Health hazards of being a writer

By PD Martin

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking this sounds like a bizarre blog title. And I guess it is something we don’t talk about much. So here it is, the health hazards of being a writer. Brought to you by PD Martin.

First off, I should talk about all the wonderful things about being a writer. Things like: creative freedom; working from home; working from cafes; working in your pyjamas; creating magical or scary or whatever types of worlds; creating in general; bringing our work to the masses (hopefully); yada, yada, yada. Okay, time to move on to the moaning part of the blog and the ‘beware’ section.

It’s true. Being a writer involves long chunks of time at a desk, typing. And we all know that can lead to repetitive strain injury. Thankfully, so far I’ve been spared from this particular hazard. However, I do have…

Carpal tunnel syndrome
If you don’t know what that is, it’s a nerve thing (yes, very technical) and it’s generally caused by typing. The main thing for me is I wake up in the middle of the night with painful pins and needles in my hands and also get that if I try to grip something for a while (e.g. a car steering wheel). Annoying more than anything else.

Eye sight problems
Another one I can tick, I’m afraid. I used to have perfect vision. Then in my 20s I was doing lots of hard-copy editing (okay, not exactly writing, but it’s still part of the same business). After a few months I realised I couldn’t read signs…everything in the distance was a little blurry. Yup, I’m now long-sighted.

Okay, I’m happy to say I don’t suffer from this one! At least not yet. Although, that wine does look yummy.

But it’s true, many writers like to have a drink or two before they write. Or maybe it’s our creative brains. Who knows, but many authors do like to knock a few back. You?

I do get this one from time to time. Like a few weeks ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and starting thinking of opening lines for a book. Plot points, character arcs…two hours later I was still awake.

Back and neck problems
Oh dear…I’ve got this one too. Mind you, my husband does accuse me of being a hypochondriac (better not show him this list). Mostly it’s my right shoulder running up into the neck. Ouch.

Weight gain
Can I blame this on hours at my desk? Maybe. Although if I’m honest my metabolism seemed to know the minute I hit 40 (less than 2 years ago) and stood at the front of the room waving its finger at me with an ‘Uh huh…no way you going to eat that and not put on a few pounds.’ Blast it.

Okay, everyone’s stressed. And authors are no different. What do we stress about? Usually deadlines and lack of any cold hard cash. It’s a tough life, you know?

Sometimes we stress about writer’s block (thankfully I’ve never had that problem – touch wood) or about our careers shrivelling up like over-dried dried prunes (okay, I do stress about that).

Well, I think I’m done. Phew. Although no doubt I’ve missed an ailment or two.

What about you? Give it to me. Give us a laugh or unload your troubles 🙂

21 thoughts on “Health hazards of being a writer

  1. PD Martin

    Forgot to say I'm away at the moment with limited internet access and it's from my phone so my comments may be short and sweet! But I will be checking in 🙂

  2. Zoë Sharp

    LOL, Phillipa
    There was I, peering at my slightly blurred computer screen this morning to read your post while sitting on my widening behind, clutching a hot water bottle to my stressed stomach, and trying not to aggravate my tweaked neck.

    Yeah, I think you about covered it …

    Why do we do this again?

  3. Sarah W

    Insomnia isn't exactly my problem. I just stay up way too late until it's far too early, but need to get just one . . . more . . . sentence . . . down . . . before my nose hits the keyboaggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg

    And then the alarm goes off at 5am so I can drag my carcass to work,

    Sleep Deprivation: It's What's for Breakfast.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    All of the above, too true. The neck/lower back issue is nothing to take lightly. I reach for a heating pad to line my chair with when my neck starts acting up, and I've posted before about often doing a lot of my writing day in bed or on the couch; sitting is the worst thing for your back.

    It was just on the news yesterday that regular exercise is the best remedy for neck pain, so I've got that covered.

    Carpal tunnel – I don't think I type fast enough to get this. A lot of my writing looks more like walking around.

    Gaining weight – well, that's why I work out every day, no exceptions. But I solved this one a long time ago by drinking all day. NOT alcohol – not usually anyway! – but anything else: coffee, water (tons of water), tonic water with lime, all kinds of juices. At the moment I have six glasses in various stages of full on my desk. Okay, one is the cat's.

    And the alcohol thing – hard to resist at cons and there's always an after after hours party that can turn into some of the best fun of the year, but I do have a rule: when people start doing Irish Car Bombs, I go to bed. To SLEEP.

  5. Alaina

    I haven't had perfect eyesight since I was 10 years old, and my subscription now is the sort that makes others go 'Holy Crud' when they try my glasses, so that one's not caused by writing. And I'm careful with RsI's, and make sure to exercise every day.

    For back pain… have you considered seeing a chiropractor? They're really, really good at the back-pain/neck-pain bit, and with headaches as well. Covered by most insurance, too; I know, because mine does.

  6. Allison Davis

    PD, very funny, right at the start of a new year, coincidence, I think NOT. Yoga keeps me from stiffening up and stressing out and I do a formal class twice a week, and a "restorative" class a couple times a month (really helps sleep) and practice when I can (like when I'm stuck in a chapter). I sit at a computer most of the day in my law office and then come home and write. My eyes get buggy, and the rest gets pudgy. The water at your desk like Alex says (and green tea is my constant) gets you up from your desk if you drink enough, which you need to do about every 20 minutes just to move the joints.

