How to Sit

The thing about writing is that it requires a lot of sitting (unless you’re John Green and have a fancy treadmill desk), and sitting for a long time is very bad for you in very many ways, which I won’t go into because a) that’s a bit dark for a Saturday afternoon, and b) a quick Google search will feed your morbid curiosity.

Now at my day job I spend a lot of time sitting as well, to the point where the trust felt it necessary to send me on “DSE Training” which I nicknamed “How to Sit at a Desk” because that’s basically what it was. I was at first incredulous when I found that the training would last 90 minutes. I’ve been sitting for years, it isn’t exactly mentally taxing, and it requires minus effort to go from standing to sitting, so I went in reluctant to be taught anything, like most teenagers in school who weren’t me.

But some of the training was very useful for my role as an office clerk, and nearly all of it also applies to the permasitters known as writers, so I’ll share some of this information with the internet today, in the hopes that at least one other person will find it helpful (that’s basically why I write anything, to be honest).

So, without further preamble, here is Mel’s “How to Sit” training, condensed from a 90-minute seminar down to a 700-word blog post:

Keep Active

The woman running the seminar said, “the best position for your spine is the next position”. Any position, if held for too long, is bad for your back and other parts of your body, so sit back, sit up, stretch, roll your shoulders, point your toes, do things in your seat to keep you moving and try not to stay in exactly the same position for too long.

Both Feet on the Ground

Or, on the floor, as I’m sure few people have a garden office. Your feet should both be flat on the floor in front of you, not up on tippy-toes, not crossed, and not under your bum. If you’re short in the legs like me, you might need to get a foot rest. It’s not a huge investment (you can get one from Ikea for £10) and your body will thank you for it.

Find Excuses to Get Up

I know it might not be good for productivity, but you can do it for tiny things, like keeping a pen pot a bit further away so you need to get up and fetch it. Ideally though, just take five minutes every hour to stand up and do something else. My main go-to is to make a cup of tea: it takes about five minutes, I have to go down and up a flight of stairs, and the whole task is done while standing. I’ve got into the habit of pacing the kitchen while I wait for the tea to brew. Yes, it makes me look nervous, but it’s a short bit of exercise I can sneak into a three-minute window where I’d otherwise be standing still. A favourite for people who don’t drink caffeine is a glass of water. You have to keep getting up to refill it and, like tea, it makes you pee, which you also have to get up for. That’s also good for your kidneys.

Set Alarms

If you’re one of those writers who gets in the zone and completely tunes out the world while you’re writing, set an alarm about once an hour reminding you to stand up, grab a drink, or walk around your house. You can download programmes that will bring up a window to remind you to get away from your desk for five minutes if you have housemates or neighbours you don’t want to annoy with hourly alarm clocks.

So there are a few ways to hopefully save the spines of a few writers. They say you must suffer for your art, but in my world that means sacrificing time spent interacting with other humans, or enduring emotional hardships to inspire your next tear-jerker, not developing a hunch from sitting at your desk.


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