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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 15, 2011
Wednesday’s blog entitled “Unhappiness: A Positive Sign” sparked more private email than usual! Glad it got you to thinking about this.
The tension you feel at the beginning of a project–that itch to “go for it!”–seems like a positive sign to me. So what is the “unhappy” part those authors were talking about in their book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path? And, emailers asked me, why did I feel that tension after selling forty books?
Ignorance Was Bliss
During my student work for ICL, I told three of my class assignments. It was fun! I expected to sell them and kept submitting till I did. Thankfully, there was no Internet in those days, and I didn’t know any other writers who told me I couldn’t make a living at this.
I was naive, yes, but it helped! I just assumed that if I worked hard at the writing, I could have a paying career doing it. I saw setbacks and rejections as part of the process on the way to getting what I wanted. (And yes, it had to pay to make up for me not teaching anymore in the public schools.)
To answer one man’s email question, I think my excitement at the beginning is now tempered with reality. I’m not the naive writer I was at the beginning–and to be honest, I miss that phase at some points.
At this stage of my writing career, I realize that starting a new project IS exciting–but it brings other things along with the excitement:
- hard work, neck cramps, and back aches
- risks that may not pay off
- loneliness as I get closer to the deadline
- letting go of lunches, grandkid overnights, and other fun temporarily
- having the project misunderstood and/or criticized
But is this bad? NO!! It’s good to know this!
Now I have no surprises that derail me. I’m not shocked when I get bogged down in the middle. I’m not greatly disappointed by having to give up some social things so that I can get enough rest and write in the morning. I don’t expect everyone to be as excited by my idea as I am.
I know the harder aspects are just part and parcel of the writing life. You acknowledge them when they happen and move on. They’re no longer a big deal–and to me, that’s a very good thing.
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.
February 14, 2011
For the last two weeks, I’ve bombarded you with long posts on how to make changes in your writing life–and make them last.
Today I’ll give you a breather and show you some of the treasures I found.
- Feeling overwhelmed as a writer? Read Jordan Rosenfeld’s How to Talk Yourself Off the Ledge of Creative Despair and you’ll feel better!
- Back-to-Work Blues for Writers: Solutions is for writers who also work outside the home–and some practical realities and help in carving out that crucial time to feel like a “real writer” again.
- Ever wonder about Launching a Virtual Book Tour? For some great tips, read both Part 1 and Part 2.
- And don’t overlook this gem about The Missing Link–NaNoEdMo. This writer needs a month of enthusiasm generated about editing the rambling novel from NaNoWriMo. Guess what? There IS such a month. See NaNoEdMo and sign up for editing your novel in March. Just two weeks away!
Sit back and enjoy!
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.
December 13, 2010
[Writing goes in cycles. I am tempted to quit every few years! This weekend when I was particularly frustrated with a revision that isn't going well, I went back through my blog and found this. It helped me--and maybe it's worth repeating for you too. This is from several years ago...]
Yesterday I dragged myself to the computer, bone weary, body aching, and tired of my writing project. The last few weeks I’d increased my writing hours a lot to meet my (self-imposed) deadline.
I imagine part of it was not feeling well, but yesterday I looked at the almost complete project and thought, What’s the use? This actually stinks. I bet I’ve wasted the last six months on this.
I couldn’t make myself get to work. So I did what most good writers do when they want to look like they’re working, but they’re not: I checked email.
Rescuing My Writing Day
The life of a freelance writer can be very frustrating at times. There are so many things to do and not enough time to do them all. Or – the writing seems to be going nowhere and you just can’t make yourself sit down and write. You work and work, seemingly to no avail.
So you begin to wonder – What’s the point? Am I really getting anywhere? But know this. If you’re starting to feel frustrated because you think you’ve been working WAY too hard for the few results all this work has produced, you’re on the verge (even though it may feel more like you’re “on the edge”). You’re on the verge of creating some powerful momentum.
Stick with it… So many people give up, just when they are on the verge of great success. Just when they start to feel really frustrated. Just when they feel nothing is going the way they want it to. If that’s how you’re feeling right now – celebrate! You’re on the verge of wonderful, great things! You’re on the verge of creating that powerful momentum that will move your writing career ahead to an entirely NEW and exciting level!
Today, relax and let go of that frustration, knowing you’re on the verge of great things. Try it!
I urge you to sign up today for Suzanne’s daily kick in the writing pants, “The Morning Nudge.” You’ll be glad you did!
November 24, 2010
Hope you read “Who’s in Charge?” (Part 1) first!
On Monday I talked about taking charge of your negative thought because where the mind goes, the man (or woman) follows! And how will that help?
Changing your thoughts will change your attitudes and emotional feelings about writing. Instead of postponing happiness until you get published, for example, choose to be content with your writing today.
Choose to enjoy the act of putting words down on paper to capture an image. Choose to enjoy delving into your memories for a kernel of a story idea. Choose to enjoy the process of reading back issues of magazines you want to submit to. Choose to enjoy reading a book on plot or dialogue or characterization for tips you can apply to your stories.
Instead of feeling pressured to succeed quickly, choose to be patient with your learning curve. Choose to be happy about each small, steady step forward.
Look at the larger picture, how each writing day is another small building block laying the foundation of your career. Stay present in the present! Pace yourself with the determined attitude of the tortoise instead of the sprinter attitude of the hare.
You also need to choose an attitude of commitment. Commit to your goals and deadlines, to continued improvement in your writing, and to dealing with negative feelings as they come up. Commitment is more than “I wish” or “I’d like.” Commitment is “I will.” There is a huge difference! (Like the gap between a man saying, “Gee, I’d like to marry you” and “Will you marry me–here’s the ring–let’s set a date!”)
