Writer's Fatigue -
A Guide to the Ailments
That Affect Writers of All Ages
©2003, Radhika Megathan
You're writing the climax scene and Captain
Cuthbert is about to save the screaming heroine from the pirates. Suddenly,
your thought process gets muddled and you turn blank. You know exactly how the
climax is going to turn out, but your fingers are uncooperative, your mind
refuses to function, you move around like your pet turtle, and there's a
shooting pain in your spine and shanks.
It is 2:02 a.m. You're mad at the cat for
having vocal cords, the children for sleeping blissfully, and yourself for not
having enough fingernails to bite. Finally, giving in to your drooping eyes,
you hop into bed for your beauty sleep. Blink, blink. Toss. Turn. After
several minutes of number counting and woolgathering, you concede defeat. You
You've been waiting for weeks for the Big
News, but instead you get another rejection letter. The
working-until-all-hours for the past two months, sacrificing sleep, and
forgetting about family and food has all been for nothing. You feel defeated,
wishing you could forget it all and disappear to some place where there are no
word processors or deadlines.
Do any of these situations sound familiar? If
so, then it's time to stop writing for a while and start thinking about your
Health Hazards of Being a Writer
Writing is work — hard, persistent, and
sometimes mind-numbing work. It requires input from the mind and the body,
because even though you think with your mind, it is your body that must perform
the tasks. A construction worker does strenuous physical work, but he gradually
trains his body to do it fluently and develops a good physique. We writers often
do exactly the opposite. We strain, not train, through bad posture, improper
nutrition, and incorrect ergonomics — all of which result in fatigue and aches
After five years of academic and freelance
writing, I've realized there are certain maladies that affect almost everyone
who writes regularly. As writers, it is our hands and eyes that perform the most
important task of transmitting our thoughts into solid words. Physical ailments
like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and back strain are common. But while
these can cause extreme pain and put you out of the writing business, others
like insomnia and depression are no less dangerous and can wreak havoc with your
For the Hurting Writer
Musculoskeletal back problems are a major
cause of disability among writers. Our body was not designed to sit in the same
position for prolonged periods of time. The position occupied while using a
computer is not good for our backs and can result in muscle pain and spinal
Ergonomic Intelligence is vital to all
writers. The best writer's chair is comfortable and adjustable with soft
upholstery and an armrest. A wrist pad, footrest, and good desk lamp wouldn't
hurt either. Concentrate on the little details. Sit straight, without slouching.
Position your keyboard at elbow height to avoid hunched shoulders and neck pain,
and take short walks to relieve stiff muscles and mental stress.
Another problem that many writers suffer from
is tired and burning eyes. Staring at a computer screen can lead to a drop in
your "blink rate," which causes your eyes to become dry. This, in turn, can lead
to blurred vision and headaches and, ultimately, a loss of concentration and
To prevent this, keep your computer screen at
eye level or slightly higher, never lower. Develop a routine of taking frequent
breaks. (Frequent short breaks are better than fewer long ones.) During a break,
it's important to rest your eyes by looking away from the screen. At the same
time, you can relieve some of the stress on your body by relaxing your hands,
arms, and shoulders. Alternating tasks whenever possible is also a good way to
prevent both eye and musculoskeletal problems.
Dyspepsia, heartburn, acid stomach... all of
these are frequent visitors to the writer whose preference for food comes only
after that of writing. When you work continuously before the computer, it is
easy to forget about food.
It's surprising just how many writers
maintain an unbalanced, under-nourishing diet. Most of my writing buddies eat
without moving from the computer. They have a bowl next to them and dig into it
with the left hand while typing furiously with the right. They have no idea how
much they have consumed or what they have just eaten.
An engine that hasn't been fed the proper
petrol never functions well and ultimately breaks down. Similarly, food is the
only way to keep your body and, subsequently, your "workability factor" at a
high efficiency level.
Start your day by having a wholesome
breakfast. A nutritious and balanced diet can do wonders for your metabolism and
creativity. Make it a point to have more fibrous foods and less red meat. Drink
10 glasses of water every day to beat the constipation and dehydration that can
result from sedentary work. Seasonal fruits and salads not only refresh you, but
also give you a much-needed break from spicy, cholesterol-laden food, improving
your health, complexion, and zest.
Are you the type who attacks the computer
whenever your muse decides to visit? If so, then you may be experiencing sleep
difficulties. Insomnia is one of the most common ailments that affect the
midnight writer, and this can lead to increased stress and lower productivity.
The human body is programmed from infancy to work during the day and rest in the
night; therefore, changing the body clock drastically can have serious
repercussions on mind and body.
This best remedy for this is maintaining a
regular schedule. Procrastination is the main culprit for working at wrong times
of the day. To avoid this, write down your commitments and deadlines on a paper
and post it someplace that you can see it while you're working. This will make
you remember your time limit and not put off important tasks.
Learn to work during the day. Yes, it is
impossible to predict when you will get that great idea, and many writers have
full-time jobs that make writing during the day difficult, but you should still
try to work out a schedule that allows you eight full hours of sleep.
Don't overlook the time-tested remedies
either. That age-old concoction of warm milk and honey after dinner will grant
you a deep sleep, as will a soft, cushiony sleeping surface. And don't even
think of sleeping in your chair, with your feet propped up on the computer
table. Just last year, I spent lavish money on medication and physiotherapy
after I managed to fall off the chair and dislocate my disc. I was also left
with a broken UPS and a very irritated parent.
Rejection and criticism in response to great
expectations can lead to feelings of isolation and inferiority. You may even
lose the drive or inclination to write out of fear of more rejections. Sometimes
the depression can be so severe that it leads to more serious problems such as
alcoholism, violence, and alienation from loved ones. In that case, it is
necessary to seek professional counseling. If you're simply suffering the
disheartened feeling that comes with rejection, there are ways to rejuvenate
One way is to read books about writing,
subscribe to writing magazines, or take online writing courses. This will often
inspire you to try again. Writers tend to feel unique in their failures. Finding
a writing buddy, attending a writers' conference, or joining a writing group
allows you to interact with others in the same situation. These are also ways to
gain information about new markets and procedures for getting published. As
writer Shirley Redmond says, "Cope, don't mope!"
As somebody who visits the doctor after each
hair-wrenching deadline, take my advice. In the long run, health matters. So
take time to think about it. A healthy body and mind mean a healthy and active
REFERENCE: WEB SITES & LINKS
http://www.sfwa.org/ergonomics — The Science Fiction Writers Association has
a page full of valuable information about the need for good ergonomics for
writers of all ages.
http://www.healthycomputing.com — Not only about ergonomics, this site has
all the necessary information one should know about healthy computer usage.
Don't miss it!
Diet & Nutrition
These sites offer information about nutrition
and stress the importance of a good and balanced diet for your whole system:
These sites deal with writer's depression: