NaNo Tip No. 28: Take Care of Yourself

It’s my second last NaNoWriMo post! Wow, that went fast. You’ve all been at it for 28 days now.1 Which leads me to suspect that some of you may be feeling quite sore about now.

Writing, like any job that involves spending hours in front of a computer, has a high injury rate. Almost every pro writer I know has some kind of neck/back/wrist problem. Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injury are very common.

At the end of almost every first draft deadline, when I’ve been writing every day for weeks and weeks on end, and my writing days have stretched out from four hours to twelve or longer, my upper back and/or neck packs it in. I then have to get emergency work so that I can, you know, move my neck.

Once I recognised this pattern,2 I made a whole bunch of changes to stop it happening again. If you’re serious about writing, the time to start with good habits is now, before you become a crippled wreck unable to sign books for your fans.

Here are the changes I made:

  • I changed my work set up. No more writing slumped on the couch. All ergonomic all the time for me!
  • I started exercising more. I now work out at the gym with a trainer3 a minimum of three times a week. I also try to fit in a long walk at the end of each writing day. And lindy hop when possible.
  • I increased the number of breaks I took. I tried one of those programmes that beeps at you every thirty minutes but it kept beeping just as I was nailing a scene or right when I’d finally gotten into the flow of things that I came to loathe the bloody smiling beepy monster and harboured fantasies of ripping its throat out. So I switched to drinking even more water which ensures frequent loo breaks.
  • I take a few minutes to stretch my back, neck, wrists and arms every time I get up from the computer.
  • I get a weekly massage. It sounds indulgent but truly it’s maintenance. If I’m being massaged weekly as the deadline approaches my body doesn’t pack it in, which works out cheaper than getting all that work when my body is broken.

I have not been perfect at implementing my system. While on tour this year there were no massages, no exercise and I spent a lot of time slumped over my computer in hotels and airports, which led to a recurrence of my neck/upper back injury, which led to emergency cupping:


Not pretty, is it?

You’ve been warned!

Good luck with your last few days.

And don’t forget to check out Scott’s tips. His last one is tomorrow.

  1. Unless you haven’t started today’s writing. []
  2. And when I say “I” I mean Scott. []
  3. Why with a trainer? Cause I find gyms unspeakably boring and I last about ten minutes in them by myself. But three years ago I started working out with a wonderful trainer who has made going to the gym fun. I’m fitter and happier. There are much cheaper ways to stay fit. Like running. Which tragically I cannot do because of various injuries. Have I ever mentioned my sports curse? *Heh hem.* I digress. If you have not already I’m sure you’ll find a method of staying fit that works for you. []


  1. Sam on #

    CUPPING ZOMG! The nudie pic looks vaguely… octopudlian?

  2. Ellen Kushner on #

    I think it’s pretty.

  3. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    Your story about the beepy thing? That is exactly why using a timer doesn’t work for me. I sit there writing about two words in five minutes, and then as soon as I get my groove and start picking up speed, the timer goes off. Which means, great, I got my thirty minutes writing time, but I hadn’t actually started writing until near the end so not only does it not count but my writing train of thought got disrupted and my mom is calling from the other room with “Are you done, then? Come help me with the dusting.”

    Stupid dusting. Stupid timer. *glower*

    So, anyway, I don’t use the timer anymore.

    And cupping looks painful. Like being attacked by a squid. Does it really help?


  4. Kristan on #

    Um, wow…

    So, I’m not glad other writers suffer, but I’m glad to know it’s not just me? Because this past year and a half, when I started writing “full time” (I quit my job and took a part-time gig instead so I could put in at least 20-30 hrs of writing a week) I started feeling extreme pain in my wrists and occasionally my neck, and it scared me. Knowing I’m not alone makes it less scary.

    (Also learning about what I can do to prevent it, which I’ve gotten much better at!)

    Anyway, thanks for the encouragement as always! And I look forward to the day that I can justify weekly massages, hehehe.

  5. Annalee Flower Horne on #

    I know it’s not my place to tell you your business and I don’t mean to skeptivangelize all over your blog, but please be super-careful with cupping. I’ve a friend who was injured (burned) from cupping, and when he told his GP about the burn, he got an earful about how there have been exactly 0 studies conducted to test cupping’s efficacy as a treatment for…anything. Again, I feel like I’m getting way too far up in your business saying that, so I won’t be the least offended if you delete this comment/edit out this paragraph.

    I definitely agree about good posture/ergonomics while writing. I both write *and* sew, which is a great way to get on the fast track to a bad back. Mine is killing me right now, and I suspect it’s because I was leaning over a cutting table all afternoon and am now hunched over my netbook.

    I’ve also had good results with keeping healthy trail mix (no candy!) at my desk. Sometimes I get so distracted with writing that I forget to eat–which makes bad things happen to my blood sugar, and worse things happen to my writing >_<.

  6. Justine on #

    Annalee: Eh, each to their own. Cupping works great for me when my muscles are locked into place. I certainly find Western medicine’s standard approach to my neck problems—“here, take a drug”—way less than effective. Though I gotta say I’m really puzzled as to how your friend could have been burned as no fire is involved.

    Yes, eating regularly is also a good tip.

  7. Sylvia on #

    I have no real opinion on this but when I looked at your photo, I did a quick search. I found Fire cupping on Wikipedia and presumed that’s what you mean. Guessing that is what Annalee is referring to, as well.

  8. Annalee Flower Horne on #

    As I recall, it was something to do with the way the cups were getting heated to create suction, but a few minutes of googling suggest that perhaps my buddy encountered a moronic practitioner, rather than a normal risk of the practice.