Move from the wishy-washy attitude of “I’d like to be a writer” to the commitment level of “I’ll do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to be a successful writer.” That one change in attitude can be what determines if you make it as a writer.
(Stay tuned for Part 3 on Friday.)
October 18, 2010
Learning how to be content with what you have brings great peace. I’ve done several studies on contentment, and it’s a state I try to live in.
That said, I also believe there is such a thing as divine discontent. It’s akin to the stirring of the nest when it’s time for baby birds to leave their comfort zone and fly.
That “I want something more” feeling is what prompted me to take the ICL writing course thirty years ago, the only writer’s “training” I’ve ever had.
Spinning Your Wheels
This divine discontent is a longing for something different. You may feel stuck in a job that saps so much energy that you don’t have any left over for your writing. You may have climbed to the top of the corporate ladder and found it less satisfying than you’d expected. Your kids may finally be in school all day, but your days are crammed with things that don’t fulfill you.
This restless discontent can be a sign that you’re being called to something else. If you’re reading this blog, perhaps it’s a career in writing.
Signposts Along the Way
According to The Practical Dreamer’s Handbook: Finding the Time, Money, and Energy to Live Your Dreams by Paul and Sarah Edwards, there are sixteen signs to look for that might mean something is missing in your life–and something new is waiting to be born. The signs include:
- Not wanting to get out of bed
- Feeling mildly depressed for days on end
- Difficulty motivating yourself to do routine tasks
- Overeating, using alcohol, drugs, or TV to feel better or escape
- Losing interest in things that once engaged you
- Feeling chronically tired, de-energized, and listless
- Nagging doubts about yourself and the course of your life
- Losing a sense of enthusiasm
- Worrying about how you’ll keep things together
- Getting frequent headaches, stomach upset, and other aches and pains
- Feeling bored and restless
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Wishing you were someone else
- Nagging and complaining
- Having frequently bad dreams or nightmares
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed and irritable
What if you identify with these signs of discontent with your life? Could this restless sense of “I need something more” be a calling to do something else? Something besides what “everyone” thinks you should do?
Behind the Stories: Christian Novelists Reveal the Heart in the Art of Their Writing (by Diane Eble) is forty stories by novelists telling how they found their way to writing–and the winding paths they sometimes traveled before they could write full-time.
One novelist, Alton Gansky, summed up “divine discontent” well: “Perhaps this is the hallmark of a calling: this sense that you are meant to do something, the restlessness that comes when you don’t do it, the deep satisfaction you feel when you do it–whatever “it” is.
How do you find “it”? Ask yourself, “What is it I have loved doing, what has given me that sense of satisfaction? What would I do if I had two days to do whatever I wanted? What do I tend to gravitate toward and make time for? What do I feel passionate about? What have I always dreamed of doing?” These questions may begin to uncover that thing you do, or would like to do, that is your gift and perhaps your calling.
How about you? Does any of this resonate with you at this point of your life? Do you sense a need for change of direction (either major or minor)? I know that’s a really personal question, but do share a comment if you can!
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 27, 2010
Judging from some questions and comments I got via email about Wednesday’s post, I think I should have probably explained more.
I believe that many of us–and definitely ME–have a slightly “off” definition of being optimistic. It isn’t about thinking more positively or saying peppy things to yourself to keep going. (I’m good at both of those things.)
The test I scored a zero on measured three things that make up your optimism/pessimism score:
Pessimists come to believe a bad condition is probably permanent (“Diets never work for me.” “You never talk to me.” “Life will always be hard.” “Editors will never want my writing.”)
Conversely, pessimests also believe the good things that happen to them are transcient. (“I tried hard that time.” “My opponent was just tired that day.” “I got lucky that time–it was a fluke.”)
An optimist believes good events came from permanent causes (“I’m smart” and “I’m talented”) and that bad events come from temporary causes (“I was having a bad day” and “she’s just hormonal this week.”)
Pessimists let bad news or events in one area of life spread to other areas. (“I can’t write–I just had a fight with my spouse/teen/best friend.”) Pessimists make blanket judgments. “All editors are unfair.” “Writing books are useless.”)
Conversely, when good things happen, pessimists are very specific. (“I only did well there because I’m smart at math.” “The editor only agreed to look at my book because I was charming at the conference.”)
An optimist can put bad events in a box and not let a failure in one area spread out into all areas of his/her life. Specific events stay separate. (“I’ll deal with my teen later–I’ll write now.” “This writing book is useless.” “The editor asked for my manuscript because my pitch–which I worked on for days–was good!”)
This is when taking responsibility for your part in things (which is good) becomes self-blame (where you take all the responsibility for a problem, whether any or all of it is your fault or not.) You may have been raised with blame or live with someone who makes everything your fault. Either way, when things don’t work out in some area of your life, you automatically assume 100% of the blame. (“I’m just stupid.” “I’m insecure.” “I have no talent.”)
An optimist is realistic about how much responsibility to take for a problem. She doesn’t feel guilty assigning blame to others or events beyond her control when appropriate. She feels responsible for herself, not everyone she knows. [This was my biggest downfall on the test!]
It All Works Together
The test I took scored you on all three aspects. I scored high on some and low on others, which is how I got a zero. Some things–like taking too responsibility for things–turned out to be a bigger issue than I would have guessed. Apparently there’s nothing quite as depressing as trying to control something you have no control over!
More on all this later…but I wanted to clear up some confusion. Have a great weekend!Newer Posts »