Tips for writing productivity and ergonomics

Is your desk set-up secretly causing aches and pains?

I used to be the go-to person in my last few job positions for health and safety when it came to setting up workstations, specifically the ergonomics. With a massive pool of employees that either worked in customer service, or 2D and 3D animation for film and television, people were sitting at their desks for long periods of time, and frequently complained of back, neck, and shoulder strain… enter my lovely smiling face to visit their work area and help set things up so they could be more comfortable.

The biggest issue around back, neck, and shoulder pain mainly came down to muscle fatigue from prolonged amounts of time in a fixed position. It’s important to get up and move around every 45 min to an hour. In fact, I set a timer when I work to remind me to get up and do something else. Typically, I will spread my chores through the day for these intermissions. It not only gives your body a break from being in a seated position, but also helps reduce eye strain from staring at a fixed depth (of the computer screen) and a reprieve from monitor glare.

The next important issue has to do with posture and placement of the keyboard, monitor, mouse and other regularly used items. Without getting into all the specific angles, I’ll attach a few diagrams for reference. But the best gauge is that your feet are meant to comfortably reach the floor (flat feet,) with no pressure on your thighs, elbows level with, or slightly higher than the desk surface, and your monitor positioned straight in front of you. When looking straight ahead, your eyes should hit around the top of the monitor. Regularly used items (keyboard, mouse, etc) should be easily reachable with your elbows near the sides of your torso. Items used a lesser amount can be placed further back on your desk.

All of this keeps you in a natural seated, and relaxed position, avoiding having to hold your body or limbs in unnatural positions for any extended length of time.

From there you can address if you need lower back (lumbar) support cushions, seat framing to keep your hips even with a shaped cushion, or even a shoulder/back harness to stop you from slouching forward. There are other elements you can use to help set up your workspace, like footrests, laptop stands, a standing desk (you can purchase ones that can convert from seating to standing with the press of a button these days.) Different types of chairs, or the kneeling seats or even the exercise balls instead of a chair to force you to use your core muscles to keep you stabilized. It’s important to find what works best for you to avoid injury from strain, or being frozen in a fixed position for too long.

Of course all hazards and wires are safely stored with cable ties and the like. Ensure you have adequate lighting and try to avoid clutter on your work surface.

I only just gave my workstation an ergonomic assessment as I was finding the number of hours I could work comfortably in a day was reducing… it turns out my monitor was too low and off to the left side, and as the day went on I was hunching over more and more until I started getting a lower back ache or headache. Now that everything has been correctly situated, my productivity is picking up and the niggling pain dissipated.

When I originally organised my home office, I had set it up to be aesthetically pleasing using some gorgeous Pinterest pictures as inspiration. And yes, it looked pretty, but was not necessarily the best functioning. I feel like such a doofus for not thinking about the ergonomics earlier.

How did your workspace fair after reading this information? Do you get eyestrain or back pain from the hours you spend writing… let me know if any of these tips help you.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Creating an atmosphere to write

Music, ambience, views, nature, books… what helps set the scene for you to pen your next great story?

I go through moods with how I like my environment while writing. I see so many of those playlists on the internet, sometimes I feel like I’m missing something, because while I like to have music playing in the background at times, I don’t associate particular songs to a scene in a storyline.

So I have different modes when I write. At times I like complete silence. Which is fine when your home by yourself, but when you’re not, I need to pull out those noise cancelling headphones to get some work done before I succumb to the urge to bludgeon someone with a heavy blunt instrument.

Other moments I love having an ‘80’s playlist in the background. Something about sense memory of a more innocent time when I was growing up helps to free up my inspiration. Like I’m shedding the stresses of adult life and going back to a time when anything was possible. Music from this time period is like that old oversized cardigan, it’s familiar, you know all the lyrics, and you could listen to the soundtrack and never get tired of the melody. Can’t say my housemate particularly love the retro playlist on repeat, but hey, it’s not about them… and I can always listen to it on my headphones. No harm, no foul, let me dwell in my happy place unencumbered.

I also have moments where I love some easy listening or playing Andrea Kirwan in the background. Her voice melts away my headache and puts me in the mood to write a more intimate, emotional scene. Great for love scenes or creating angst. I’m a mood reader and a mood writer. I don’t have to craft a story sequentially, I can jump forward and backward in the storyline and pen a scene if I have a particular feeling I need to currently capture… yes I’m a plantser! (A combination of a plotter and a pantser for those of you who have not heard that term before.)

Visit Andrea’s website at http://www.andreakirwin.com

Dance music: those feverish times when my fingers are flying over the keyboard, like a coffee fuelled writing sprint. The volume is not too loud to pierce the bubble of extreme concentration as I channel from some other creative dimension. This is particularly useful in action scenes, or when my fingers on the keyboard cannot keep up with my overactive brain. While it feels productive and fantastic in the moment, often when I re-read the days work, some of it is embarrassingly discordant… like and actual monkey took over and was banging at the keyboard.

Ambient noise. Rainforest. Café, office, library… Public places also makes me productive. Something about needing to block out your surroundings to write. And the other layer of people watching you sitting there at a laptop makes me want to look like I’m a productive member of society. Knowing you are being watched is a great motivator, or being surrounded by other productive people make you want to pull your socks up and get to work.

