NaNoWriMo Writer? Watch Your Back, Neck, Shoulders, Arms, and Hands, Your Most Important Writing Tools  

Repetitive strain injuries chnage lives..png

The month of November brings many things:  Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, Caregiver Appreciation Month, and Movember. But if you’re a writer, it also brings something else: NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMo is a what-seems-to-be impossible challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It starts at midnight on November 1st and ends at 11:59 pm November 30th. Sound crazy? It did to me when I first heard about it in 2013, a rather latecomer to the game since it started in 1999. Better late than never. Anyway, since I live with chronic pain related to Repetitive Strain Injuries and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome the concept of NaNoWriMo is well beyond my capabilities, but I’m still seduced by the idea of it.

Imagine being able to commit to writing an average of 1,667 words each day for 30 days. At the end, you’ll have the first draft of a book, which over the next few months you can polish into something presentable, maybe even publishable. The possibilities astound me, a writer who worked on the first draft of a novel for four years. I started it as part of a NANO challenge in 2013, when I was able to produce 4,000 words over the course of a week before succumbing to a flare-up of RSIs and TOS.

NaNoWriMo is not for anyone without the stamina to sit at a keyboard for hours each day. One thousand six hundred and sixty-seven words sound easy – it’s the equivalent of six and a half pages – in theory, achievable for most people who are able to keep butt in chair and type long enough to do it. But if you’re prone to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, bursitis, headaches, or neck pain, this challenge will most likely exacerbate your condition and prevent future NaNoWriMo attempts.

Woman laptop sore neck Dollarphotoclub_47543595.jpgMaintaining the postures of keyboarding, mousing, and viewing a computer monitor for hours requires an incredible amount of exertion, muscle control, and energy. I’ve heard it said that an 8-hour worker at a computer station works her body as hard as a professional athlete, using primarily the smallest and most delicate of muscles and tendons, as well as a multitude of nerves. These micro-tissues, sustaining a static posture over long periods of time, become inflamed, injured, and cause great pain. If ignored, the condition continues. If left untreated, permanent disability can result. I am an authority on this topic: Permanently partially disabled since 2006, currently recovering from my fourth related surgery, the second on my right shoulder in ten years.

I’m not a killjoy. I simply don’t want to see other people end up like me. It’s no fun struggling to write 250 words a day and failing. It’s hard to complete a project when you have to avoid the computer for days on end. If you’re wrapped up in NaNoWriMo please take care of yourself. Here are some tips:

Prepare your body for a writing session:

  • Massage your hands with your favorite lotion.
  • Stretch your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck.
  • Don’t forget your back, which can also be overworked.

Adjust your work space for safety:

  • Make sure your monitor is an arm’s length away, at a height where your eyes are focused one inch below its upper edge.
  • Use a keyboard tray.
  • Ensure it’s at the appropriate height so your elbows are at rest and in a neutral position.
  • You should not be reaching for the keyboard.
  • Be careful with your mouse. It’s the root cause of a lot of disability. I use a keyboard with a built-in glide pad. Cured my five-year history of elbow tendinitis.
  • A lap top is not a desk top. Don’t use it as one. The ergonomics of it are completely off and will contort your body in painful ways.
  • Take the time to set your chair at the appropriate height, making sure your feet are on the floor. Use lumbar support if you have it.
  • If you can get a sit-stand desk get it! Makes a huge difference.

Watch your posture:

  • Sit up, don’t slump.
  • Position your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips.
  • Do not thrust your head forward. You’ll get “turtle head” and hurt your back.

Take frequent rest breaks:

  • Use a timer. Twenty minutes is as long as you should write before taking a break.
  • While resting, do some desk stretches or stand up and stretch, have a drink of water, rest your eyes.
  • Listen to your body.

After a writing session:

  • Stretch again.
  • Soothe your muscles with gentle massage, especially your hands.

If you have pain:

  • Don’t ignore it. Respond and treat.
  • Use ice or heat as tolerated on sore areas. Thermacare wraps are awesome!
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Motrin and Tylenol, can help.
  • Topical over the counter remedies such as Topricin, Bio-Freeze, and Real Time Pain Relief are easily available and provide relief.
  • Remember to stretch gently every day.
  • Limit computer time or perform multiple short sessions each day.

If the problem continues:

  • See your doctor
    • A course of physical and/or occupational therapy can ward off chronic pain issues.
    • Your doctor can order prescription strength medicine such as analgesics, muscle relaxants, and topical therapies.
    • Surgery is a last resort. Don’t let this happen to you.
  • Consult a chiropractor.
  • Hire a massage therapist.
  • Visit an ergonomist.
  • Stay off the computer!

Interesting FAQs:

  • Since its inception in 1999, 367,913 NaNoWriMo participants have completed a novel.
  • In 2017, 306,230 writers participated in NaNoWriMo.
  • Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published, including:
    • Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants
    • Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus
    • Hugh Howey’s Wool
    • Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl
    • Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator
    • Marissa Meyer’s Cinder

Avoiding repetitive strain injuries can keep you in the running to complete your own NaNoWriMo challenge and finish that novel!

For more info on NaNoWriMo visit https://nanowrimo.org/

NaNoWriMo image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month. Others via Adobe Stock and Dollar Photo Club.

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