Jilly: Stand Up And Write!

Writing is a sedentary occupation. If a full-length book is 100,000 words, and a good target would be to write a thousand words per day, then one draft manuscript equals one hundred days sitting in front of a screen, tapping away at a keyboard. Say it takes as long again to revise the manuscript, then that’s a further hundred days sitting in front of a screen cursing, hitting ‘delete’, and tapping away at a keyboard. Which means one story represents about eight months’ worth of brain strain and physical inactivity. Some writers are quicker, some slower, but based on my limited experience that feels realistic.

I’ve always been fairly good at incorporating activity into my daily routine – I don’t drive much, I’ll walk wherever possible, take the stairs instead of the elevator – but now I don’t have to travel to an office any more my daily commute is to walk downstairs to the kitchen for juice and coffee, and then back to the sofa to turn on my laptop and get to work. I’m not complaining (far from it), but when I read this article on the BBC website about the potential benefits of standing instead of sitting, I immediately thought it was something I should try for myself. 

I did a little desk research and found that another, more extensive, case study had been undertaken by the CDC in 2011. The limits of the study are clearly explained, but the potential benefits are more than increased calorie burning and weight loss. I’m all for that, but even more I’m up for reducing the stress on my back and neck, improving my mood, and reducing the risk of heart disease by changing the way my body manages blood sugar and triglycerides.

I don’t have an expensive ergonomic workstation, but there is a sideboard next to my preferred corner of the sofa. It’s just the right height for me to stand naturally and type without stressing my arms and shoulders. I like to work on a lap-top, so it’s relatively easy for me to stand up, move the lap-top to the sideboard, and write that way for a while. I’ve been experimenting and have discovered that I can stand up and write comfortably for about 20-30 minutes, so I’m setting the timer on my phone for an hour (sitting) followed by half an hour (standing). It’s early days, but so far I’m finding it physically easier on my body than sitting for long periods, and as an unexpected bonus the act of breaking my writing time into defined segments seems to help my concentration. If it continues to go well, I’ll try to extend the standing period until I find a mix that suits me. I like the idea of achieving an equal balance of standing and sitting, but we shall see!

Have you ever tried to write standing up? Would you consider giving it a go?

8 thoughts on “Jilly: Stand Up And Write!

  1. With NaNoWriMo coming up, ergonomic concerns are really important — I do think writers need to care for their bodies in order to be able to write. I’ve been fascinated with the treadmill desk — Flylady talked about it quite a bit on her website and swears by it. Not sure I’m co-ordinated enough to walk and type, but I’d love to give it a try. I mentioned it to my husband as a possible Christmas gift — a DIY podium that adjusts in height, maybe with a drafting desk that adjusts in angle.

    I’ve also heard that a lot of writers get their best ideas while walking. Blood pumping to the brain has to be a good thing!

    And, I’ve read articles about people who sew who swear by a standing sewing machine desk. I think it’s just an all-round good idea.

    Keep us updated on your standing desk! Especially, is it helping your hands and wrists?

    • I don’t think I could walk and type, but I have found that I do quite a bit more thinking and pacing around in my standing-up periods. I also got a free stress ball with my stationery order the other day so I put that on the sideboard and I’m squeezing it while I’m thinking. That seems to be helping my hands and wrists.

  2. I haven’t tried writing standing up, but a co-worker does it 6 out of 8 hours each day. I had back surgery years ago, so I know how important ergonomics are, particularly when I sit most of the day (at my full time job) and then come home and sit another 3-4 while I write. I’m currently shopping for a new chair and found several I liked but they were in the “are you insane” range ($800 +). The problem with them is that they are so awesome the $250 chair simply can’t measure up. Maybe standing is the answer 🙂

    • I know what you mean about chairs, Kat. When I left my job in advertising more than a decade ago, I got to keep my top-of-the-range, carefully selected ergonomic chair. I think it cost more than £800 back in the day. Now it’s falling to pieces and I need to replace it but I keep putting it off because I can’t bear to part with a small fortune to buy something half as good.

      If you can experiment with a mix of sitting and standing without investing in expensive equipment then it might be worth a try 🙂

      • But there’s economy, and there’s economy, guys. If that chair lasts 10 years, you are spending $80 for it per year. Some people pay more for coffee in one month. If that chair lasts 20 years, it’s only $40 per year.

        Now, let’s compare how much wrist surgery costs. I know Great Britain has the National Health Service, and the US also has something now or in the near future. But the opportunity costs you will suffer while your wrists are immobilized during the healing period must count for something. Not to mention, pain and suffering.

        I was absolutely amazed when I found that an ergonomic keyboard could be had for about US$40. And I loved using it — just I had some problems carrying it around places, and it caused a lot of comments. At the same time, I found some yoga exercises on line to help with carpal tunnel, so I gave it up.

        (-: Although, standing could be an even better answer than an ergonomic chair. No matter how ergonomic, you are still folded over when you are sitting.

  3. I’ve thought about standing while I write. I don’t currently have a simple way to manage that as I’m living in someone else’s house. One of my housemates has a standing desk in his bedroom to work on and he likes that. I do know that I sit wayyyyy too much and need to get up more. Maybe I’ll try to find a standing option.

    I am SO not coordinated enough to walk and write at the same time!

    Also, I’ve read in several different places that writing by hand is very different than writing at a keyboard, that it connects with different parts of the brain and can be more creative (if a little slower perhaps). So I’m thinking about incorporating that, too, even though it means I have to key in the text later.

    • It would be cool if libraries had something like standing desks. I work in schools, so I could try out the podium and see if it’s really a good option for me. (-: Although, I think I could only sneak in 10 or 15 minutes during lunch break. One big barrier for me is that I’d like to “try before I buy.”

  4. If you can’t find a standing-up solution for now, Skye, maybe you could set a timer and get up and walk around the house every so often?

    Interesting that writing by hand can be more creative. I like to sketch out ideas for a scene by hand before I touch the keyboard, and if I get stuck mid-scene I stop typing and go back to a pen and my notebook. They’re not notes I would go back and re-read afterwards, more like a brainstorming session to work out my problems.

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