Writers’ Physical Problems Solved Here
Coleridge was a druggie, Joyce and Faulkner were functioning alcoholics, Sylvia Plath was bipolar, Swift, Milton, and Emily Brontë most likely had Asperger’s, Melville and Proust were depressed, Kafka was a mess.
Most jobs carry a physical cost. In London my living room overlooks the Guardian building, and I see the journalists slumped at their screens from morning to night, their heads low and forward, compressing their neck muscles and trapping their nerves, their slumped postures crushing their lungs.
Like most desk jobbers, writers suffer from appalling posture, eye problems, RSIs, tension and the wrong kind of exhaustion. You feel tired but not physically so, yet you don’t want to break off and go for a walk because a/ it’s wasted time away from the keyboard and b/ you live in Britain so it’s probably raining.
The above chart is designed for writers who need to take a break. Having sat on a chair all my working life,I realised I had terrible posture and started working out an hour a day at around 27 years of age. I still do, except these days I skip Sundays. And I still hate it.
To see just how much your desk job squeezes out the air from your chest, try this: Take a foam roller and lay it in the floor at the height of the base of your lungs. Now lie on it, relaxing so that buttocks and shoulder blades touch the floor. Slowly raise your hands and place them flat on the floor behind your head. Stay there, relaxed, for twenty breaths.
Now try to stand up. The first time I did this I thought I was going to die. You need to counteract the all-day hunching with opening-out exercises.
To jump-start ideas, get some exercise and speed up your metabolism. When you return, take the first three books you reach from your shelf and open the first one at a random page. Read from it, then use the other two books to find links to what you’ve just read. Much of writing is about building the kind of connections we don’t make in daily life.
The other day I read about the Proud Boys, the neo-Nazi American movement who have adopted Fred Perry shirts as their uniform. There was something about the story that bothered me, and after a quick rummage through my books I found that Perry had done an Ali and changed his name to devote himself to the nation of Islam. If you’re in the right state of curiosity, it’s easy to make connections the press can’t be bothered with.
If you find yourself losing concentration and falling asleep over keyboard, try this. Warm the palms of your hands and place them over your eyes. As you do so, imagine you are plunging your head into a dark pool of water. Start breathing more deeply and slowly for between five and ten breaths. The water is warm and aerated, so you can breathe. With each intake of breathe you draw in energy that you save for when you emerge. Imagine suddenly raising your head from the pool into the light, and remove your palms. You are now full of energy. It’s simple and actually works to freshen you up.
To keep fresh in the afternoon, have a very light lunch or no lunch at all. Set yourself a false time deadline and you’ll speed up as you head toward it.
Every writer gets moments where they think their book is no good. Meet a friend who’s a good listener or find someone you can call, and describe the plot succinctly. It’s amazing how many flaws you can get rid of by hearing yourself describe the book back. There should be service that offers to listen to writers untangling plots!