How to Write When You’re In Physical Pain

How to write in pain

Are you a writer in pain?

Do you want to find a way to practice your craft even if it hurts?

Can you write and overcome physical pain at the same time?

I write during the day in an office, and during my free time I sit at a desk at home and write again.

I spend over forty hours a week sitting down.

Here’s the problem:

Sitting is the new smoking.

A couple of months ago, my foot went numb for hours at a time, and I experienced enough knee pain to find sitting for more than an hour unpleasant.

I procrastinated for months before going to a physical therapist.

After a short examination, he diagnosed me with sciatica. My physical therapist explained this was because I spend so much time sitting down.

Before that, my right hand ached so much from RSI (an ailment common to many office workers) that I found it difficult to type or use a mouse for an extended period.

Writing when you’re in physical pain isn’t fun, and it’s not very conducive to creative or productive writer.

If you’re a writer who experiences physical pain while you practice, you can:

Dictate Your First Draft

The first drafts are often the hardest.

Recently, I’ve experimented with using the dictation app Rev.

Using this app, I can dictate first drafts into my phone and then send them to a transcriber for a dollar a minute.

Alternatively, you could use the dictation app on your computer (Windows and OS X include them).

Respect Your Body

Writing is a mental activity, but it’s essential that you look after your body too.

My physical therapist gave me a number of stretches and exercises to perform each morning and evening.

These have all but eliminated my sciatica. I also run regularly, which has increased my stamina for sittng in one place.

Cultivate Your Mind

Meditation won’t solve your physical problems directly, but it will help you become more aware of the times you need to take a break.

Meditation can also help writers become more accepting of chronic pain.

If you want to learn how to meditate, I recommend using the app Headspace and reading the book Mindfulness in Plain English by Henenpola Gunaratana.

As an added bonus: there’s a proven scientific link between meditation and creativity, which means you will become a better writer through meditation.

Review Your Work Station

Confession: I’m obsessed by the offices of famous writers, and I’ve spent a lot (too much) time studying other writers’ workspaces and trying work they way they work.

The Logitech M510 helped me overcome RSI

I overcame RSI by buying the Logitech M510 wireless mouse and by using a wrist support for my keyboard and mouse.

I also use the Apple keyboard almost exclusively as this enables me to improve my muscle memory and reduce typos.

You don’t need these devices to overcome RSI, but examining the set up in your writing environment could help you solve physical problems connected to sitting down.

Make Time for Breaks

I use the Pomodoro Technique to time how long I write and to encourage more frequent writing sessions.

Essentially, I write in bursts of 30 minutes and then take a short break. After four 30 minute sessions, I take a longer break.

If you write like this, these breaks are good for your back, your hands and your mind.

You can use your breaks to have something to eat, make a phone call or stretch.

The point is to stand up and get away from your desk, but do make a point to get back to it when you’re done.

Harness the Power of Small Wins

If you find it difficult to write for extended periods, writing for a short amount of time and doing this every day will help you make small but determined progress towards your goal.

You don’t need to sit at your desk for eight hours every day to finish that book.

John McGahern on writingThe Irish writer John McGahern wrote in the early mornings and in the evenings after spending the day attending to his farm in Leitrim.

Getting to the end is more important than writing faster.

Write Like Shakespeare

Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and W.B. Yeats all did just fine with pen and paper.

If it pains you to sit at a desk and type at your computer, take a pen and a notebook and go to your local coffee shop or into nature.

If you’re editing, consider printing out your early drafts and read through them standing up.

Or you could take your laptop, lie down and write in a new position.

Get the Experts In

My physical therapist provided me with an assessment and a series of exercises.

I found paying a professional more beneficial than diagnosing myself by reading articles online then and treating myself by watching YouTube videos.

There are times when it’s worth getting the opinion of an expert.

If you need outside help to overcome physical pain while writing, get it.

Writing Is Sometimes Painful

I’m talking about the deep introspective writing that real writers put themselves through.

Writing should almost never be physically painful. It’s not good practice to write when you’re in pain and there’s no sense in suffering through your practice or making your health worse.

You can use the tips in this post to help you overcome physical challenges that are preventing you from writing, but if you’re continuing to have problems don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor.

Have you experienced physical pain while writing? How did you overcome it?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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10 thoughts on “How to Write When You’re In Physical Pain”

  1. Love this post, Bryan! I have fibromyalgia and am a full-time blogger. I have to pace myself and I follow a lot of the steps you outline here.

    And you gave me some new ideas. I never thought of discussing my work habits with my physical therapist. Am doing it next week.

    Thanks,
    Sue

    1. That’s some keyboard! It would take me a bit of re-training to get used to it. I use the Apple keyboard because I like the design and I make very little typos on it. Standing up every hour to stretch is a good tip too.

  2. This is an interesting article but I was looking for something for people who are in horrible pain every minute. It’s just so distracting–I’m in the middle of a sentence and then I’m stabbed with horrific pain. I’m already in physical therapy and was hoping for something directed towards people like me. Thank you so much for addressing this issue at all!

    1. Dictation is great. I’ve been experimenting with it for a while now. There’s a learning curve but it can help if you find writing while in pain difficult.

  3. Great article. I’ve just seen it. I had a spinal surgery which was not successful. Not being able to afford many things, I made up my own ways of dealing with the problem; laptop on the upper part of the kitchen cabinets ( oven turned off, lol), so I stand. You can’t stand for long so you have breaks more often, then sitting on a higher chair, laptop on two thick dictionaries, no mouse but pressing whatever it is called on laptop with right and left hand ( trained my left hand too), lie down if needed for rest. I am on lyrica for nerve pain, had to buy 4X4drive second hand one, to have a higher seat. Now, I am lying down and typing on my ipad with my left hand.
    I wrote a story ‘My invisible friend’, you can guess it is PAIN. So, welcome me to a club!

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