Happy day, campers –
As a well-deserved reward for all of the hard work you’ve all been doing on your query letters for the last couple of weeks, I’ve got a treat for you today: novelist , blogger, and FAAB (Friend of Author! Author! Blog) Janiece Hopper has very kindly agreed to share her experience and wisdom on that topic of perennial interest to writers, repetitive strain injuries.
Often misdiagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are the bane of many a keyboard-loving writer’s existence. As a group, we are particularly prone to it, as we tend to couple long hours working on our passion with long hours on a computer at work. It can be a very dangerous combination.
Janiece has further tips on dealing with RSI on her website, , but for now, rest those wrists and learn from her experience. Enjoy!
Hello again! I am happy to be guest-blogging for Anne and sharing what I’ve learned along my path as a writer, in the hopes that you can be spared a similar story.
Several years ago, I purchased life insurance and had to answer a series of questions so the company could determine my risk factors. After I adamantly replied “No!” to skydiving as a hobby or profession, the agent asked how I spent my free time. “Writing,” I said.
We both chuckled. What could be safer than sitting at a desk in the comfort of one’s own home, sipping coffee, and typing streams of consciousness across a computer screen? A lot! Being a writer can be hazardous to one’s health. Despite the warning stickers on our keyboards, I’m not sure authors are fully aware of the physical costs associated with our intellectual and creative endeavors.
So I am glad Anne asked me to discuss Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) with you. Joseph Hunton, a Hellerwork Practitioner and owner of the Seattle-based company Repetitive Strain Injury Solutions, says, “RSI is an umbrella term for a variety of soft tissue injuries occurring in the hands, arms, neck, and shoulders. These conditions can be extremely painful and even debilitating. RSIs are common among computer users and other occupations involving repetitive use of arms and hands.”
If you have sore wrists or hands that hurt, tingle, or don’t work well, take note, dear friends. If you have chronic neck and shoulder pain or any combination of these symptoms, you are on the road to Repetitive Strain Injury. Please don’t brush it off until you finish that next chapter, no matter how enchanting your storyline is.
Hunton says, “The nasty thing about RSI is that once it actually shows up in your body, a cycle of tension, strain, pain, more strain, more pain spirals your body downward. Because we use our arms and hands in just about every activity, this cycle is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to break.” Just like your muse, pain becomes a part of your life that you have to learn to manage.
Of course I didn’t know any of this. I just kept on keyboarding away and invested in lots of heating pads and ice packs. When these became ineffective in quelling the pain in my arms, neck, shoulders, and back, I tried traditional physical therapy, massage, chiropractic, medicinal, and acupuncture treatments. For me, Hellerwork is what finally helped get my RSI “under control.”
Hunton says, “The keys to preventing Repetitive Strain Injuries are self awareness, self care, and an ergonomic writing station. Stress, physical or emotional, contributes greatly to muscle tension. When muscles work under tension they have to strain. This strain reverberates through the body forcing compensations, imbalances, eventual breakdown and chronic pain.”
As writers, we are immersed in our imaginations, playing our hearts out with language. Just like little kids forget to go to the bathroom until it is too late, it is easy for us to lose track of time and ignore our body’s signals.
Once my RSI hit full force, it was obvious how sitting at my computer for hours on end led to it. As my treatment progressed, I learned to stretch, to take breaks. One break was about six months. When I started writing again, preparing my manuscript for submission, I became tense again, but I was doing everything right!
It never occurred to me how the stress generated by the desire to get published in today’s market contributed to my RSI. I stumbled across this by accident.
Choosing to publish Cracked Bat myself suddenly freed me from trying to craft the “perfect” pitch and produce the stand-out query letter. I noticed how much lighter I felt, proofing my own galleys from the printer. It was incredible to just stop worrying about how an agent or editor would receive my work.
By getting to bypass “them,” my focus became the readers I had actually written the book for.
