your writing or be upset by it?
- What fears could you write and perhaps work through by writing?
Take some time this weekend with those questions and a journal. Or write them on a card and take a long walk while you think about the answers. You may not be as blocked or depressed as you fear. You may simply be sitting over a deep pool of writing energy that’s just waiting for you.
October 11, 2010
Has this ever happened to you?
You’re half-way through a short story revision, or the rough draft of your novel, or the research for a biography—and without warning, you lose your desire for the project. The passion evaporates.
You feel lethargic, sad, and brain dead (or least oxygen deprived). You put your writing away for a few days, hoping it’s hormonal or a phase of the moon or post-holiday blues.
However, when you dig it out again, it’s even worse. It doesn’t grab you. You’re sure it won’t grab anyone else either! It’s boring. It goes back in the drawer.
Does Time Heal all Drafts?
Unfortunately, over the next few weeks, the situation worsens. Lethargy turns to apathy. Boredom turns to dislike. You face the fact that, for some reason, you’ve lost your burning desire to write this story—or maybe even write anything at all.
And without the passion, why bother to endure the long hours, the potential rejection of your work, and the low pay? Once it’s lost, how do you recapture your passion for writing?
What is Passion?
The question is summed up well by Hal Zina Bennett in Write from the Heart: “How do authors connect with that passion, bordering on obsession, that drives them to finish even the most ambitious writing projects in spite of seemingly insurmountable handicaps? What is the secret creative energy that the world’s best writers can apparently zap into action the moment their fingers touch their keyboards?”
Some say this passion is tied to how meaningful the writer feels his work is. He feels passion when what he is sharing is deeply meaningful. He may lose his passion when his writing turns into what will sell, what the markets dictate are current trends, and what pays the most money.
Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts says, “The most salient difference between the regularly blocked artist and the regularly productive artist may not be the greater talent of the latter, but the fact that the productive artist possesses and retains his missionary zeal.”
Most writers would agree that a passion for writing involves enthusiasm, excitement, drive, and a deep love for your work. This passion makes writing a joyous occupation. It makes time fly while “real life” is shoved to the far comers of the mind. It’s being in the flow, enraptured in the present moment. For some, it’s being aware that they’re writers twenty-four hours a day.
Why Does Passion Dissipate?
Passion can spring a leak after too many rejection slips, too many critical comments from spouses or reviewers or critique partners, and too many crises to handle in your personal life.
Passion can also die when you repeat yourself in your work instead of exploring new avenues of writing.
Lack of passion can be caused by chronic fatigue. “Fatigue and the accompanying blockage also come with living the sort of marginal life that artists so often live,” says Eric Maisel. “The effort required to put food on the table, to deal with an illness without benefit of a hospital plan, to pay the rent, to get a toothache treated, to attend to the needs of a spouse or children, can tire out the most passionate and dedicated artist.”
(Parts 2 and 3 will discuss ways to get the passion back!)
August 25, 2010
Because pessimism measures (in part) your ability to keep going and not quit in the face of unpleasant or disappointing circumstances, I didn’t expect the book Learned Optimism to have much to say to me.
My whole life has been about not quitting in the face of severe physical problems, depressing family life issues, and major publishing downturns. It’s been about taking responsibility, learning from things, and moving on.
“I’m no quitter” is as much a part of me as my hair color (under the Preference by L’Oreal) and my brown eyes. Yes, I sometimes took on too much. Yes, my health wasn’t always the best. But I always pressed on even if things looked hopeless.
That should earn me a high score on the book’s lengthy optimism test, right?
This Can’t Be Right!
I was shocked. I called my best friend who had read the book and asked what her score was. She got a 9–meaning very high optimism. I’m not surprised. She’s a great encourager.
I got a 0. (Oh, I got +14 on some good stuff, but a -14 on the bad stuff, effectively cancelling out the positives.) The test and research are based on what author Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. calls your “explanatory style.” It’s how you perceive the reasons behind the good things and bad things that happen to you-and your assumptions about the future.
According to Seligman, “It matters a great deal if your explanatory style is pessimistic. If you scored poorly, there are four areas where you will encounter (and probably already have encountered) trouble.”
He mentioned that you’ll (1) get depressed more easily, (2) achieve less at your career than your talent warrants [listen, writers!], (3) have poorer physical health and an immune system not as good as it should be, and (4) life won’t be as pleasurable as it should be.
The author assures me that there are many ways to change your thinking in all these areas of your life. Evidently my “explanatory style” needs a major revamping. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book. It’s very research-heavy in the first half, so I may skip to the chapters on “how to fix it.”
Expect to hear more about this in future weeks! In this time of publishing upheaval and downturns, might you benefit from some “learned optimism” yourself?
August 20, 2010
If a friend from your critique group told you ”I just can’t get started on my story today,” what would you say? “Get moving, you lazy do-nothing wannabe!” I hope not!
