Freelance writers and everyone who writes or works at a computer needs to pay attention to proper body posture/position, alignment, and movement — if you want to be a faster writer and be a happier writer, you must learn about ergonomics.
Ergonomics is the science of work. When specifically applied to writing, it addresses how you should position yourself and how you should move when writing so you maximize productivity, minimize physical discomfort, and prevent damage to your body. We’ve already examined how to minimize eyestrain when writing at the computer in a past post, so now we’ll look at the details of what else you need to do.
Posture, Alignment, and Movement for the Sitting Writer
Your Writing Chair
You want a high-quality chair that provides a cushioned seat, excellent support for your lower back, and the ability to adjust the height of the seat and the position of the backrest. Go to an office supply store with a large selection and make sure you get one that really feels good, regardless of price. Don’t skimp on your chair; outside of bed, it’s probably where you spend most of your time.
Your Writing Posture
Think 90-degree angles between:
1. Your feet and lower legs (ankles)
2. Your lower legs and upper legs (knees)
3. Your upper legs and torso (hips and lower back)
4. Your lower arms and upper arms (elbows)
Note that you may need to get a different desk so that you can maintain the 90-degree angle at your elbows. Frequently desks are too high. You can compensate by raising the height of your chair; if necessary, get a good, properly sized footrest so you keep your lower legs in the proper alignment.
More important posture pointers:
1. Keep your weight evenly distributed on your buttocks and hamstrings, and let your feet take the weight of your lower legs.
2. Distribute weight evenly across all major surfaces of the foot.
3. Elongate your spine from your tailbone to the crown of your head (the point on your skull directly above the tops of your ears).
4. Rotate the bottom of your tailbone forward and the top of the sacrum backward, but don’t force it.
5. Pull your chin back gently; seek to have your ears directly above your shoulders.
6. Relax every muscle that is not needed to either keep you in proper posture or to do the task at hand.
Your Typing Hands
You know that your elbows need to be at 90 degrees. Here’s how to protect your hands and wrists:
1. Keep your wrists in line with your forearms and palms. Don’t let your palms droop or rise up.
2. Consider using a wrist rest: a rectangular, soft pad you place in front of your keyboard. (Although some experts say you shouldn’t use a wrist rest.)
3. Don’t write uninterrupted for long periods of time.
4. Occasionally stop and trace clockwise and counterclockwise circles with your fingers; also massage your palms and do gentle wrist stretches.
Now for the mouse:
1. Maintain the 90-degree angle at the elbow as much as possible.
2. Hold it gently.
3. Initiate movement from the elbow, not from the wrist.
4. Keep your hand off of it except when you need to use it.
Movement at the Computer
Even when sitting at a desk clicking away at the keys, you’ll occasionally need to look at research materials on your desk, grab a pen, etc. Here are 2 important points:
1. Maintain proper body alignment as much as possible. For example, don’t let your head jut forward or allow your spine to slump.
2. Stay relaxed.
Using a Laptop
Some writers, and I was one of these for nearly a decade, only use a laptop. Laptop use necessarily involves some postural compromises. Here’s how you can minimize body strain:
1. Keep the top of the screen at eye level, or as high as practical.
2. Use a separate mouse rather than a trackball or other cursor-moving device.
3. Consider using a separate keyboard.
Other Ergonomics Resources
Visit these sites for more details on proper ergonomics:
- Office Ergonomics, from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
- Laptop Ergonomics from Cornell University
- Proper Use of Laptops
- Ergonomics at Wikipedia
Suggestions for Improving Your Writing Posture
1. Check yourself frequently to make sure you adhere to these principles.
2. Print this post and keep it right by your computer for easy reference.
3. Evaluate your work area for all ergonomic considerations. Be willing to invest time and money in your health by purchasing the right equipment.
4. Consider using software programs that send you scheduled messages to take breaks and monitor your posture and degree of relaxation. I haven’t used any of these (yet), but I’ve heard good things about them.
5. Take regular breaks from the computer. Get up and take a short walk, or do some stretches, or drink a glass a water. Shoot for at least 5 minutes of movement for every 60 minutes you spend at the computer.
How’s your body alignment when you’re writing? What can you do to improve? Any suggestions to add?