Sure, I felt some positive tension around making my book the way I wanted it to be, but that energy was very different from the stress generated by writing to appeal to an unknown, very distant critic who would probably take my work from the middle of a six-foot pile and judge it in seconds. Once I knew my book would be published, I was able to drop the barely conscious niggling fear that my years of labor were for nothing. Freeing myself from the desire to get published has given me a whole new level of relaxation around writing.
This newfound relaxation is so delicious, I want to maximize it. I’ve become more attuned to how I am feeling about writing while doing it. Before I decided to self-publish, I really only paid attention to the emotions I was writing about or the emotions my writing elicited. Now I acknowledge and honor how the act of devoting time and energy to writing affects my body and emotions. Am I tired, forcing myself to write because I won’t have another chance until a week from Wednesday? Or am I frantic and frustrated because I don’t want to lose the words or images that came to me in a dream and I have to leave for work in twenty minutes…and I’m still in my pajamas? I used to grieve these lost opportunities. Grief causes stress!
Do I feel guilty about writing? Shouldn’t I be doing my part to preserve property values in the neighborhood by pulling those weeds in the front yard? And, I have to do the laundry or go to the market, so that my kids and I are well-prepared for school Monday morning. I used to push myself too hard. I still do, but I pay attention to all these conflicts and make more balanced choices.
Surprisingly, self-publishing has shifted the stress factor in my RSI equation and I’m very grateful. If you are feeling tension in your body from writing, please check out the blog on my website for more tips for writers.
To get you started from here, Hunton recommends warming-up before you spend any time keyboarding. Here are two of the stretches he shared with me.
The Torso Twist:
(This one releases deep tension in the shoulder joints and muscles in the back)
Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Let them be very, very heavy. Twist your torso fully to the right and then to the left. Let the centrifugal force carry your arms around your body. Do this for 10 seconds and then stand still, letting your arms hang at your sides for 10 seconds. Repeat and then sit down and rest with your hands in your lap until all sensations have disappeared.
I find this one helps me “twist” away from daily life and slip into my writing space. When I’m done writing, it helps me leave my story in the room and return to my family with a clearer head.
The Head Turn:
(This one is for your upper chest and back and neck, so they don’t all get stuck together)
This stretch can be done sitting or standing. Keep your chin level. Slowly turn your head to the right as far as you comfortably can. I’m serious about the comfortably part. If you hurt your body, it won’t trust you to know how to take care of it and will lock down. Hold that position for 5 seconds and slowly return to starting position. Rest for 5 seconds and then slowly rotate your head to the left. Hold for 5 seconds and return to center to rest for 5 seconds. Do this a total of 3 times to the left and 3 times to the right.
End facing forward, resting until all the sensations from the movement disappear.
Keeping your neck relaxed, keeps your voice box open. Since writers are all about having a voice, this stretch can be an affirmation for you as you begin a writing session. But, it is very important not to overdo this one, 3 times a day, max. When it comes to the neck (or the throat chakra, if you’ll go there), the spirit may be strong, but the flesh likes it subtle.
Anne and I would love to hear from you about all this. Please post comments and take really good care of yourself!!
PS: I will be at the Monroe Psychic and Healing Arts Fair on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008 at the Best Western Hotel in Monroe, WA. (19233 Highway 2, Monroe, WA, behind Burger King). I will be doing readings from my newly created Cracked Bat Oracle. Don’t miss it your chance to interact with Intuit-Lit! May the good fortune of Ten Pentacles sparkle through your very next reading!
Janiece Hopper lives in Snohomish, Washington. She met her first garden dwarf on an island in the Pacific Northwest when she was four years old. Thirty years later she met a witch in the same place. As an elementary school teacher, librarian, and book reviewer with an M.Ed. from the University of Washington and a B.A. from California State University, she always struggled with calling fairy tales fiction. Intuit-Lit has resolved her conflict nicely. If Janiece ever goes to another baseball game, she’ll be the woman in the stands, trying to drink a mocha while wearing full catcher’s gear.