Writing Rule Fallacy: Writers must have the “Butt in the Chair.”


Yeah, Yeah, Yeah … One of those rules/tips/commandments is that “Writers must have the butt in the chair.” Ask Steven King, Sinclair Lewis, Nora Roberts, Robert Benchley, Oliver Stone, and most any prolific writer. This advice was first given to Sinclair Lewis in 1911 by Mary Heaton Vorse.

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

What does this mean, exactly? Does it mean – put your butt in the chair and keep it there until you get something onto the computer screen? Does it mean be tenacious in writing every day as long as you can? Does it mean you must sit in a chair and write? Does it mean putting glue on the seat of the chair and sit on it? YOW!

Sorry, but this is bad advice – especially for those of us that are writing in our retirement years. I used to sit at my computer for hours after a long day at work and write well into the night. I’d have no bad effects from this because I was very active during the day, but now, not so much.

The recent research has shown that sitting for prolong periods of time can bring on a cluster of health problems including obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. Indeed too much sitting overall can increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Also, it can make your hips, knees, back, shoulders, wrists, and fingers hurt!

As for me – my senior body is creaky – and cranky. If I sit at the computer for more than an hour, I know I will have difficulty standing, much less take steps. My knees will hurt, my hips ache, and sometimes my back too. So what’s a senior who loves to write do?

Here are some ideas:

  • Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes by stretching, walking or changing your task. [I find a timer is the most helpful of all. I set it for an hour. That allows me to write a good amount of time. When the bell rings, I find a place to stop. Then get up and get a drink, do a chore, or go for a short walk around the house for 15 to 20 minutes before I resume my writing].
  • If you work at a desk, try a standing desk, or improvise with a high table or counter.
  • Use a Ball or a ball chair to sit on.
  • Put a cushion in the chair you use, either an inflatable dynamic motion disc or an orthopedic memory foam cushion.

Posture: Make sure you pay attention to your posture. Keep your shoulders back – no slouching. Keep your hips back as far as you can in the chair and your feet flat on the floor, or if your feet dangle – use a footrest, so your knees are at least at the same level or slightly higher than your hips. Maintain your elbows open at greater than 90 degrees of extension and your wrist at neutral.

The Workstation Set up: Use the wrist rests only between keystrokes. Position the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible. The screen should be at least an arm’s length away from your where you are seated.

Vision: Don’t forget to rest your vision too. Look away from the screen and focus on something in the distance. To rest your eyes take your hands and cover your eyes for 10-15 seconds periodically.

Persisting in writing each day is important, but sitting for long periods of time is not healthy. Try some of these tips to live longer and feel better. Happy writing!

How about you folks? What do you do to avoid hurting yourself, but writing as much as you need too? Love to see your comments below.

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