If your writing friend bemoans receiving another rejection, do you say, “Well, what did you expect? Your novel stinks!”?
I would hope not. Most of us are better friends than that…except to ourselves.
Your Own Best Friend
Listen to how you talk to yourself. When you procrastinate, do you beat yourself up? Do you call yourself names? And to paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Does it spur you on to do your best writing–or to give up and eat a pint of ice cream?
When you receive a rejection, do you downgrade your writing? Do you tell yourself that publishing is just a pipe dream, that it’s for others but not for you?
Do you say things to yourself that you would NEVER say to a writer friend?
Time to STOP!
Learn to tell yourself the truth–but with kindness. Be a mirror that reflects back understanding. If you got off course, gently encourage yourself back on the writing path you want to travel.
- You’re so lazy that you’ll never get anything written and published.
- No editor or agent will ever read your novel, much less publish it!
- You only have friends on Facebook because they don’t really know you.
Say this instead:
- You may have trouble getting started because you’re afraid of something. Try journaling to get to the bottom of it.
- You may (or may not) find an editor who loves your novel–but you’ll never know if you don’t keep sending it out. Let’s try one more time.
- Many people in your real life know you and love you. Make a list. Be thankful for each person on the list.
Be That Good Friend
The next time you stall or hit a rough spot in your work, talk to yourself like a true friend would. Be kind, be understanding, give some praise, and encourage yourself to try again.
You can be your own best friend.
July 26, 2010
Does your mind ever go ’round and ’round like it’s on some infernal hamster wheel? Mine does–and I waste so much time I could be writing.
I try to stop because I assumed obsessing was a negative thing. It doesn’t have to be, though, not according to Eric Maisel in Brainstorm: Harnessing the Power of Productive Obsessions. Maisel is a psychotherapist who works with writers and artists, and author of another most helpful book, Fearless Creating.
The Life of Obsessing
First, does the writer below sound like you? (Frankly, Maisel could have been eavesdropping on my brain waves and transcribed my thoughts!) This is what one of his writer clients shared.
“I have always wanted to make a living as a writer. But I always let things hold me back. I let having a day job sidetrack me; I let fear sidetrack me. I procrastinate wildly; and yet the less I write, the unhappier I become with everything. I can’t let go of the desire to write, but I need to let go of the unproductive obsessing I do about writing–the worry about not being good enough, the worry that I won’t be able to make a living, the worry that I won’t be able to think of anything wonderful to write about.”
And the result of all her obsessing?
“I get more and more stressed out, and I write less and less, and it becomes a particularly nasty downward spiral.”
The author’s book isn’t about stopping the obsessions. In fact, Maisel encourages them! His idea is about harnessing all that brain power you’re using in a negative way and turning it into a positive brainstorm of ideas.
A productive obsession is an idea that you choose for good reasons and pursue with all your brain’s power. It might be an idea for a novel or the solution to a personal problem.
According to Maisel, the super focused productive obsession is the mind-set of the creative person. It sounds wonderful to me! I’ll be writing some more about this throughout the week, I think.
Tell Me I’m Not Alone
Do you have trouble focusing that prevents you from getting in the flow of your writing? Do you ever have the above-mentioned “hamster wheel-itis”? I sure hope I’m not the only one! Maybe we can find an answer to it together!
June 28, 2010
According to Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy, “Depression is surprisingly frequent in writers… ”
I think it shows up on Mondays more than any other day. It could be from a downward turn in your health, bad news about a child, a day job issue, a fight with your spouse, or your hormones have gone haywire. Or you could just be really tired.
Whatever the cause, the “blues” can derail your writing for the day–or week–if you let it.
Dealing with Depression
I used to spend so much time “dealing” with depression. Getting to the bottom of it, finding out what the experts said about my issue, praying for help, figuring out a “plan” to deal with the problem, and…not writing.
All that dealing took away from my writing, but I assumed there was no choice. After all, you can’t write when you’re depressed, can you? Won’t everything you write be horrible and dark and depressing?
Grit and Determination?
Shaughnessy continues: “Writing goes on in spite of depression. Depression can be paralyzing; but if you can, by sheer discipline, fight your way to your regular writing place, you may be amazed by the quality of what you produce… Writing won’t banish depression. But depression doesn’t have to banish writing.”
Actually, for me, the writing often does banish depression–at least for the time you’re writing. But the important truth there is this: depression doesn’t have to banish writing.
Just Try It
So if you’re having a “blue Monday” today, get into your favorite writing position, and write anyway. Don’t waste the day. Put your problems on hold for an hour or two, and just write. You will probably be astounded in a few days at the fine quality of what you produced, even when depressed.
One caution: Don’t edit (especially, don’t discard) while depressed. Write instead. You’re not a good judge of your work when blue. Wait to edit until the sun comes out again.Newer Posts »