Summer is a time for relaxation, rejuvenation, and intense physical therapy!? After a visit to the masseuse who referred me to the chiropractor who referred me to the back specialist, I'll be visiting a PT guru two to three times a week for a few months to beat two vertebrae back into line with the rest of my spine. It's nothing dire, and summer offers me time to heal, but I have to admit I panicked when the thought of contorting like a pretzel rather than leisurely reading and writing all summer presented itself. (Trust me, I'm getting to writing. This isn't just a ranting session.)
My big question throughout the labyrinth of doctor visits and consultations was why. Why had my spine decided to run zigzag? Why were my shoulders permanently rolled forward? Why did it hurt to hold onto a door frame and lean forward to stretch muscles that had decidedly clenched shut?
Simple. I'm a writer.
I hunch. I lean. I lurch. My body is often curled fetal position style over my lovely laptop. And when I'm editing, it's even worse. I'll take a printed manuscript and lie on one side, crushing that shoulder, too involved in making red marks to consider comfort. And this doesn't even address the reading, because inevitably writers are readers. We crane our necks over the next best seller, often so lost in a new world that we don't necessarily stay in touch with our own bodies. And this is all done in a sitting, sedentary position.
Each of the specialists peppered me with suggestions to improve my day to day physicality. And at first I distinctly rolled my eyes. Several times. The advice ranged from a standing desk to reading nearly upside-down with arms extended backwards. (Exactly who holds the book, then?) And the lists grew. At one point I started to tear up a little, because writing is supposed to be my absolute Zen space when I stop worrying about the rest of the world and focus solely on the story. When did my achy body elbow into the equation?
And then I remembered something an incredibly wise friend mentioned. He had been struggling with a phenomenal writing project but faced a multitude of rejections. The author loved his antagonist and could not deal with changing him based on the same suggestion by critique partners and agents alike. Until one day he snapped and came to the following conclusion.
"I was being an ass, when all I had to do was take a very deep breath, and fix the problem."
Long story short, I'm following the specialists' lists. Across the board. I am listening to my body as I write, and (gulp - swallowing the pride here), the writing is better. So are my back and my neck, obviously. If I don't feel well, inside and out, top to bottom, the writing is congested and not my best. Duh!
And I've taken a miserably long time to share a few useful tricks and tips to help keep the body as cozy as the mind while you're writing. Pick and choose what makes sense, as long as you keep writing.
*A standing desk! (See my homemade ridiculous version below, since I can't actually build anything, but it works like a charm.) When you write standing up there is a sense of urgency and purpose, and your tailbone is oh so happy to be up and wiggly.
*Yoga every thirty minutes. NO MATTER WHAT. Pick a simple, three-step routine but be consistent and focus on the areas of your body that tighten up during the writing process.
*Food every two hours. Good foods, that is. Your blood sugar stays regular, and it fights inflammation.
*SLOWLY sip water every ten minutes. It's not just hydrating, but it also forces the body and mind to shift for a second. I've been infusing my own water, and it is so tasty.
*Put fresh flowers on your desk. This isn't for physicality so much as a pleasant little jolt to the senses. Good smells and good oxygen nearby.
*Meditate before and after writing. Just for a minute or two to start you in the right direction and remember at the end where you've been. This is also a nice time to notice if any part of your body feels out of whack.
*Write when your body is fresh. All of you fellow mommies probably put work first (and even if you're a SAHM, you're still working!), then take care of the kids, and then finally write when your body has maybe two ounces of strength left. One of the my critique buddies from SCBWI writes every morning from 5 to 7 no matter what, and she has three kids and a part-time job. (And she's writing a ten billion word fantasy novel. If she can do it, we can do it.)
Take care of yourself as a writer. Writing should feel good, body and soul. If it doesn't, go back to the drawing board. We may not all have the time or resources to go adventure with Natalie Goldberg on one of her writing retreats, but we can create a comfortable and inspiring spot for writing in our everyday lives.