Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional, and my advice is anecdotal rather than scientific. However, I am a writer, and I've had wrist problems, and these wrist problems are not as bad now as they were a year or two back, so I believe my findings are worth sharing.
It was well after sunset. I sat on my futon, leaning forward, typing. I’d already typed a grand total of eight thousand words for the day and meant to type about two thousand more before surrendering to bed. These long, uber-intensive typing days had become a recent habit after I learned to dive into writing without hesitating and focus on putting words down on the page instead of editing. The process for me is liberating, almost euphoric, and I can easily let the rest of the world fade into the background while I write.
That’s when it started. The tingling in my left hand--and complete numbness in my right. I stopped typing, and it was months before I could comfortably break a thousand words in a day again. I'd gotten sloppy in how I treated my writing, and now it was time to pay.
Repetitive strain is common for hardcore writers, and if you love spending hours over your keyboard like I do, there’s a solid chance you’re familiar with the strain in your fingers and upper arms telling you to please stop writing before your hands literally fall off. It’s a rotten feeling, and if you don’t watch it, it only gets worse. And there’s no good cure for carpal tunnel.
Fortunately, I've managed to fix most of my strain over the past couple of years and am back to being able to write in the thousands again with the help of certain tactics and tools, some of which I'll share here. I'm not an affiliate to anything I'm recommending--they're all simply things that have helped me maintain and retain the use of my wrists.
1. Posture. Remember at the top of this article when I mentioned that I was sitting on my futon, leaning forward? I’m sitting at a table now, with an adjusted office chair. Posture is huge when gauging wrist problems, and it isn’t worth slacking in this area if you write all the time.
Remember your wrists should be held up at a proper elevation over the keyboard, your back should be straight, and you should sit facing forward instead of at an angle.
2. An ergonomic keyboard. Some keyboards (especially tablet and laptop keyboards) accelerate wrist damage by forcing your tendons to work harder than they should. A good keyboard can cut the amount of strain you're experiencing almost overnight. And while any solid, clacking keyboard should help, it's worth looking into getting an ergonomic or split keyboard to ease strain all the more.
When I switched to mine, I noticed a difference instantly. Sure, I couldn't type thousands of words as I had been before, but I could type without pain, and that was something.
3. An ergonomic mouse. Sometimes it's not the keyboard at all that hurts, but the mouse. while ergonomic mice are not as functional or as reliable as ergonomic keyboards, there are still some good options on the market. Using a mouse instead of a tracking pad can help significantly. I use a handheld mouse that has helped tremendously and that you can find here. I consider a mouse to be a secondary strain to the keyboard, but with my wrists in the condition they were, I needed to take every chance to improve things.
4. Stress balls and putty. Repetitive strain and poor circulation are often linked together. am I experience, I have learned that my efforts to improve circulation overall help is any repetitive strain I'm feeling. When I'm working, I often keep grip strengtheners nearby. Usually, these take the form of grip trainer balls or therapy putty.
If you’re starting out with these and have severe wrist pain, go easy at first. You need to get used to the motion before you can progress to the more solid and regular styles.
5. Dictation. Some writers choose to dodge the typing route altogether and switch to dictation to get their writing done. Dictation has come a long way in recent years, and many writing softwares these days come with a dictation component built in. As the average talking speed is about 150 words per minute, dictation is also significantly faster than typing and can aid in productivity.
Personally, I like the typing experience. I tried dictating all my work when my wrists were giving me a hard time, and while I was able to keep up a good word count, I was irritated at all of the mis-spellings I had to fix and unfulfilled at the fact that I hadn’t really been “writing” at all.
The amount of editing I have to do usually correlates with what I’m writing, so if you’re considering dictation, don’t discount it right away. Epic fantasy with made-up names and places (and languages… yikes!) might confuse the transcription, but if you’re writing a contemporary thriller grounded in the here and now, you’ll have a much easier time.
These days, I do a lot of my technical and pen name writing over dictation so that I have the strength later to type the stories that I love the most. This particular article was half-and-half--like many on Pen and Glory.
6. Workouts. Wrist problems come from poor circulation, and one of the easiest ways to fix poor circulation is--you guessed it--to get your blood flowing. I’m talking exercise! I’m fortunate enough to sport a solid gym in my basement with the luxury of being able to hop on a treadmill or rower with only a moment’s notice, but we’re not talking about doing big workouts.
If you want, you can even do jumping jacks.
What I’ve learned to do is take frequent, short workouts during my writing. Every few minutes, I’ll get up and do something fast that gets my heart rate up. I can use my beloved workout trampoline, hit the treadmill, or simply jog in place. I keep that up for about two or three minutes before I return to my work, and voila--better circulation and less wrist pain.
This tip is actually how I got past NaNoWriMo recently with my bad wrists. On days when I was behind, if it was late at night and I couldn’t get alone to dictate, I’d throw myself into half-workout-half-writing sessions, and I could get 3,000 words down without repercussions the next morning.
If you’re concerned about wrist strain, don’t wait for it to become a worse problem. Repetitive strain is not the kind of thing that goes away if you ignore it or stop typing for a day--you need to tackle it head-on.
What are your favorite wrist-saving moves? Please share them in the comment section below or join my Facebook group for further discussion. Let’s keep the conversation going!