PhotobucketTruth: Writers sit. A lot. We sit and type. We sit and edit. We sit and read. We sit and dream. We sit while sifting through Twitter and Facebook posts, and while digesting blogs. And then we sit and type some more.

It probably goes without saying that it’s important to have a decent setup in our writing spot—that our work area, chair and desk all jive together, and complement the proportions of our bodies. It goes without saying and we think we’ve done all we need to do, but sometimes things aren’t feeling quite right. We have a stiff neck at the end of the day, or aching wrists, or our chair makes us uncomfortable and we can’t figure out why.

Here are a few pointers I hope can help.

On the Desk

  • Place your keyboard and monitor front and center on your desk–never to the side of your work area–to prevent you from making awkward and potentially harmful body contortions in order to reach them.
  • Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level, to reduce both eye and neck strain.
  • Position your keyboard so that it’s accessible to you when your arm is bent 90 degrees at the elbow. The line of your forearm—from elbow to knuckles—should be parallel to the floor when you’re typing. Explains ergonomics expert Jonathan Bailin, Ph.D., “If you make a fist, the knuckles, top of the wrist, and forearm should form a straight line. When it is not extended or flexed, this is a neutral wrist posture.”
  • Be sure your mouse is on the same plane as your keyboard. Placing your mouse on a higher plane can put excessive strain on your wrists, shoulders and spine, which can lead to a repetitive strain injury.

Wondering how all of these computer rules translate to use with your laptop? Says Dr. Bailin, “Good upper body posture requires separation of monitor and mouse/keys. A laptop, unless you separate the keys from the monitor, may be okay for head angle or arm angle, but not both.” Bottom line: Try not to use your laptop for long work sessions.

In the Chair

  • If you can’t find a chair with armrests that will support your elbows at a 90-degree angle from your keyboard, you may want to forgo armrests altogether. Instead, look for an adjustable chair, and set it so that your arms can be held at proper angles.
  • While in your chair, the soles of your feet should rest comfortably on the floor so that your thighs and spine are well supported. Use a footstool if you need to. (I’d make a crack about using your willing dog, who’s often under your desk anyway, but they’re unreliable during thunder storms.)
  • Be sure your weight is properly distributed while you’re sitting, too. “Even distribution on the upper thighs to buttocks is best,” says Dr. Bailin.
  • Don’t forget to factor in wiggle room. Your ideal chair should give you ample space to squirm and change your position, which you should do every 15 minutes or so. The last thing you need is to feel imprisoned in your seat; this gig is hard enough as it is.

It’s worth nothing that most office equipment is made for the male body. Ladies, you may have to search a little harder to find the right desk-and-chair combo for you.

To Be Continued…In the Newsletter

What I learned while researching for this article: This is a bigger topic than I can handle in a single post, if I want to be thorough—and I do! So I’m going to take on niche desk-health topics–like eye health, carpal tunnel syndrome, standing work stations, the importance of timed breaks and more–in the new Writer Unboxed newsletter. Our first letter, with stretching tips for writers, just went out a few days ago, but you can still sign up to receive it. Learn more about the letter HERE, or just trust that it’s awesome and SIGN UP.

Have an issue you’re curious about? Let me know in comments and I’ll try to work it into an upcoming newsletter column.

Big thanks to Jonathan Bailin, Ph.D., at ErgonomicsDr.com for his time in preparation for this article.

Write on, everyone–in the right seat.

Photo courtesy Flickr’s lapideo

About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was published in March. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.