    And I could not drink alcohol and write — drinking means everything is over, stopped, kaput. It's the carrot, never the stick.

    So New Year's resolutions to heathier writing? Regular exercise, balanced meals and sleep? We'll see about that. But it does help to stay in the chair when it's ergonomically comfortable.

  7. Janet Dawson

    Carpal tunnel syndrome, yup. Surgery on my right hand in 2010, surgery on my left hand in 2011. No more tingling. However, no escaping the arthritis that makes my hands stiff in the morning. I highly recommend the Goldtouch ergonomic keyboard and the Evoluent vertical mouse. I'm also trying the Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software.

  8. David Corbett

    Life is bad for your health. Avoid at all costs.

    Alex: Somewhere in the bowels of a convention hotel, there is a long line of Irish car bombs waiting for you, with a small note: Where'd you go? (I think Declan Hughes left them for you.)

    I've been blessed with the wrist and RSI stuff — none to report, or let's say nothing to whine about. My eyes have been a mess since I can remember — legally blind at age seven. Can't blame writing for that — I'm obliged instead to blame reading. As for the rest, meh. Price of admission.

    The real writer's affliction is depression, on which we've touched but scantly. Amazing how many of us suffer from the smothering black fog.

  9. PD Martin

    Zoe, I hear you! I go for heat packs rather than water bottlets though!

    Sarah, sleep deprivation ip BAD! We had lots of problems with my daughter's sleep from 6 months to 4.5 years so I know how you feel! But your body and mind do need sleep. Early to bed for you tonight I think!

  10. PD Martin

    Alex, sounds like you've got it covered! I haven't been to many cons so don't have to worry about that but I lived in Ireland and can imagine the con parties with a few Irish authors in the mix!

    Alaina, yes a chiro is good! Mine not covered by insurance but I go when desperate!

    Allison, I like green tea too! And glad it's not just me who has frequent bathroom breaks 🙂 At the moment I go for the gym rather than yoga but I know yoga and pilates good for backs.

  11. Lisa Alber

    I was thinking "wide-load-ass-itis," but then I got to "weight gain." That about covers it.

    David hit on a big one: depression. Yep.

    All I can say it lucky we're not professional athletes, dancers, and so on. If I'm aching as much as I am (at times), image the damage done to their bodies!

    And, as for alcoholism…hmm…nah, I don't drink too much. Really, I don't. 🙂

  12. Pari Noskin

    Chocoholia – – related to carboloaditis — and very much a chronic illness for some.

  13. PD Martin

    Interesting about the surgery, Janet. Painful? Long or short recovery?
    I am thinking about it.

    David, legally blind at age 7? That's a tough background for a reader/writer although of course technology helps these days. And you're right, I should have included depression on the list. I think many artistic people str

  14. PD Martin

    Sorry struggling to post with my phone! Meant to say I think many artistic people struggle with depression.

    Lisa, "wide-load-ass-itis,"… Very funny. And sometimes I wonder if the depression and alcohol stuff is related for creative types!

    Pari, a big tick for chocoholic for me I'm afraid!

  15. Maddy

    Maybe you could buy one of those wiggle chairs to sit on while you're writing – it means you have to constantly adjust your stance in order to remain stable, that way you'd sort of exercising at the same time as being semi-static.

  16. Lisa Alber

    There's definitely a self-medication factor, at times (depression<–>alcohol)…However, since Pari brought up chocolate (how could I forget that?!?), I'll also admit to depression<–>chocolate–preferably See's–self-medication too. See? I don't ALWAYS rely on alcohol! 🙂

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    All of the above and more.
    Although, I tried the alcohol thing and it just put me to sleep. Maybe I should've had a glass of wine, though, instead of two Long Island Ice Teas.

  18. PD Martin

    Maddy. A wiggle chair. Cool!

    Lisa, yes chocolate (well mostly dark choc) is supposed to be mood lifter!

    Stephen, I think wine would be worse than spirits for drowsiness!

  19. Janet Dawson

    PD, would be happy to give you chapter and verse about the carpal tunnel release surgery, which I think has been quite effective in my case. Contact me at

    Sarah, sleep deprivation equals cats on the bed, patting me on the face, wanting breakfast.

    David, I hear you about depression. Comparing oneself with other writers feeds right into that. Also, glasses since age ten! Here's to the league of nearsighted (or farsighted) writers!

  20. Ayim Yao

    I guess you are reading me in some areas. I stay on the computer writing a lot. I try several times to straighten up on my chair, but before I realize, my back is arched again without knowing. I am only aware of this when I experience pain.
    It is also not easy for me to write on the computer for hours without having a bowl of chips or something to be comforting me. I used to be 178 lbs, and now I am 190 lbs.

  21. Karen Inglis

    Hi all from London, UK

    Don't underestimate the danger of lower back pain. I am very fit and always have been, but I slipped my disc 2 years ago as a result of too much prolonged sitting – and still suffer with pain now as it affected my sciatic nerve. Yoga and regularly getting up to do a few simple back exercises on the floor helps, but it's so easy to forget to get up! Keep writing and keep moving!

    Karen Inglis (children's author)

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