Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Rule for Writers: Butt OUT of Chair!

"Butt in chair. There is no other 
single thing that will help you more 
to become a writer."  Jane Yolen

Contradict Jane Yolen? Wouldn't dream of it!

But I would amend her.

Recent medical studies have found that prolonged sitting is a serious health risk factor--even if you also get regular exercise. The Mayo Clinic summarizes it here.  

As you age, the risks increase. Researchers found that after 60, "every additional hour a day you spend sitting is linked to doubling the risk of being disabled--regardless of how much moderate exercise you get...."

The boildown for writers? Get used to working with your butt out of that chair!

We have some famous exemplars:

Sir Walter Scott composed Marmion while galloping the braes on horseback. (That's one expensive office chair.)

And Edith Sitwell reclined to write . . . in a cushioned coffin. (The only possible objection to that might be the awkwardness of balancing a laptop on your midsection.)

More realistically, we can emulate Hemingway and Nabokov. They wrote at standing desks. (And don't worry about "losing your voice." Standing may have contributed to Hemingway's famous concision, but it had no such effect on the word-loving Russian.) 

The illustration at right shows recommended monitor and typing angles for standing work. Desk measurements will differ according to individual height and proportions, so--  

--for more precise ergonomics (and shopping and construction suggestions) consult sources like Bob Vila (6 DIY Standing Desk Projects) or lifehacker

Or seek inspiration here or here

CAVEAT: As any waitress can tell you, working on your feet all day carries its own risks. It can contribute to the development of varicose veins or hardening of the arteries.

A preliminary study among younger, healthy males showed the benefit of consciously varying one's work posture at specific intervals. It's not clear yet whether these benefits extend to workers of all ages, or to those with pre-existing health conditions. But Dear Boy was already inspired to devise this dual-position desk. It requires two monitors and two keyboards, but only one computer: 

My own solution is still a WIP. I'll report in a future post. 

Meanwhile, what's your . . . um, position . . . on this issue?

Susan Chapek


  1. Very informative post! I've tried standing while writing, but I don't seem to be able to get into "flow" as easily, I think standing distracts me too much...but great things to think about. I know I sit way too much.

  2. I have seen this new desk-work option in offices, even replete with a treadmill.
    I guess I've had my fill, when I was younger, of jobs where you are on your feet for hours. Lots of tired, aching feet... Now I just make sure I do get up and walk around on the hour, and take a real walk every three or so. Easy to do if you live in a perennial spring climate like I do, I know.

  3. I seriously wish my husband would do this at work. Between meetings and commute time, he is always sitting. I always stand at my laptop because I keep it on the kitchen counter. With 2 small kids, I never get to sit. If you get comfy, they come for you.

  4. Jenni, I struggled with "flow," too. At first, all I could manage was structural tasks (outlining; line-editing; formatting) on my feet. Gradually I found myself continuing from a scene sketch into composing, without being aware of standing.
    Mirka--Two questions for you: Do you have trouble remembering to stop every hour? And does this system disrupt your concentration?
    Kimberly, I'm afraid that's life for many of us--extremes; always sitting or always on the move.

  5. I agree totally and try to stand often, sometimes setting a timer. It can be hard to remember, though, so as soon as I read your title, I stood up (and then sat down again to comment). Thanks for the reminder!