But no matter where I’m working, I need a clean and clear workspace. If I’m writing with paper and pen, I need a bright and light area, whether indoor lighting or plenty of sunlight. There are also moments where I like to sneak down to the computer at night time and write in the darkness. It feels sneaky, intimate, like you’re undertaking subterfuge.

I also love a view of nature. Whether I’m sitting on my balcony overlooking the coast line. Seeing the rolling hills meet the sand and a stretch of white-capped waves rolling in from the horizon. Or down in the sunroom amongst rainforest trees, colourful parrots singing a tune, and a natural spring that brings a serenity with its waterlilies and ducks.

I don’t think I could work in the same place every day forever. It would feel stale after a time. The creative beast needs to be fed with sensations, sights, sounds, and stimulated with verse. Reading helps, conversations, observation, even daydreaming. It is the best way for me to stave off writer’s block… well I don’t necessarily get writer’s block because I switch up my environment, habits, what I’m working on so much that it never gets boring. That, and having a routine (whether I follow it or not) are great guides to keep the prose flowing.

And don’t forget to cut yourself a break. Good writing does not explode from you immediately. Writing is a process of inspiration and creativity, reviewing and editing, fine-tuning, and outside feedback. A solo endeavour, but a group experience. Writer, Reader, Reviewer…

There is no set structure for how to write, just many avenues you can try out for yourself and see what works. You’ll find your groove, fall out of it, and find inspiration again. The key is to never give up and never stop trying different methods. I routinely spring clean my office and re-arrange the furniture, pictures, colour scheme, it give the space a different feel and when I sit down to write it feels fresh and new – with no mistakes – and somehow leave me invigorated and ready to tackle the next challenges.

What are your tips for creating an ambience fit for writing? I’d love to get a writing group together, but living remotely, it’s not necessarily an option. Online doesn’t feel the same. Escaping to the university library is the next best thing. I even went and did a few weeks work at an empty desk in a friends office and it really helped get me out of a low productive moment. There’s always a way…

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The importance of scheduling your writing time.

The importance of scheduling your writing time Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

You want to finally write that novel? Here’s a great tip that has never failed me. I’ve spoken to many aspiring authors and published authors, and inevitably the discussion comes around to how do you write? The getting-stuff-done part, not the process.

Basically it has come down to a very simple rule for me (and nearly everyone I canvased for this article) – you need to make a dedicated window of time each day/week for your writing. I did this while I was working full-time, and when I started writing from home full-time.

The importance of scheduling your writing time Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI have a rule of absolutely no interruptions for me to get in the zone and write. Even if the words aren’t flowing so well, I have a number of techniques to coax the prose. So writer’s block isn’t a thing for me. I have many tools to keep me writing, and multiple projects to jump to if needed. The biggest hurdle is having time to write.

No running chores, no telephone conversations, no social media, just a comfortable place to sit and get the ideas formed into sentences and on to the page.

At the moment I dedicate the minimum of an hour a day. I set a timer. And beware my demon snarling wrath if you impede on my creative time.

Usually I will write longer than this self-imposed minimum, but I found setting the bar too high stresses me out, leaves me feeling like I’m falling behind. It also allows me to plan my day, whether I have appointments, chores, or other life stuff to do; knowing I get at least an hour of dedicated writing time puts my anxiety in a box, buried deep in a dark hole, never to raise its bothersome head again.

Now this 1 hour minimum takes many forms in its delivery: I could be in my office, completely quiet; I could be in my pj’s lounging on the couch, the dog asleep on me feet; I could be at the library, noise-cancelling earbuds in playing chill-out tunes; maybe at the University library feeling studious amongst all those people filling their brains with knowledge; or even at a café where I can indulge in the atmosphere and the occasional pastry. Heck, I’ve even written on a blanket in the rainforest to the soundtrack of birds chirping, or under the shade of palm trees at the beach. Whatever is working for me at the time. I need to mix it up so I don’t feel complacent or stale. And as long as I get in a minimum of an hour a day to write.

The importance of scheduling your writing time Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Depending on your process, and your situation, you’ll have to adapt this concept to work for you. I know authors who write 10 hours a day in silence (in a stylishly converted shed); some 4-5 hours in a bustling coffee shop; I know a mom who has 1 hour of quiet time from her four children, locks herself away in the attic/office to get stuff done while her husband takes his turn of the child-rearing business. Heck, when I was working in the city and had an hours commute either way, I’d write while listening to music – that meant 2 hours a day to scribble out a narrative. Score!

Work out a reasonable goal for you, be it daily or weekly, and stick to it. Maybe you only write for a few hours on the weekend? You might feel the flow just before bed and spend some time before calling it a day?

It’s all about commitment and perseverance because writing a novel is a big, long-term project. There’s writing the thing, re-writing the thing, editing the thing, maybe doing all those things several times over, and getting the thing published. So creating a regular habit around your writing can only assist you tremendously in your journey.

Get to it fellow scribes.

 

Do you have any writing rituals that help keep you on track and motivated? I’d love to hear what tricks and tips you use.

UPPERCASE lowercase 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.