We often talk about technical challenges on WU – plotting, character development, style, language and so on. We don’t deal so much with the health and wellbeing issues associated with a career as a writer. These can range from mild RSI to the state of mind people refer to as writer’s block. I just re-read the wonderful book I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, in which the protagonist’s father, author of one celebrated literary novel, suffers from excruciating writer’s block affecting his whole family. The solution to his problem is as quirky and pleasing as the rest of this novel..
I’ve recently had several reasons to consider health issues. The news that wildly inventive fantasy author Terry Pratchett has early onset Alzheimer’s disease made me consider my own mortality; Pratchett and I were born in the same year. Then there were my two cataract operations in December. Thanks to modern medical science, I now have artificial lenses in both eyes and as a result, better vision than I was born with. Having undergone the procedures while conscious, I vow that I will never again write an eye-gouging scene! It’s amazing to be able to see in focus without glasses for the first time ever. This has made me particularly aware of the value of good health.
I spent a lot of 2007 sitting in front of my laptop, and while there I drank a lot of caffeinated beverages and ate a lot of energy-boosting snacks. As a result, I ended the year heavier, less fit and generally feeling blah. I decided I’d better take things in hand, and read The Ultimate Holistic Health Book by Dr Deborah McManners. This is a useful, non-faddish guide to becoming healthier, with information on diet, activity and posture as well as issues like rest and peace of mind.
I know the main problems for me are unhealthy weight gain and poor posture, and I’m taking steps to address those. For writers in general, other likely problems include neck or back pain, inappropriate diet, lack of exercise and stress. All these things could contribute to a feeling of being creatively blocked.
We’re educated people, of course, and the solutions are obvious. But when we’re engrossed in our work it’s easy to forget to sit correctly or take stretch breaks. We may not even know we have a problem. As McManners explains, physical, biochemical and psychological health are interrelated. A postural problem may manifest in headaches. Unresolved emotional issues may affect the digestive system. And, I strongly suspect, writer’s block may arise from a combination of factors unrelated to the job of writing.
I know that’s over-simplification. But I’m sure you can identify at least one aspect of the way you work that could do with improvement for health reasons. So here’s a challenge. In 2008, work on one or more of the areas listed below and see if it improves your health and your writing:
1. Exercise: Do more. I walk my dogs twice daily. Because my older dog is slowing down now, the walks no longer exercise me adequately, though they provide valuable thinking time. I’ll be adding something else this year, perhaps yoga. If you decide to increase your exercise, do it gradually and choose an activity you actually enjoy.
2. Diet: Improve it! The McManners book contains very sound advice on healthy eating. Try to reduce processed, refined foods. Drink more water.
3.Work station: Make sure your chair, desk and computer are set up on sound ergonomic principles.
4. Breaks: Take a stretch break once an hour, and don’t use it as an eating opportunity!
5. Posture: Imagine you are a marionette with a string attached to the top of your head – this string holds you upright but relaxed. As you sit at the computer, remind yourself to straighten your spine and relax your shoulders. Don’t slouch. You’re a writer, not a vulture.
6.Caffeine: Reduce your intake. Substitute green tea or water for every second cup of tea/coffee/fizzy caffeinated beverage. If you must snack while working, have something healthy. You’re allowed chocolate when you finish your manuscript.
7. Stress: Stress in your life will impact on your ability to write effectively as well as on your physical health. Be aware of this and take steps to address it, but don’t expect miracles. My top 5 stress-busting activities are singing, dancing, gardening, cooking and meditation.
If I have any sort of resolution, it’s to end 2008 healthier than I am now. If you’re trying something similar, please post and let me know how it’s going. In particular, has your improved health had any impact on your writing?
© Photographer: Christine Nichols.