    Painkillers do pretty much nothing for my backaches either. My general regimen includes hot pads and whining a whole lot until the pain goes away, but your “not sitting hunched over your computer” thing sounds like it might be worth trying out. For a while I was wearing a corset while I sewed to enforce good posture. I wonder if it would help at all at the computer.

  9. Jennila on #

    You’re the first non-Asian I know who’s had cupping done and doesn’t believe it’s a medieval torture practice. That makes me very happy 🙂 It does help, although explaining the concept in history class was something I’ll hopefully never have to do again.

  10. wandering-dreamer on #

    I think my years of writing papers for school (dear god, it’s been at least six years since I started having to do a lot of writing on the computer for these sorts of things) has helped me build up a tolerance since I almost never get back pains or wrist pains from this (although since I use a laptop my wrists get sore from lying on the sharp-ish edge of the keyboard). Then again, the only place for me to write these days is sitting at my desk with my strange-but-at-least-straight-backed chair so I’m in pretty good shape.
    And that cupping thing seriously looks like you got attacked by a squid that was trying to hug you, I think I’ll stick to showers and heating pads….

  11. Justine on #

    Jennila: It’s a last resort for when my back and neck muscles are so locked up even deep tissue massage is failing to unlock ’em. It sure does work though.

    wandering-dreamer: You’re making me very nervous. Hope you’ll forgive me for giving you further advice and a warning. I didn’t start to develop really bad probs until my late 20s early 30s. I was quite cavalier about all of this as a teenager. I wish I hadn’t been. I wish I’d developed these good habits a lot earlier. It would have saved me worlds of pain.

    If your wrists are already hurting you might want to invest in something like these laptop wrist pads. But you really shouldn’t be hunched over a laptop for any amount of time. You’ll pay later. Trust me on this.

  12. wandering-dreamer on #

    Ah, I meant that the sharp edges of my laptop sometimes cut into my wrists, depending on how I hold my hands, although I’ll try and see if I can find a different way to hold my hands (looked at those wrist pads and I have never seen ones that go straight onto the laptop, those would be pretty nice to look into). So I try to sit up straight (my mom should be so happy), stretch pretty often, and take breaks in writing as well. I’ll try to do that even more now since I don’t fancy having back pains for the rest of my life. All advice is duly noted and much appreciated!

  13. Andrea Clunes Velásquez on #

    Ahh, I’m one of those persons who’s already suffering from pain in the neck/back/arms/wrists. I’m a translator and I write articles for a blog, plus my own personal blog and the ocassional “creative writing” (that becomes intense during Nov)… And I always have to stop because of the pain on my hands/wrists. ¬¬ But I suck at gyms and that kind of thing … I’m trying to take more breaks and to kind of… stretch after every computer session, but… It’s hard to avoid. @_@ And the wrist pads and that sort of ergonomic stuff makes it even more uncomfortable to work! ¬¬

    But oh well… Hopefully, we’ll all find ways to deal with our bodies. 😀

    Good luck!

  14. Jackie Dolamore on #

    Thanks for posting this…and everyone should heed it! I totally ignored my bad posture, lack of exercise and weird sitting habits all my life. I left my job in February to write full-time, and one day in April I woke up, tried to type, and ARRRRGH.

    It’s been a year of massages, chiropractor visits, yoga, new chairs…I am slowly getting better and sitting straighter, but I wrote my second book with voice recognition software and will probably write the next couple that way too…

  15. Julie Polk on #

    If weekly massages aren’t feasible, I highly recommend the Body Back Buddy, which is basically a big hard plastic “S” with a bunch of different-shaped knobs coming off it, and which you dig around into the knots in your back, or your shoulders, neck, bottom of your feet – always a good stealth place for tension-releasing! I think the umbrella name for things like this is “trigger point therapy,” or something like that. There are a number of different versions out there, so search around to find one that works for you (they all seem to run about $40). It was recommended to my by my physical therapist after surgery, and has saved me more times than I can count.

    Also, if you order it by mail, you can have a solid 15 minutes of hilarity with your mail carrier joking about it, because it looks like something a dominatrix would put on her Christmas list. Enjoy!

  16. DWongster on #

    Lindy Hop is also. Just got back from scootering with the kids at Golden Gate Park, home to Lindy in the Park (use to DJ there).

    Hope you can make it out next time you’re in San Francisco.

    And thanks for all your tips. I went past the 50K mark this morning! Woohoo!

  17. DWongster on #

    okay, I’m lame. I meant “awesome” — Lindy Hop is awesome.

  18. Eric Luper on #

    When I’m not busy being a children’s writer, I am busy being a chiropractor. More than one colleague has hit me up at a writing conference for a little back or neck work (you know who you are!) or by email for some ergonomic advice.

    Exercise and ergonomics are extremely important to being a writer. In fact, I will be doing a talk on those things at an upcoming SCBWI meeting in my area and hoping maybe to springboard that into a series of articles or a few segments at a larger conference.

  19. Vir Modestus on #

    After I finished the 1st draft of my current novel (2nd go through … 0 draft, then 1st draft). Anyway, my wrists were hurting a lot and going numb at night. I switched to the Dvorak keyboard layout (see for an intro) and it has helped tremendously. The pain is gone.

    Yes, I had to relearn how to type. I’m still not up to my pre-switch 90 wpm, but I’m close (I do tech support so often have to use other people’s keyboards. It slows down the learning process not being in a ‘pure’ environment). Despite the hassle, it has helped with the pain, and that was the goal.

Comments are closed.