State of the RSI

Since so many of you have kindly inquired about how I’m doing1 I figured best to answer you all in a post. Also Sarah Zarr recently posted about her own trials and tribulations, which reminded me yet again of how common these injuries are.

Yes, I am still dealing with pain. My RSI2 has not improved, but it has not gotten worse, and I have learned to manage it by getting strong and fitter, with physical therapy, and by limiting keyboard time and making my work space totally ergonomic. All of that has had all sorts of other health benefits. I am in amazing shape,3 which really does make everything else easier and less stressful. Though the time & money involved in all of that is scary. I recognise that I am very lucky to be able to afford to deal with this. There are plenty who can’t.

However, probably the most important thing for me over the last year or so has been realising that this is forever. That if I don’t maintain my fitness and core strength and manage the pain it will get worse. But even if I do all that it’s not necessarily going away. Accepting that management was the best I could do was really hard and incredibly depressing. But once I did accept that it made everything a lot easier. I stopped waiting for the magic cure, stopping putting stuff on hold, and got on with the rest of my life.

Some days it gets me down. But mostly it doesn’t. I am especially feeling good right now because I am nearing the end of the first draft of my first solo novel4 since Liar which I finished writing in 2008. Long time between drinks, eh?

So that’s where I am at. For those of you who are starting to have the first little twinges of pain from writing—I beg of you—do something about it right now! Actually, for anyone writing long hours every day take frequent breaks,5 make sure you are set up ergonomically, take at least a day off writing a week, though two is better, get fit! Seriously, it will see you through to a long and pain-free writing life.

Which is what we all want, right?

  1. I appreciate it. Thank you. It really makes a difference to know that I’m not alone with this. []
  2. Repetitive strain injury. Basically RSI describes a whole host of different conditions that are caused by a repetitive action such as typing. But many others get RSI too: house painters, factory workers etc. etc. []
  3. If I don’t say so myself. *cough* []
  4. That’s right the real work is about to begin! Can’t wait. []
  5. Drink loads of water so you need to pee a lot. It’s an excellent way of ensuring many breaks. []


  1. Sara Z on #

    Your description of what you’ve gone through to accept that this is forever is very much like what I’ve gone through with the diabetes. I am JUST truly accepting my diagnosis, and that was over 3 years ago. Now I’ve got to do the same thing with my RSI stuff and back. Ah Justine! We will never be 25 again! ( In most ways, thank god for that.)

  2. Justine on #

    Sara Z: Ha! Right now I’m just thinking of the “most ways” side of things. I’m SO MUCH smarter than 25 year old me. But, yeah, pain free life would be nice.

    Accepting diabetes must’ve been tough. And everyone is forever offering sugary things so you’d have to be explaining over and over again. in some ways not eating sweet things is almost as socially unacceptable in certain circles as not drinking alcohol. Certainly here in Australia non-drinkers are viewed with suspicion. Which, why?

    *cough* I digress as I so often do. Good luck to you, Sara, with all our getting-old ailments. We shall both solider on!

  3. Peter on #

    I have been so terrified by all the stories about the damage sitting all day does to our bodies, and my physio sister-in-law saying that 50% at least of her patients are there because of laptops (shoulders, necks, arms), that I am about to get a standing desk. Have spent the odd day standing when circumstances meant I couldn’t find a desk and have been initially worried but eventually surprised at how much more energy it gave me. So am considering making it permanent.

    And let me add a +1 to the stay fit camp. Very important if you’re going to write all day. Also long runs/swims are very useful for clearing your head and solving problems.

  4. Justine on #

    Peter: I have many friends who swear by standing and writing and recent studies seem to back them up. Scott’s tried it and liked it.

    I write sitting on a large purple (the colour is key) fitness ball. I have to use my core all day long to keep it stable. Was exhausting at first but now I don’t even notice. I love it. Plus it is part of why I have ABS OF STEEL.

    And, yes, getting out and going for long walks/runs/swims is a fabulous time to think through plot problems etc. I particularly love my boxing lessons because it’s the one part of the day I’m truly not thinking of anything but what I’m doing at that moment. It really helps to be so intensely focussed on something that is not writing. I often get great ideas on the walk home from boxing.

  5. Peter on #

    Murakami has written a great book on running where he says he doesn’t really solve problems on his runs, but it’s that empty mind thing that means when he finishes things are often clearer. That’s what I like the most about it. For this hour I don’t have to think about anything.

    And thanks for the standing desk story – I think I’m going to get one.

  6. Kate Coombs on #

    All four of us in my writing group are published, and all four have dealt with some kind of RSI. Plus i’m a writer/editor at my day job. It drives me nuts to have to pace myself, but I pay the price if I don’t. And there’s always Dragon Naturally Speaking–not my favorite, but an option. Thanks for the advice and solidarity, and congrats on the new book!

  7. Sara Z on #

    Yes, there are lots of opportunities for frustration with the diabetes. Everyone’s an expert. “Can’t you just take more insulin?” “Can’t you cure that with diet and exercise?” “Can’t you just have one bit of [x, y, z]?” “My cousin is diabetic and she eats loads of carbs!” “Take [whatever supplement] and it totally fixes your blood sugar!” I have learned the art of repeating, “No, thank you,” the way Bartleby repeats “I’d prefer not to.”

  8. B. Christine Miller on #

    I can’t thank you enough for blogging about RSI. I developed it while finished my college BA thesis a couple of years ago and it’s been so, so helpful to hear about how other people manage theirs.

    I fight with Dragon dictation software now and again (and I love your posts on working with Dragon, too), but my favorite bit of assistive tech is my Magic Trackpad mouse. It requires less pressure to use than other mice I’ve tried and I can easily switch hands/fingers as needed.

  9. Rebecca Leach on #

    Ahahaha, I am 25 and I’ve had chronic shoulder pain since age 12. Have had recurring neck problems for years, too. As I type, I cannot turn my head as far as I usually can because the stupid thing spasmed yesterday for no reason that I can tell. Ugh! But that stuff is nothing compared to what you’ve described. I am glad you have come to terms with the RSI and are managing it. I am trying to do the same for another shoulder injury (not the chronic one, another one! heh), though I’m terrible at sticking to my workouts and it’s frustrating b/c I don’t have a lot of the gym equipment and am constantly modifying exercises. But it’s awesome to hear about other people who’ve overcome problems far worse than my own and are coming out on top of it. I had another (completely different) health issue crop up a few years ago that required the same kind of acceptance and management thing. It’s a struggle to manage things when you first have to accept that you’ll never be cured of them, but (I am almost afraid to say it for fear of jinxing myself) I think I’ve got it pretty well managed now. Thanks for keeping us up to date on your RSI progress! It really is amazingly helpful to hear.

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