In early February of last year, I had a request from the small press that published my first short story to present them with a full-length Regency novel. Now, I had four, so I wasn’t lacking in material! But, I saw this as an opportunity to have my first novel published. I told them I would turn it in three weeks from that day once I had “tweaked” it a bit. Well, once I dove into it, I realized it needed way more than tweaking – it needed a full rewrite. So, I extracted my characters from the original plot and wrote an entirely new story for them…in three weeks.
While this might seem like an amazing accomplishment, it came at a price: my health. I’m the type who is a 4-6 day/week exerciser, but trying to write a book in 3 weeks meant that exercise went to the back burner. And therein lay the problem. By the time the book was done, my back and, particularly my left shoulder/arm (which already suffered from tennis elbow), were in shambles. I was in so much pain I couldn’t sleep at night, which led to painfully long days while I was trying to edit, work, pack for a trip to Toronto, do some last minute babysitting for a friend, visit my in-laws in CT and shoot our friends’ wedding. Whew! That was a rough week that I never want to revisit! So, I’ve developed a system of sorts, along with my chiropractor and my hubby – a way to keepmyself in check and make sure I’m not hurting myself while pursuing my dream. I hope you’ll find some of my tips useful!
1) Exercise! When I finally took time away from writing and hobbled into my chiropractor’s office, he shocked me with his advice. “Get to the gym! You’ve been tensed in one position for so long that your muscles aren’t even separated anymore,” he said. “You have one big shelf of tensed-up muscle across your back and the only thing that’s going to fix that right now is fatiguing those muscles. Get on the treadmill and walk until you can’t walk anymore. Get your arms and shoulders moving gently so those muscles will loosen up.” He was right, and I owe a lot to getting my butt back into the gym! Now that I’m better, my focus is on strengthening my back and shoulders with weight training so this never happens again!
Warning: If you’re having muscle spasms, avoid weight lifting, and any yoga/pilates that require you to bend backwards (ie, sun salutations, cobra, etc…)
2) Take frequent breaks! I know it’s difficult, when you’re in the zone, to stop for a walk around the house or a mini stretch, but ya gotta do it! My tech-genius hubby set me up with a great program called Time Out (this is for Mac only, but I’m sure there are ones for PC as well). It’s a free download and every so many minutes, it gives you a warning that it’s time for a break. The break is short (default is 15 seconds, but you can change that) and they even show you a little countdown to when you can start working again. During those breaks, make sure you roll out your shoulders, do some deep breathing and stretch your spine. You’ll feel much better at the end of the day! http://www.dejal.com/timeout/
3) Don’t lump your writing into one long session! If your goal is 4,000 words for the day, I highly recommend 4 sessions of 1000 words. Do 1000 when you wake up, another 1000 before lunch, etc… I don’t recommend trying to write all 4,000 words at once, or you’ll end up like I did!
4) Be mindful of your positions! At my day job (which was actually in the evening), I kept my keyboard and screen in the same position the operator on the day shift did, which meant that for 15 hours a week for two years, I had my head twisted to the right. Eventually, that culminated into one big “OWWWW!” and a lot of rehabilitation to fix all the muscle and nerve damage I inflicted on myself. Of course, my new chiropractor had a fit and I started rearranging my desk every night before and after I left so that the screen and keyboard were directly in front of me. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. Having your screen at the proper height and position is a must! And if you’re a laptop user, I highly recommend getting a separate keyboard and raising the laptop on a stand – the angling down of the head is not all too healthy either! Watch your hands, too! My poor positioning led to tennis elbow, and can also lead to carpel tunnel, so raise those wrists!
5) Relax! It’s easy to get caught up, even obsessed, with writing and finishing a project. Your mind races constantly with the next scene and you’re desperate to get to the keyboard to get it on paper – I know, it becomes an obsession. But that obsession can cause a lot of damage. In addition to what I’ve talked about already, my nutrition suffered greatly and I gained a few pounds, and my obsession turned into high blood pressure (which took months of every day exercise to get down). So, take time out to relax – watch tv, read, sleep, play with your pets, have sex - whatever! If you’re working hard, you deserve to play hard!
Whatever you do, take care of yourself! You only get this one body and you have to live with it the rest of your life. Your manuscript will wait a few minutes or even a half hour while you take a time out J
-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar