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Sit or Stand

Rounding out what I didn’t expect to be a series on the tools and environment of writers, I thought I’d talk a little bit today about the physical aspects of a writing environment.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to assume that you’re writing on a computer, because that’s how I do most of my writing.

As with everything else, there’s a huge range of options available to a writer when they’re thinking about making a writing space.  You can go with the sort of stereotypical laptop-at-a-coffee-shop thing that a lot of people think of when they picture a writer at work (or at least what they think of when picturing an undiscovered/”aspiring” writer at work), but I find that coffee shops are a pretty terrible environment to work from for any serious length of time because there are too many variables that are outside of your locus of control.  That said, by all means experiment with your setup, because everybody is comfortable with different things.

Rather than going into all the minutiae of an environment in excruciating detail, I think that we can break a writing environment down into three categories: sonic, body-position, and equipment.

I like to write with some music on.  In the past, I didn’t have a dedicated space for writing, so having headphones was essential because it let me create my own little writing bubble even when I was in a shared/common space.  Sound is a vital component of a writer’s environment, whether it’s background/ambient music, white noise, silence, or something in between those.  I have at various points used a dedicated writing playlist of songs that I know well enough that they won’t distract me, and on occasion I’ll change out some of the tracks on it to better suit the mood of the piece I’m working.

Body position is one of those things that a lot of people may not think about as much, which is detrimental to a lot of writers.  Being comfortable is important, yes, but you need to tune that comfort to not be harmful to your body in the long run.  This does to some extent come down to the equipment that you use, too, but I’ll touch on that part in a minute.

For short writing sessions stolen from otherwise wasted moments, maybe in a coffee shop or on a bus/plane/train/boat, just plonking away on your laptop isn’t too bad, but even as I write this, sitting slumped over on my couch at home, I can feel my neck starting to crick.  Ergonomics are key for your regular writing space.  Find a chair that’s comfortable, and a desk that allows your arms to stay pretty much parallel to the floor, then get your monitor at the right height so that the top of the screen is level with your eyes when you sit up and look straight ahead.  Better yet, ditch your normal chair altogether.  Some people like sitting on those big inflatable exercise balls, which purportedly helps work your abs while you sit, but for my money, a standing desk (and a tall chair for those times when you can’t be bothered to stand any longer) is the way to go.  I switched over to a standing desk at work a year ago, and although I do still spend a portion of my day sitting down in a tall chair, I find that standing while I work leaves me feeling physically better at the end of the day.  (If you’re going to commit to the standing desk route, get a good mat to stand on, too, or you’ll quickly give up on the whole standing thing.)

There are a lot of articles on the benefits of standing desks that you can find if you like, but I’d recommend just trying it out for a little while.  You don’t need to lay out a ton of money for a standing desk (though you easily can).  I’ve been eying a solution to convert a regular desk to a standing desk that can be pulled off for about $22 and a little bit of work, though I have yet to commit to even that expense at home.  What I’m really saying, though, is that you should experiment to find what’s most comfortable for you.

The final part of the writing space equation is the equipment that you use: mouse, keyboard, and monitor.  Please, for your own benefit if you’re using a laptop as your only computer, at least get an external keyboard and mouse so that you can elevate your screen to be at a comfortable height, but consider getting another monitor, too.  Some people like to have huge monitors so they can have their notes/story bible/wikipedia up on-screen along with their writing without having to click back and forth between windows, while others like a multi-monitor setup for the same reason.  Do what you can afford and what feels best for you (honestly, I could just delete all of this and leave it at that, but I’m not going to because this is my blog, and you don’t tell me what to do).

Keyboards alone could have their own post, but I’m not going to bore you with that.  (The same likely goes for mice, though that’s often more gamer-focused.)  Some people really like laptop-style keyboards with very short key-press distances, while others prefer older-style keyboards which require a much farther keypress.  Experiment.  Never assume that what’s best for you is what you’ve always been using just because you haven’t tried anything else.  I really like my split keyboard (one thing that Microsoft is actually really great at), which I’ve found helps minimize wrist pain when I’m typing for hours at a stretch without a real break.  I also changed up my mouse, going for a trackball, because of wrist pain.

Wrist pain sucks, guys.  Avoid it.  Especially if you want to write for anything resembling a living.

So, I think that’s it (at least for the moment) on writing spaces and tools.


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