The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, December 10, 2007


By Tamara Lee

Computers could be ruining me.

Over the past two years, my computer usage has tripled. There are some days I’m at it for 16 hours, then right back at it 8 hours later. I freelance edit, then I work on my writing projects, then I research, then I surf the Internet and answer emails or post to writer-related boards or blogs.

The last six months or so have been most alarming: my hands’ ability to grasp even simple items is wholly unpredictable. I had let myself assume it was tendonitis. But it’s actually more like a very acute strain, with the strong possibility that permanent damage has been done.

And crammed into my purse are two pages full of intense instructions from my physiotherapist (an exacting woman who runs one of the premier hand physio-clinics in Western Canada) covering all the ergonomic changes I must make to my workstations (yes, I have two), and the exercises I must perform at 30-minute intervals throughout my writing day.

“For how long?” I asked.

“How long do you intend on being a writer?”

She was then even more blunt, as I sat stunned into disbelief. “If you don’t take care of your hands you will need to be put into splints.”

Suddenly, the pain surging from my shoulders, through my forearms and wrists, the pain that has all but numbed my fingers from knuckles to tips, has been put into perspective.

All those films and tales of musicians and artists of all sorts fighting through pain for the love of their craft no longer seem romantic. The truth of it is rather troubling.

Take care of your hands, people. Like a singer babies her vocal chords, do not take your most precious tools for granted. Pamper them, and your back (for that is where much hand pain begins). I urge you to research hand exercises and proper ergonomics. Make an appointment with a physiotherapist who specializes in hand therapy, to make sure you're maintaining good hand health. Seriously, a few more months of my current behaviour, and I likely wouldn't be typing this at all.

So from now on, my computer usage must be limited to the absolute minimum. Laptops perched on my knee in bed, set on the coffee table, or at the kitchen table…no more. These and all the other ways I have become accustomed to working must be changed. (Many of you know how difficult it is to change one’s writing routine.) A huge investment in ergonomic upgrades also will be necessary.

Essentially, my whole existence as a writer/editor must be given a re-work.

And oh, how editing ourselves can be the damnedest thing.

(Image: Auguste Rodin's "Les Mains")


Anonymous Anne C. said...

And to think that I just joined Facebook...

Bring on the pain, I guess.

Mon Dec 10, 09:55:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Oh, Tamara, I'm so sorry. You must have been truly shaken. Computers are wonderful things bu the amount of time we spend on them is not healthy. I'm glad you caught your situation in time. Splints, yikes! Do more singing. Take care of yourself, okay?

Mon Dec 10, 01:03:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I feel for you, Tamara. I have to cross my legs when I sit at the computer for some reason. My right hip has been hurting me for six months now, and still I'm crossing my legs. Look carefully at your habits. The answer is there.

Tue Dec 11, 05:00:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Hi, guys. Thanks.

It's so easy to put our pain last, and yet, we look at our parents and wish they'd take better care of themselves.

Spending less time on the computer is not a bad thing at all. It will give me an opportunity to do more constructive things with my time both on and away from it. I guess the physio knows how to terrify the belligerent. Splints is not an option...

Tue Dec 11, 07:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anne C. said...

I had the same thought about how it could be good for a writer to have less computer time. Not that this is any way an ideal situation! I do hope that you find relief soon.

Tue Dec 11, 08:11:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Yikes, Tamara, this is awful! Have you tried a voice dictation software like "Dragon Naturally Speaking"? After you take the time to train it, it's very good. Especially for long stretches of prose- for tables and more technical things with layout complications it can be frustrating- but at least it can reduce your use somewhat.

Since you are getting it for medical reasons you can probably get some kind of tax break.

I'm feeling for you, Tealeaf! (That my new nickname for you derived from how Dragon Naturally Speaking will type your handle if you dictate "T.Lee")

Wed Dec 12, 10:41:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Chumplet said...

I had a bout of tendonitis a couple of years ago, when our newspaper increased its output and my work doubled. Mix that with bad ergonomics and I ended up in physiotherapy, paid by workplace compensation. I wore one of those splints when the pain was bad, especially at night.

Things got better - no permanent damage, but sometimes my right arm tightens up and I have to get off the laptop for a while. But I miss you guys! And... I come back.

Wed Dec 12, 10:31:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Thanks for your well-wishes, guys. Yes, it's a pain (bada-bing) but there are worse situations. I am glad you mentioned that voice software, Andrew. I used an old one ages ago, and it was much too time-consuming to train it. My Final Draft has the audio option, too, I think. I like the possibility of options. With my 'accent', though, it's going to be difficult to train the software to understand me...

Glad to see you're back, Chumplet. Sorry that you feel my pain; glad to hear yours was eased though.

Thu Dec 13, 05:52:00 pm GMT-5  

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